Patrick Dierson has always been easy to pick out of the crowd at an industry trade show; he's the one with the purple hair, the black fingernail polish, and, depending on the day, maybe silver lame pants. These days, the wardrobe is more subdued, but his design career is taking off - and taking him to South America, Asia, and elsewhere.
A Long Island, NY, native, Dierson was exposed to the entertainment business by his aunt and uncle, professional actors Mary Dierson and Tom Galantich. "When I was a kid, they were touring a lot, and, for winter recess and other school vacations, I'd meet them on the road." Fascinated by theatre, he began working tech crew on high school shows. Not long after that, he was working for local lighting companies, "paying my dues, working for peanuts. I got interested in automated lighting and got my hands on any controller I could. That was my niche."
It was also a smart move. Because of his knowledge, Dierson got hired by lighting and sound distributor Group One. "They needed a designer/programmer who could be a liaison to other lighting designers," he says. Group One's product line includes Clay Paky equipment and, says Dierson, "at the time, the products created effects that were very new and fresh. I was lent out to designers as a present, as part of the rental package. I'd sit next to the designer and programmer, to help fill the gap between the technical and artistic sides."
It was, he says, a very fun job, "because I worked with all the people I was reading about in magazines. The Reba McEntire world tour, with Peter Morse, was very cool. It was a wonderful experience, watching him work - also watching Roy Bennett working on the Disney ice shows." In addition, he says, "I was able to work in retail display, industrials, trade show design, television. I got a good taste for different aspects of the industry."
Ultimately, Dierson became a product specialist on Elektralite, Group One's in-house line of lighting control products. Interestingly, he says, his glam-rock-meets-goth wardrobe gave him credibility with his customers, who worked in clubs and touring. "My black nail polish became somewhat of a trademark," he says, jokingly. Ultimately, however, he chose to go freelance, planning to pick up work as a programmer. The design jobs came rapidly, and he's been on the road ever since.
Dierson began designing tours managed by producer Emilio Estefan, the husband of pop star Gloria Estefan. "I've been doing quite a bit of touring through South America in the last year," he says, for acts such as Carlos Ponce, and he's picked up some additional design work in the US for Jon Secada and Shakira. The challenges are many, he says: "The geography of South America doesn't lend itself too well to touring with your equipment. It costs a ton of money to get over mountain ranges across three countries to be there the next night. Lighting rigs are often specified per city. I was warned about this, so, for my first tour, I came up with five different lighting designs, in different ranges of equipment from totally conventional to automated, with different trussing configurations." Even then, he adds, for each gig, "I had to mix and match pieces of the different plots."
Just for contrast, he also spent time in Asia last year, working as a programmer with LD Bill Simmons of Clair Brothers, who redesigned several installations in a hotel operated by the Sultan of Brunei. (Dierson notes the culture shock of working in a Muslim country, with its gulf between rich and poor, on a project so lavish that the carpeting has 14K gold fibers). Other stops on his world tour included Copenhagen, where he met with technical staff from MA Lighting regarding the software on the company's latest control boards (Dierson is an expert on the GrandMA console). But he also works on local projects, including a recent event for financial firm Goldman Sachs at New York's Javits Center. "I'm always hoping to stay closer to home, but travel seems to be inevitable right now," he says.
Dierson has one excellent reason to stay in the New York area. In March, he's getting married, to Marian Sandberg, whom he met at Group One, when she handled that company's public relations (she now performs similar duties for a hospital on Long Island as well as DiersonDesign). Dierson's wardrobe may have toned down a bit, but his life and career are as colorful as ever.