The 2010 Rising Star Award, sponsored by Live Design and LDI, will be presented to LD Ben Pilat on Friday, April 2, during a special event featuring lighting designer Jennifer Tipton at the USITT 50th Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Kansas City, MO. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux touches base with this talented young designer.

1. What is your training? Do you have mentors or influences?
I have an MFA in lighting design from Boston University and a BFA in theatre from Emporia State University. I need to give special thanks to Mark Stanley at Boston University, both for giving me the opportunity to prove myself and for the incredible opportunities I was offered while a student. My education included the artistic and collaborative aspects of lighting design, as well as the business and practical skills I would need as I transitioned to a career in the theatre. Since graduating, my work with other LDs has influenced me both as an assistant and a designer. I have worked with David Lander on a number of projects, and I am grateful for the opportunities he has given me as well as the knowledge he continues to share.

2. What is your favorite design to date?
Many times, shows with the least resources have revealed the most about my design philosophy. I recently designed a production of Dark Rapture in a small Off-Off-Broadway venue. This cinematic film-noir play called for more than a dozen different locations, but a small budget and limited number of lighting instruments required me to be incredibly specific about the choices I made. Working scene by scene, I designed each location separately, choosing a handful of lighting ideas that could communicate location and provide composition, while still providing basic illumination. Creating so many looks with a limited number of fixtures forced me to design with clean, bold stokes in a way I may not otherwise have done.

3. Do you have a specific design process? How about in collaboration?
I strive to work from both an instinctual and an analytical point of view. On the instinctual level, there are angles, colors, or cue placements that feel “right.” I design first and foremost for myself. On the analytical side, it pays to be prepared. Knowing the source material, understanding its creator, and familiarity with historical context all help me catch clues about the lighting environment.
As a collaborator, I strive to be creative, honest, and smart. I always try to bring new ideas to the table. I have particularly enjoyed working on projects where the environment of the play is created by a team from the ground up—where there are no “givens.” This allows me to explore how light interacts with the world of the play and pushes me to create a vocabulary that is integrated with the rest of the production.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would like to begin assisting on Broadway. I don’t believe there is a substitute for that kind of experience, and it would allow me to work with people who are some of the best at what they do. At the same time, I hope to continue pursuing my own design career. As a former magician, I have always thought my background makes me an excellent candidate to design magic shows and would love to be a part of that process if the right opportunity presents itself. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences with students and have always considered teaching to be a possible career.

5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into lighting?
Be well-rounded, and have interests outside of theatre. Art, music, politics, and history are all prerequisites for having the conversations with directors and designers needed to create interesting work. I also recommend that people see as much theatre as possible. Contact the designers whose work you find particularly interesting, and ask if you can observe them for a few days of tech. Build a set of skills that will help you market yourself as an assistant; lighting programs like Vectorworks and Lightwright, advanced programs like Photoshop and FileMaker Pro, reading music, knowing a variety of lighting consoles, and having a good understanding of current lighting technology are all important. Finally, I think it is very important to be humble and admit when you don't know an answer. Always be willing to learn.