A Moment With Dawn Chiang
By Dawn Chiang
TheatreArtLife was created by the live entertainment and theatre industry for the industry. Our contributors are industry professionals working about the globe on shows and productions. In our A Moment With series, we give the opportunity to our contributors to tell their story and share their personal journey working in the entertainment industry.
How did you get started in your career?
I was a psychology major at Oberlin College. By spring of my sophomore year, I was beginning to realize what an “academic” might be and realized that I did not want learn about life mostly from inside a classroom and research.
At the same time, a friend of mine asked, “How would you like to help build some scenery for Don Giovanni?”, which was being co-produced by Oberlin Conservatory and Oberlin College. I said yes and started helping the New York set designer who had been hired to design this production in Ohio.
It was love at first sight. I loved helping to build the scenery, learning how to paint it from the art conservator from the art museum next door to the theatre, who used to paint scenery when he was in college. I learned about the reflected color in shadows, how to marbleize a column, how to create texture and highlights.
I was so taken by it all, that I signed up for run crew for the production. During dress run thru, I remember standing in the wings stage left, watching the quartet from Act 1. There was the two-story set that I helped to build and paint, the costumes, the lighting and the amazing music.
I started reading the score over the stage manager’s shoulder and looked out at the magical performance onstage. I remember thinking “They do all this on purpose — I want to learn how to do this!!”
I basically walked into the theatre spring of my sophomore year and never left…
What is the best role/job/gig have you done and why?
There have been so many great jobs, gigs and mentors along the way, for which I am very grateful.
When I designed my first Broadway show at the age of 25, Tharon Musser, a lighting design legend, served as my mentor. She lit the original Broadway productions of A Chorus Line, Pacific Overtures and A Little Night Music, among many others.
Tharon would take me out to dinner every few nights and talk me through the politics of doing a show on Broadway. Her advice included “Do the director’s notes first. If they see progress and solutions on what they were concerned about, then you will be able to do as many of your notes as you like. If you do it the other way round, you will have one very unhappy director.”
What an incredible education and experience.
What was the worst task you were given when you were starting out?
I don’t know if I would say it was the worst, but it certainly was unique. In college, I was the smallest one on tech crew, so I was asked to scoot behind the locking rail and adjust the tension on each of the tension blocks.
Photo of Three Sisters
What do you think is your best skill?
Doing my homework on the production ahead of time, being able to translate that into cueing quickly and effectively. It allows tech to flow more smoothly and keep the focus on the actors, not constantly stopping for tech. We all collectively gain a lot more from continuing forward through tech, and not stopping for big chunks of time.
What do other people think is your best skill?
Collaborating with the director and creative team, and coming up with all those ideas that end up on stage.
What advice would you give your 18-year old self?
Do what you love. Aim high – do not be afraid to go after what you are passionate about. Everything that you are interested in, counts.
What is your job now?
I am a freelance lighting designer and a senior consultant with Theatre Projects Consultants.
I am also a mentor with the Open Doors program in New York City, where I take the same eight New York City high school students to six Broadway shows during the school year. Following each production, we have a 90 minute round table conversation about the show, over pizza. We talk about the show, about theatre, about the arts and about life. See the “Open Doors” article in TheatreArtLife for details!
Theatre Projects provides advice on the planning and design of performance venues, how the performance technology functions, and how artists and audience will use each space. Theatre consulting draws on my love of the performing arts and my equal passions for performance technology and project managing challenging projects.
*Featured Image: Photo of Twelfth Night
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