Innovative curriculum offers students hands-on production experience with a balance between technology and aesthetics—including designing for large-scale projects and unusual spaces.
Veteran theater designer Anne Militello, who designed her first Broadway show at the age of 26 (Cuba and His Teddy Bear with Robert DeNiro), has been named Head of Lighting Design for California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) School of Theater, announces School of Theater Dean Travis Preston. The Obie-winning designer’s repertoire also includes rock concerts and international architectural installations created in association with her company, Vortex Lighting (vortexlighting.com )
Militello describes herself as a creator of “concept-driven lighting projects.” This spring, she was one of six international designers leading “Lights in Goa,” a series of workshops introducing the art and practice of lighting design to this Indian state’s rapidly expanding society. Culmination of the workshops was a weeklong practical exercise, during which Anne and a group of 10 participants from India, Africa and Asia lit the central city park in Panjim, Goa. The final result was unveiled to the public as part of a light festival celebration.
Shortly thereafter, she headed off for a summer tour with composer/singer KD Lang. Her resume also includes designs for Pearl Jam, the Decemberists, Tom Waits, playwright/director Sam Shepard, and such corporate clients as Prada and hotel chains ranging from Malaysia to Dubai. A former Disney Imagineer, Militello also designed the world's top-rated theme park attraction, Universal's "The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man,” which earned her the highest design awards in the theme park industry.
“The melding of all these different worlds has allowed me to keep vital and feel connected to the rest of the planet, says Militello. “In my travels, I have found that the current trend for international lighting designers is to have the ability to cross disciplines within the other lighting professions, raising the standard of design and allowing for new art forms. This is the direction I’d like to open up to the students at CalArts.”
As Head of Lighting, Militello will oversee the curriculum and professional development of both undergraduate and graduate students, working in close conjunction with designer/faculty member Lap-chi Chu, who works predominately with BFA designers. Production experience with CalArts’ celebrated experimental orientation is balanced with a formal classroom curriculum. Regarding the balance between technology and aesthetics, Militello referenced her 2008 lighting design for the New 42nd Street Studios with the comment, “all the experimenting with technologies and materials was just a process of getting to the effect we wanted. Where I get excited about the high tech is the way I’ll be able to program the lighting, using the computer. But if we stopped the computer and let the lights remain static, we’d still have something that looked like an art piece, in a theatrical and sculptural sense.”
Militello’s introductory graduate lighting classes begin with small team projects working a very limited amount of equipment to illustrate a specific moment, which is evaluated for integrity of concept, composition, and technique. The first year classes also include periodic demonstrations on topics in lighting technology and the physical qualities of light in space.
As students move through the program, their class-based curriculum issues become increasingly complicated, based on designing for the unusual spaces that make up the work environments of professional designers: thrust stages, arenas, environmental settings, and more complex proscenium productions, and emphasizes the development of professional presentation material, forms, and software.
Their final year of class work emphasizes commercial and large scale projects, geared toward developing the student's particular area of interest. Course of study will also include a concentration on professional practice, including portfolio, resumes, assisting, contracts, union membership, agents, and any other pertinent aspects related to the industry.
The School of Theater at CalArts emphasizes a diverse and interdisciplinary approach to the development of work for the 21st century. Both the school and its professional producing arm, the CalArts Center for New Performance, work across a broad spectrum of artistic settings, media, and technologies. The training is designed to gives students the flexibility, skill, and ingenuity to navigate a rapidly changing environment and to pursue their dreams with maximum agency.