April 26, 2023

Breaking Barriers: Anne’s Journey as a Woman in Lighting Design and Project Management

Get ready to be inspired by the incredible Anne, a powerhouse Project Manager and Lead Lighting Designer at VDA. With a wealth of experience in the theatre and event space, Anne has become a true trailblazer in the industry. Her journey began in high school when she signed up for the tech crew for the school’s spring musical, where she learned to focus lights and then moved on to run the light board. In this interview, Anne opens up about her journey and shares her insider secrets and tips for women who are interested in working in her field but may be hesitant due to the lack of representation.

How did you get into lighting design and project management?

When I was in high school, a friend of mine signed up to do a tech crew for the school’s spring musical, and I decided to join her.  I’d always been interested in doing tech crew.  We were both on Props for City Of Angels.  It was such a fun and exciting time that I asked to work on the next show which was a dance show.  I learned to focus lights and was just going to be backstage helping out, but the board op got sick on the first day of tech, so I was sent to learn to run the light board.  It was a manual two-scene preset console with 48 channels and 8 sub-masters.  Running it during the show made me feel like I was a part of the dances.  It wasn’t like today where I program everything in advance and just push a button- I had to manually move sliders up and down to change the lights.  We usually had two people running the console.  After the dance show run, I asked the technical director about working in the Berkeley Community Theater, a roadhouse on the school’s campus.  All summer and after school from 10th grade on I was in the theatre working all the school shows as well as when a concert or tour would come through the community theater, I would spend the day working alongside the union crew.  My boss often had me work directly with the Master Electricians and Lighting Designers and I started to learn from them as well.

The school counselor suggested Emerson College along with a few others.  Emerson was the only college I actually went to visit and knew it was where I wanted to go.  I majored in Design and Technology with an emphasis on Lighting Design and Production Electrician work.  I worked in various theaters throughout college and graduated with a full-time job from the Huntington Theatre Company as their House Electrician in the Calderwood Theater Pavilion.  I was there for a few years, freelanced for a few years, and eventually ended up at VDA.  I still work on shows like Boston Gay Men’s Chorus productions at Jordan Hall.  I also work with some local dance companies and Celebrity Series Boston with many of their classical music concerts at Jordan Hall.

What is your experience being a woman in these fields?

When I was in High School, I was one of three women on a crew of 13.  When there was a tour, I was often the only woman on the crew, as the local was mostly men, touring crew (other than wardrobe) was all men, and only 4 high school students could work a show.  I felt welcomed by everyone and they all put me through the same hazing they did the guys, so I didn’t really notice much difference.  At times, I would notice a difference in how I was treated- being given “easier” jobs or being ignored, but it was typically a problem with the person and I didn’t really ever see it as a systematic problem.  Depending on the situation, other guys would jump in and correct any sexist behavior since everyone who worked with me valued my work ethic and knew I worked the same as them.

As a high school student, I remember moving folding chairs one time with the other crew members of my peers.  We were carrying 4 at a time, two in each hand.  One guy felt the need to show everyone up and started carrying 6 chairs.  No one liked to be shown up, so we all started carrying 6 chairs.  Then someone started carrying 8 chairs.  No one likes to be shown up, so we were all carrying 8 chairs.  The guys that started it were like “damn!  Anne’s carrying 8 chairs too!  This is dumb!” and we all went back to carrying 4 chairs each.

What advice do you have for women looking to get into lighting design or project management?

  1. Go for it!  If you are passionate about something, it’s worth it.  I have been doing Lighting Design and Production Electrician work for 25 years now and still love it.  I can’t imagine doing anything different.
  2. Know your physical limits and ask for help if you need it.  It isn’t worth injuring yourself to show to anyone or prove you can do something.  I have a pinched nerve in my lower back and a problem with my rotator cuff.  I’m too young to be this broken.  Don’t be broken at a young age.  Work smarter, not harder.
  3. Know your stuff.  Learn multiple ways to do things so you can troubleshoot quickly when things change on-site.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
  4. Ask questions.  No one knows everything.  Ask questions and learn why and how.  Gear is always changing and advancing, learn the new gear to keep up to date with all the changes and improvements that are happening, but don’t forget the “old” ways to do things.  Sometimes that simple old trick is way better than the modern solution.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try something new and go a bit out of your comfort zone.  You can gain a lot of experience and knowledge by doing something a bit scary and different from what you are used to.
  6. Surround yourself with people who know more than you and have different skill sets so you are always learning.  I love to have a team of people with so many different skills and approaches to how to do things.  I’ve learned so much from my colleagues.  The best team to work with is one where no one’s ego is in the way and everyone is excited to share their knowledge and skills.

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