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Cue the Lights

Theatre students coached in lighting design by renowned professional

In theatre, illumination plays a key role.

ONU theatre students recently had a chance to work with one of the top lighting designers in the business, thanks to a connection prompted by Brian Phillips, BA ’97, technical director of the Freed Center for the Performing Arts.

Ryan O’Gara, associate lighting designer for the wildly popular Hamilton: An American Musical, made a visit to campus this spring after Phillips appealed that he come as a guest artist to coach theatre students. The two met years ago while attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, worked in Chicago at the same time for a few years and have remained professionally acquainted ever since.

Lighting designer Ryan O’Gara works with freshman Madison Cantie.“We have a pretty extensive guest artists program, and we try to bring in working professionals throughout the year, so it was good to get Ryan,” Phillips says. “He’s pretty busy, so it worked out well for us.”

While on campus, O’Gara coached theatre arts students in lighting design for ONU’s spring production of The Pirates of Penzance. He developed a “light plot,” detailed plans for lighting effects throughout the show, and then showed the students how to execute it. He also worked with student stage managers in writing cues for lighting effects, and then he guided student workers and theatre majors in the light-focusing process, getting everything up and running for the production.

Freshman Madison Cantie, a musical theatre major from Buford, Ga., had the chance to work with O’Gara one-on-one, learning some of the more advanced lighting techniques used in prominent productions across the country. It was an opportunity only a school like ONU could provide.

It was an incredible privilege to work with Ryan O’Gara, not only because of where he has been and what he has done, but also because of the skill set he has,” she says. “It was my first time working on a light board, and being able to learn from him gave me a completely different understanding of what professionals expect.

ONU’s Department of Theatre Arts hosts around 30 to 40 guest artists each year in different areas of production, including directors, designers, choreographers and more. But as beneficial as the technical experience is for the students, the networking can be just as valuable.

“It’s good to bring in the professionals so the students get a different outlook, and it also starts their networking,” Phillips says. “Theatre is a very small world, so if we start their networks now with people in the professional world, it helps them even more after they graduate.”