Alumni news from Michael Brown

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Michael Brown was last year’s UNISTA (UNI Student Theatre Association) president.  He served as my assistant lighting designer on Mother Hicks, and has recently moved to Washington DC.  Find out why in this interview I did with him:

me: How are you?

Michael:  Great!

me:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview!

Michael:  yeah, absolutely.

me:  OK!  Let's get started-

We miss having you here!  Tell me what you’ve been pursuing since you left.

Michael:  In May, I worked with Mark and other students on installing the rigging at the new Waverly High School, which was a really interesting but physically demanding job. Right after that was over, I found out I had been offered a lighting fellowship at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., working as an assistant to the lighting designers is a major component of this fellowship, and since assisting and design is the direction I want to go in my career, I took the position. It started on August 15th and goes until the end of May

me:  You’re a lighting fellow at Arena Stage in D.C.- what does that mean exactly?  How do you assist the designers- how many different designers?

Michael:  I would describe "fellowship" in this situation as a different word for internship. So far my big responsibilities have been preparing the light plots we receive from designers for hang (assigning circuits, printing hang cards) updating the associated lighting paperwork, then physically helping with the hang.  For the first show of the season I also "called" the light focus, which involved directing the crew and informing the designer of the purpose of each light.  Once tech rehearsals start, I am responsible for maintaining the cue list, work and focus notes and any spotlight or moving light tracking the show calls for.

In all, I believe I'll be assisting on 5-6 shows this season with different designers for each show.

me:  Awesome!  How did you find this position?

Michael:  That's a long story actually. Back in high school, I first heard about Arena Stage through an article about lighting designers and electricians in Dramatics Magazine. So I knew about the theatre from that article, and last year I spent a lot of time just scouting the websites of theatre's I knew to see if they had internship programs or job opportunities. I remembered Arena and found this position through their website.

me:  Good backtracking!  How big is the theatre space and are all shows in the same venue?

Michael:  The Arena is a pretty amazing facility. They justconducted a massive renovation in which they built a new building around their two previously existing theatres.  There is the original Arena Stage and a more typical proscenium theatre called the Kreeger Theatre.  So those two theatres, plus a smaller new theatre called the Robert and Arlene Kogod Cradle are all within the new structure, which also houses the offices and technical shops. This is only the second season since this huge renovation.

me:  Sounds exciting! So you get to work in different spaces with different demands?

Michael:  Yes. So when I do a show in the Arena (Official name: The Fichandler) I'll be working on my first show with seating on all four sides of the stage, so learning ways to effectively light a theatre like that will be really valuable experience.

me:  Was transitioning to the East Coast hard?  Do you enjoy your living situation? Have you seen the president?

Michael:  It has taken a little while to transition. There are so many more people, so everything is a little different.  And because my day isn't broken up into 50 minute segments anymore, I've had to adjust to a whole new structure of time. My living situation is good. Like almost everything, it took some adjusting to as well, but its nice. A little far from work, but I can walk to the subway quickly and within 25 minutes I'm basically at the front door of work.  The other thing that's really great is just the immense diversity of people here.

I haven't seen the President (yet!) but Michael Steele, the former RNC Chair was at the opening night of our season!

me:  A brush with greatness!  What is your daily schedule like? Are you getting exposed to different equipment?

Michael:  When we aren't in tech, I work from 9-6 with an hour lunch break. Tech is different for each show based on its needs obviously.  I am learning a ton about the Eos and Ion consoles and for the show I'm currently working on, were renting LED striplights, which will be fun to experiment with!

me:  Definitely!  Please let me know your impressions of them.  I think a major transition to LED's in stage lighting is inevitable.

What do you think the professionals you are working with now value most in a recent graduate?

Michael:  Oh, that's a tough one. Without putting words in anyone's mouth, I would say a little humility, a willingness to learn and do the job they expect and a good knowledge of the prevailing tools of the industry, especially Lightwright, Vectorworks and the ETC Consoles.

me:  Excellent answer.  Do you feel that your UNI experience prepared you well for this?

Michael:  Yes. Ultimately, every individual has to take responsibility for their education too.  Learn what is being done in the "Real World" and figure out a way to start learning those skills. UNI is where I started practicing and now I have this opportunity to really focus on the skills essential to my career.

me:  Any interesting work incident you’d like to share?

Michael:  Not really. I've just been learning a lot, so most days are pretty interesting. I did get to go out to Barbizon on Friday and see the Wybron Mobile Light Lab where they were demonstrating an LED spotlight they are working on, which was very cool!

me:  That is cool!  Please send pictures!  Where do you think this opportunity might lead you?

Michael:  I think it will lead me to having the skills necessary to be a very competent Assistant Lighting Designer, as well as a better electrician, and as a result designer. If I can make the opportunities work, I'd definitely like to stay on the East Coast for a while and find work primarily as an assistant, but I won't say no to any truly great opportunity.

me:  It makes sense to remain open to any opportunity.  What do you miss about UNI?

Michael:  More than anything, the friends I made.  I definitely miss UNI the place too, in a way that's sort of hard to verbalize. At the same time, I was at the point where I needed a new environment to keep growing, so I can't necessarily say that I miss school.

me:  That makes sense.  Any other advice for our current students?

Michael:  Have fun. Don't forget to get outside the Strayer-Wood. Take responsibility for the skills you need and figure out how to really learn them. While classes teach you so much, your own desire to learn what's important for your future is, in my humble opinion, just as important.

me:  Good advice- and in a good order!  This has been good- thanks!  I hope you will stay in touch and let us know how the year goes and tell us what’s happening with you.

Michael:  Definitely. This was fun. Thanks a bunch!

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