April 2016

Print this page ›

April 2016

News & Notices

USITT 2016 Distinguished Award Winners Share Wisdom

Janet Gramza Communications Associate

USITT’s Distinguished Achievers in Conversation panel offered a singular opportunity for Conference attendees to see and hear from the seasoned, smart, witty, and acclaimed backstage professionals who received USITT’s top honors.

The “Class of 2016” did not disappoint. With help from USITT co-moderators Kevin Rigdon and Michael Mehler, an amazing group of artists talked about breaking into the business, taking risks, and taking (or not taking) advice.

They included sound man John Leonard, winner of the USITT 2016 Distinguished Achievement Award in Sound Design; set designer Anna Louizos, winner of the 2016 Distinguished Achievement Award in Scene Design; and stage safety maven Monona Rossol, winner of the 2016 Distinguished Achievement Award in Education.

Broadway lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, who accepted the 2016 Distinguished Achievement in Lighting Design & Technology on behalf of the late Sonny Sonnenfeld, also joined the panel, as did USITT Fellow Gordon Pearlman, inventor of the computerized light board and winner of the 2016 Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award, and retired Arena Stage production manager Guy Bergquist, winner of the 2016 Wally Russell Mentor Award.

Here are some of the pearls they dropped:

“I believe in hiring good people and getting out of the way … most of the time.” - Guy Bergquist

“Sonny (Sonnenfeld) was an icon. He was my heart. And he was extremely honored to receive this award … And the day he realized he would not be coming here to receive this award was a very sad day.” - Jennifer Tipton

“Tony Walton is the king of mentors, as far as I’m concerned.” - Anna Louizos

“I did not get along with my parents … but they taught me at a young age the only thing you need to know to be a success, which is that the curtain goes up at 8.” - Monona Rossol

“All you have to do is announce that someone is going to talk about health and safety and OSHA regulations and you’ll clear out the whole hall.” - Monona Rossol

“I went to work early in my professional life for lighting designer Tom Skelton, and he was a wonderful teacher because he put me in a place where he knew I wouldn’t fail, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t fail.” - Jennifer Tipton

“The people who put me where I am were directors … They asked for things and I didn’t think you could say ‘No,’ so I’d try and do it.”- John Leonard

“One person who got me into this was a student who wanted to do a show with 37 slide projectors (in the 1970s) We ran into trouble trying to program them, and the student said, ‘You could write a program’ … So I wrote a program with cues and inserts and all the things we’re used to today.” - Gordon Pearlman

“You need to keep a sharp mind and stay involved in what’s going on in the world today. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s only as good as the people using it.” - Jennifer Tipton

“Trying to be creative with all the cuts to arts programming and to still honor what’s onstage … that’s where the creativity comes from in arts administration.” – Guy Bergquist

“I recently turned 80, which, sadly, means I only have 20 years left in this business … I can’t croak right now because there’s no one else doing what I do.” - Monona Rossol

“Those who know me know that taking advice is not one of my strong points.” - Gordon Pearlman

“I turned down Head of Sound for the National Theatre three times … I’m glad I did because it’s management, and I’m not good at management. I’m good at making noises.”- John Leonard

“Since I was born, I have steadfastly resisted every bit of advice I’ve been given … And once you’re in the safety field … everyone’s advice is, ‘Shut up and go away.’” - Monona Rossol

“Don’t underestimate yourself – that is a good piece of advice. Say that you can do something and figure it out, because you probably can!” - Anna Louizos

“One (risky) decision I made was to quit my full-time job and go freelance. I said to my wife, ‘We’re going to be poor. And I was right.’”- John Leonard

“I was art director for Sex and the City for six seasons, and I was also doing a little Off-Broadway play. And I was very happy to be on a successful TV show, but then my little show, Avenue Q, was going to Broadway … I had been hoping to have a Broadway show my entire life. So I quit Sex and the City … And it was not a hard decision.” - Anna Louizos

“I do risk assessment, so every report is about risk-taking. Should we take risks? Artistic risks, yes. Technical risks, yes. Safety risks – not so much.” - Monona Rossol

“Learn every damn thing you can. Be open and curious. Always ask questions, always learn more than what your special interest is.” - Jennifer Tipton

“Find your passion and stick with it. If you have that passion in your gut, you’ll keep going and you’ll succeed and you’ll have fun.” - Guy Bergquist