30 Under 30: Emily Clarkson, Lighting Designer

In celebration of LDI’s 30th anniversary—1988-2018—Live Design gives a shout out to 30 Under 30: thirty young movers and shakers who are changing paradigms, looking at things from new angles, and rapidly rising to the forefront of their field. From scenic, lighting, projection, and costume designers to technicians and programmers, as well as those who work for manufacturers, production companies, or rental shops, our 30 Under 30 are the harbingers of tomorrow.

Last May, Emily Clarkson received her M.F.A. from University of Arkansas before moving to New York, where she began her work as the 2017 Hemsley Intern. Her resume includes Assassins, Three Decembers, Eurydice, Hayfever, Vietgone, and more. As a freelance lighting designer, she is currently working on the one-woman opera Backwards From Winter with The Center for Contemporary Opera.


Name: Emily Clarkson

Age: 29

City, State of residence: New York, NY

Position/title: Freelance Lighting Designer

Current project(s): Designing Backwards From Winter (a one woman opera with The Center for Contemporary Opera); assisting Tyler Micoleau at Second Stages this summer; freelance drafting for Arc3Designs

Most notable achievements: Hemsley Lighting Intern, 2017

When I started in this industry: I’ve done theatre almost as long as I can remember. I started designing lights around my third year of undergrad, which was 2010.

How I got into this industry: Honestly, I got into it the same way a lot of people do: accidentally. I needed the technical hours to graduate and thought lighting sounded interesting. About halfway through the lighting design course, a friend of mine needed a designer for a children’s production in a neighboring town, and I’ve been designing ever since.

Influences: In terms of designers, I mainly look to British designers. The specificity you tend to see in their work is something I am constantly striving for. I’ve admired Bruno Poet, Paule Constable, and Neil Austin for many years.

Worst advice I’ve ever heard: R80 in front light.

Best advice I’ve ever heard: In grad school, I was struggling with a show and finding the story we were trying to tell. I told my mentor that the show wasn’t speaking to me. He replied, “Sometimes you don’t speak with a show. You lightly chat.” It’s always stuck with me.

My favorite thing about the production industry: About the production industry in general, I like the collaboration. It’s one of the only reasons to do what we do. We certainly don’t get paid enough, or get recognized. It’s the people in the room. There is nothing so magical as a tech room where everyone is creative and getting along and really working together towards making a complete world.

Favorite design/programming/technical trick: I’m a sucker for a strong Par backlight, also a discrete fade out at the end of a show. You can make a moment by just delaying a light a second.

Plans for the future: I want to make art that matters. I get very frustrated in our current political climate, and I have to find an outlet or I’ll be driven insane. If that means I have to make my own company, that’s what I plan to do.

Other interests/side gigs: I’m also a graphic designer, and I do that occasionally as an outlet. I also love to write, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll write a horrible teen novel about vampires who also do theatre and sell it on Amazon.

Awards, honors: Hemsley Lighting Intern, 2017; published TD&T, 2016; Young Designers Forum, 2017

Organizations, memberships: USITT Member

Other: Really, even though I’m older than some people around me at my level, my career is really just starting. There are only a few of us from my alma mater in this town, and we talk a lot about how different it is for those who went to other schools. But at the end of those conversations, we always come back to the fact that we are scrappy and so eager to work. Every time I get discouraged that my career is just beginning, I tell myself that. Because I’m so hungry for the things I want, I’m ready to work hard and change minds through theatre. Lighting design is such a specific art form. It’s interpretive and beautiful. If I could do something else, my life would be a lot easier. For whatever reason, this is the career I was born for. And I’ll find that reason.

Website if applicable: Eclarksondesigns.com

Check out Live Design/LDI's other 30 Under 30: