Theatre design & production student stays ahead of the game
Millikin University's hands-on learning curriculum in the School of Theatre & Dance offers many unique opportunities to understand the landscape of the industry — especially in the area of live event design. With multiple productions, new equipment and a state-of-the-art Center for Theatre & Dance, it's these resources that have helped student Stark Winter prepare for the growing field that is lighting design.
As a student at Millikin, Stark's experience includes lighting for theatre, live entertainment and dance. Productions featuring Stark's design work include "Dido and Aeneas," "Solstice: A Concert of Dance" and more. Stark's lighting design work was also seen in the Millikin productions of "She Loves Me" and "Violet."
"Millikin's Performance Learning has provided me opportunities I would never have gotten at a lot of other schools," Winter said.
In fall 2021, Winter became the first Millikin student to be accepted into Electronic Theatre Control's (ETC) Fred Foster Student Mentorship Program, a prestigious program that pairs entertainment industry lighting professionals with students across the country. Hosted virtually, the program gives students the opportunity to meet with designers from across the map over the course of several meet-and-greet events. Each student is paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance for the next year and beyond.
"I'm hoping to get guidance regarding professional skills, such as networking and working as part of a design team and learn about handling unusual design requests or types of productions," said Winter. "Since lighting design can be used in so many different forms of art, and it's such a quickly growing field, I want to be prepared to work on as many types of productions as possible."
Matt Albrecht, associate professor of theatre and dance and lighting director at Millikin, has served as Winter's mentor, providing guidance over the last few years.
"He offers advice on not only lighting, but working as part of a creative team, managing life after graduation, and how to handle working in an industry where most jobs are short, and connections and networking are vitally important," Winter said. "Jana Henry Funderburk has also provided me with so many chances to learn and grow, and has been a consistent source of constructive criticism and help throughout the years."
This fall, Winter had the rare opportunity to design a large-scale amusement park show in Kansas City, Mo., and that experience gave them the perfect chance to learn on the job, doing what they plan to do after graduation, and that's move to Chicago to begin work in the Windy City.
"I enjoy designing for musical theatre as well as dance, but I'm certainly open to other types of design work based on what I learn from this mentorship, as well as whatever I find myself enjoying once I've started to establish myself," Winter said.
Throughout all the productions, lessons and experiences, Winter has learned that being an easy person to work with is one of the most important attributes a lighting designer can have.
"So many areas that lighting designers work in are heavily collaborative, and if you're a fantastic artist but not friendly, you'll have a tough time getting hired," Winter said. "On top of that, an artistic eye and an ability to adapt — whether that's to changing production requirements, budget shifts or new technology."
Every facet of the live event industry is evolving especially during a period of so much uncertainty, and Winter understands the importance of keeping up with the latest trends.
"Live event design is such a broad field, and it's going through a period of rapid change right now," Winter said. "Job expectations are changing, what audiences want is always evolving, and lighting, in particular, is booming. Between hundreds of new products and dozens of new pieces of software, people in this industry need to be able to stay ahead of change."