Projections in Place

Cast of Immeasurable Heaven UMKC Theatre, 2016. Photo by Brian Paulette

There comes a time in every painter’s life when they break open a fresh set of brushes, every sculptor a chisel, every architect a rule. Improving their tools gives artists breathing room to focus on their expression. So it is with UMKC Theatre, whose lighting department upgraded their lighting and projection systems, broadening student artists toolkits while adding a new dimension to UMKC productions. 

Investing in 20 state of the art LED fixtures, UMKC Theatre ushers in a new age in color mixing and design theory for its students that translates into design opportunities in the industry. 

As film shifts from traditional fixtures to LEDs, filmmakers seek out skilled designers like Steve Dubay (1999) who has made a business of renting his lighting control console to filmmakers. With a better understanding of LEDs’ complex controls than current gaffers, Dubay is tasked with the design and control of lighting effects in his projects while working directly with directors. 

Along with new LED fixtures and access to Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s 20K projector, UMKC Theatre has a growing projection inventory with six long and three short throw projectors capable of a variety of effects. And no projection designer would be left without their companion software. On a computer dedicated to projections, the Adobe suite supplements an array of media server programs like Arkaos and Isadora for creating advanced effects, creating a near limitless manipulation of media content.

But the pride of programming is in UMKC Theatre’s use of The Green Hippo, a powerful control module used in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The hippotizer allows for real-time changes to projection effects on virtually any system and can be run from a light board, making it an ideal module for developing skills in cross-discipline design.

The hippotizer is used in theatres nationwide, but its high learning curve leaves technicians in the know in short supply. UMKC Theatre trains students on the module, and has trained the country’s foremost experts: Adam Dunaway (1998) and Jeffery Cady (1996). Cady returned this year to teach a class in projection technology while designing lights and projections for KC Rep, and Dunaway has become a prized projection designer in corporate circles for his use of the system.

Designers also find themselves in high demand while at the university. The Conservatory of Music and Dance always has lighting students design their events, dance concerts, and operas   a chance for students to put their study in dance and opera lighting into practice.

The study sticks, and some make their careers in dance or opera, while others put their skills to work for concert lighting. Now with D.K. Production Design in Chicago, Brandon Clark (BA 2013) made his professional debut designing lights for Missy Eliot on the Isle of Wright before touring Japan with Carly Rae Jepsen. Julian Pike (MFA 2003) worked for three years as the assistant light supervisor for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and went on to become the resident designer for the Chicago Opera Theatre.

A working professional and head of the lighting department, Victor En Yu Tan frequently designs for major regional theatres across the country and off-Broadway theatres in NYC, with his students assisting. This winter, Tan and all of his first years traveled to the Pan-Asian Repertory Theatre in New York City, where he designed Dream of the Red Pavillions. Lighting students also assist professional lighting and projection designers for the KC Rep season. Most lighting students graduate with half a dozen or more professional credits from these opportunities, as well as with Kansas City theatres like the Unicorn Theatre, Coterie, and the Living Room.

With these shows under their belts, students take their work to the Hemsley Annual Lighting Portfolio Review, as they have every year since its founding in 2004. The same students excel at the Hemsley Lighting Intern Fellowship competition, with back-to-back winners in 2000 and 2001, and seven other finalists to date.

Producing a body of talent in so many areas, the UMKC campus not surprisingly attracts such distinguished guest designers as Donald Holder. With more than 45 of its 50 lighting alumni still working in the industry  whether in stage or concert lighting, in projections, or in education, UMKC Theatre continues to graduate professional artists well practiced beyond their years.

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