Lighting designer Heather Carson will head the MFA lighting program at Pennsylvania State University, starting with this fall semester. The designer, whose recent work includes The Rape of Lucretia at Glimmerglass and New York City Operas and the Off Broadway productions Lipstick Traces and The Dark Kalamazoo, most recently taught at New York University.
The new job presents a rare opportunity for Carson, whose distinctive approach to theatre lighting has often been acclaimed. Noting that Penn State is only one of seven schools in which the theatre department is part of the arts and architecture program, Carson says, "I want to emphasize the role of the lighting designer as an individual artist within a collaborative art, and, as such, radically reinvent how lighting is taught in this next century."
The course of studies envisioned by Carson will eventually include classes in phenomenology of light, lighting theory, and lighting and digital design. "I’ve culled together the beginnings of a new paradigm in lighting," she says, "incorporating classes in architectural theory and digital design and presentation, from the architecture program; in light and space theory and architectural illumination, from the architectural engineering program; in art theory, installation art, performance art, the aesthetics of beauty, and perceptual psychology. I want to shift the focus to the psychology, physiology, and phenomenology of viewing—all on top of design studio, period research, drafting, drawing, and two years of lit courses."
Overall, Carson says, "I want to give lighting students a wealth of information to draw on when they compose their images for the stage. In 10 years of teaching, I’ve found that lighting students have the hardest time articulating ideas in a rigorous, critical way. I want to draw on disciplines that have a tradition of being highly articulate and self-analytical. If you want to make rigorous work, then you need to talk about it."