November 2016 Student Spotlight: Dylan Feldman, ’16

Name: Dylan Feldman
Major: Double major in Theater & Performance Studies and Computer Science
Year: 5th Year Senior

When did you first become interested in lighting design?

I’ve been involved in theater lighting since my freshman year of high school. My theater teacher basically said, “We need another lighting designer because ours is graduating.” So I said yes on a whim, and then ended up loving it and deciding to pursue it professionally. I knew when I entered Cal that I wanted to study lighting design, so I sought out TDPS and enrolled in all the design courses I could.

What is it about lighting design that attracts you?

I’ve actually thought about this a lot. Halfway through tech week, I always get really tired and grumpy, thinking, “Why am I doing this? It’s so stressful and long and I could be doing so many other things.” But what I’ve realized is that I really like coming together with a bunch of different people, often strangers, to make something come to life. Through collaboration, we turn ideas into something concrete and real that other people can appreciate too, and that’s the biggest attraction for me. And even though it can be sad when the show ends and the team disbands, I’ve realized that the theater community is a very strong one. I will likely work with the same people again at some point, which is exciting to look forward to.

How did your experiences and training at TDPS prepare you for your largest project yet, designing lights for the recent production of Heart of Spain – A Musical of the Spanish Civil War?

During my time here, I’ve been lucky to have a lot of opportunities to design or assist with the lighting for TDPS productions. I designed the Fall Choreography Showcase in 2014, was the Assistant Lighting Designer for Aulis in Spring 2015, co-designed A Murder of Crows with Jack Carpenter in Fall 2015, and designed one of the pieces in the Berkeley Dance Project this past spring.

So that brings us to the current production of “Heart of Spain,” which is quite frankly a giant behemoth of a musical. Having worked on multiple productions in the department, I had a general sense of how the design processes work. Working on this show, however, made me realize how shielded I was from many of the small details and nuances of putting a production together. As the sole lighting designer for this large-scale production, I made so many small, detailed decisions and learned how intricate communication has to be. This show made me grateful for all of my experiences thus far and to the people who have helped me along the way.

The design team for Heart of Spain was primarily professional designers, such as Annie Smart (Costume Design) and Kate Edmunds (Scenic Design). What was the experience like for you, as a student, to be on par with these professionals?

Really awesome but also really intimidating! At first I felt a lot of pressure, which was self-imposed, to produce ideas of the same caliber as these professionals. But after many lessons learned, I became more comfortable with being a student in this environment—if I’m not as insightful as Kate Edmunds, that’s okay! So in that sense, I tried to relax and enjoy it more. When I am less stressed, I can do a better job of being present, which allowed me to really listen to what these professionals had to say and watch how they handled the complications of this project. Everyone in the room was so smart and creative and they have such inspiring careers.

Jack Carpenter [TDPS lecturer and professional lighting designer], who was credited as Lighting Director for the show, was my supervisor (but really more like a guardian angel). He was in a lot of the meetings and rehearsals, and sometimes he’d poke me in the side to say, “Someone just said something that’s related to lighting. Be sure you write that down and follow up on it, or ask a question to make sure you know how this affects you.” He was also really good at asking leading questions to help me realize the questions I should be asking at each point of the design process. And sometimes he saved me on practical points, like “that light isn’t going to work there because there’s a wall in the way.” I’d ultimately figure that out on my own, but it was really helpful to get that advice before I got too far down an ineffective path and wasted time. I’ll be mostly learning through trial and error on my own once I’ve graduated, so his mentorship throughout the process was invaluable to me. And the part of me that still needs to find time to work on homework also really appreciated the guidance!

What role did lighting play in Heart of Spain?

From the very first concept meeting, we knew that the scenic design was going to be a unit set without much movement, so the lighting would have to separate space, indicate time and location, and let the audience know where the characters are. It was a challenging but exciting responsibility to be helping define the show in such a way.

With this show, I had the freedom to be bold. I remember talking in a design meeting about an idea I had for a certain scene and saying something like, “I’m worried it will be too dramatic.” Everyone started laughing—and that’s when I realized that there’s no such thing as too dramatic in this show. I experimented with bold colors, light leaking onto the stage to indicate offstage actions and presences, and footlights and handheld lanterns, to name just a few things.

Anything else you want to share?

One thing I realized while working on this production is that it’s okay to say that you don’t know. People aren’t going to get mad at you if you’re honest. Then you can go think about it and come back and say, “Okay, here’s what I’ve found.”

Good luck to all the aspiring designers out there!