2015 Young Designer To Watch: Cat Wilson, Lighting Designer

Meet Cat Wilson, lighting designer and recently named one of Live Design's 2015 Young Designers To Watch.

Residence: Chicago, IL

Current project(s): Merchild (16th Street Theatre), My Brilliant Divorce (Irish Theatre of Chicago), Coppelia (projections for The Joffrey Academy of Dance), The Bluest Eye (Point Park University)

Most notable achievements: USITT 2012 Lighting Design Award sponsored by Barbizon Lighting Company; Joseph Jefferson 2013 Award for Best Lighting Design for City Of Dreadful Night; but my greatest achievement is watching my students discover technical theatre. I have been lucky enough to teach college undergraduates and high school students at Carnegie Mellon University and high school students at Northwestern University, and currently, I teach at Chicago High School for the Arts. Helping a student understand the joy of stagecraft and design, and watching them achieve a lightbulb, “aha” moment is the greatest sense of achievement I know.

When I started in this industry: Informally, I started “stage managing” in high school, meaning I was the only student who wanted to be involved in theatre but did not want to act. I began working in theatre seriously while I was in undergrad at Tufts University. I worked with the drama department, as well as with the student theatre organizations Pen, Paint, and Pretzels (3Ps) and Torn Ticket II.

Triangle Factory Fire. Photo by Cat Wilson.


How I got into this industry: I went to Tufts for psychology and biology, and I planned to join the student theatre group so I could meet new people and make friends. The first meeting I sat next to the lighting designer for the fall major production, and she asked if I wanted to assist her. I said yes and ended up assisting many shows that first semester. By my sophomore year, I was working on every production and quickly realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

Influences: Abby Estabrook and Paul Toben taught me a lot when I was working with 3Ps and Torn Ticket II. My scenic design professor, Ted Simpson, mentored me all through undergrad, helped me create my own technical theatre major, and introduced me to the idea that I could go to graduate school for lighting. My professors at Carnegie Mellon, Cindy Limauro, Abigail Rosen Holmes, and Todd Brown, pushed me to find the designer within myself and really develop the confidence to present my ideas as an equal collaborator. Todd also allowed me to follow my passion for teaching, and I assisted him at CMU teaching stagecraft.

Worst advice I’ve ever heard: “You can’t do that, so you should find something else you are good at.” Telling someone to not attempt a job or task because he or she does not know how or is not good at it is the worst message. If you never try and never practice, how do you expect to become good at it? And even if it remains not a strong suit, if you love to do it, you should do it, period.

Best advice I’ve ever heard: I have two that I constantly repeat to myself and my students: My grandfather’s definition of success was “Find what you love to do, and then find a way to get paid to do it.” Second: “Ask for what you want.” If you never put it out there, no one knows to give it to you. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you want to work with them because you never know when they will say yes.

Urinetown. Photo by Cat Wilson.


My favorite thing about the production industry: The people: working with individuals who live and breathe creativity is so exciting, and I’m truly inspired by the people I get to work with every day.

Favorite design/programming/technical trick: I love discrete timing! I really love the beauty of a well-timed cue, when everything falls in line right when it is supposed to. It is a level of detail that most people do not notice, but when I see it work, it just makes me feel so good. It is one of those tricks that 99.9% of people will never notice, but it makes all the difference.

Plans for the future: I plan to keep designing exciting shows all over the country. I currently work in theatre, dance, opera, and events, and I would like to continue the variety and form strong relationships in each area. I also plan to keep teaching, and with a strong professional career, I will be able to offer students opportunities to pursue their passions as well.

Other interests/side gigs: I love being outside. I used to row, and I taught windsurfing for ten years, so I’m a big fan of being on the water. Recently I have been so busy that I haven’t been able to get out much, but I look forward to taking advantage of Lake Michigan more. I’m crafty and love to paint, knit, and crochet. I also love to cook, so I try to have friends and coworkers over for dinners.

Awards, honors: USITT 2012 Lighting Design Award sponsored by Barbizon Lighting Company; Black Theatre Alliance Awards 2013 nomination for Hoodoo Love; Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Lighting Design, 2013, for City Of Dreadful Night

TAGS: Theatre
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