Designing Women

Madeleine Bernatchez

“Madeleine is a gifted designer, conceptual artist, and director. She is highly skilled in all media associated with her principal craft of stage design; an incandescent imagination expands her reach beyond technique. She speaks the language of performers and is able to organize and inspire an ensemble. She is also in formation, in a religious sense…not literally, but effectively. Her artistry is in her whole person, and she is engaged in a mighty project of becoming. She is a keen and searching thinker and a concerned and articulate dramaturge aware of and in pursuit of the new. Her international sensibility and experience makes her a woman of her times; the field is plainly more and more about crossing borders — of media, nations — and she is supremely qualified to promote this sensibility. She is an artist to watch.”
— Erik Ehn, Playwright/Dean School of Theatre, CalArts

RESIDENCE: I move between Montreal, New York City, and Los Angeles.

DEGREE(S): BFA (studio arts/scenography) from Concordia University in Montreal; MFA (performance design) from the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.

POSITION/TITLE: Freelance designer, director, and teacher.

CURRENT PROJECT(S): I am working with Cirque du Soleil on the new 2009 show and developing a new Sintroca project.

OTHER POSITIONS: Freelance scenic and props designer.

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Starting my own company, Sintroca — that's what I'm most proud of.


HOW I GOT INTO THIS INDUSTRY: I became interested in the performing arts through my life in fine arts. Both my parents are artists; I grew up going to galleries and art openings. I was interested in the idea of performance, and its relationship to image, which led me into scenography.

INFLUENCES: Silent film, burlesque, film noir, installation art, Joseph Beuys, fashion, music, walls, sidewalks, boats, insects, old cars, the Natural History Museum…I think that any kind of image (in a book or in my environment) can turn into inspiration for a project, whether it's because of color, shape, light, or simply just because it makes you feel good or tells you something.

WORST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: “Stick to what you know.” I think that the only way for an artist to grow is to absorb what is around you and to allow yourself to jump into something unknown. I can't imagine being in a situation where you don't have any questions to ask.

BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: To make everything an opportunity to learn something new and to trust your visual instincts.

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY: Of course, I love the ensemble aspect of the performing arts. I love sharing ideas and images and being able to achieve them through many different minds.

FAVORITE TECHNICAL TRICK: I love old theatre mechanisms (ropes, pulleys, scrims, puppets, hand cranks, curtains…)

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: I would love to continue to broaden my spectrum in terms of work. It's great to be able to work with different kinds of companies, each with their own aesthetics and work methods. For me, this keeps things fresh and keeps me on my toes. And, I would love to be able to repair my own car.

OTHER INTERESTS/SIDE GIGS: Sculpture, carpentry, traveling, teaching, floral arrangements, fashion, eating, salsa…

ORGANIZATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS: Co-artistic director of Sintroca, a performance company based in NYC, Montreal, and Los Angeles; member of TENT, a performance company based in Brooklyn.

Natalie Robin

“I have had the good fortune to have Natalie assist me on many projects over the past four years or so. She is a terrific assistant as well as an exciting young designer, and that is, I believe, a fairly unusual combination. I believe that many of the qualities that make Natalie such a good assistant are the same ones that serve her design work.

Natalie does not make assumptions. She has an excellent understanding of traditional solutions to lighting problems, and yet she does not assume that the traditional way is the best way to solve any given situation. Her creative thinking is always specific to the play or the dance or the performance that she is designing. She listens to the play, to the director, to her fellow designers, and crafts her designs accordingly. Nothing is impossible to Natalie. It might be difficult, but she always believes that some sort of solution exists, and her passion for her craft drives her to work with her collaborators toward that end. Natalie is both a realist and a dreamer at once, and that balance helps her achieve great results.”
— Lenore Doxsee, Freelance Lighting Designer and Associate, Drama Department, NYU Tisch School of the Arts


POSITION/TITLE: Lighting designer

CURRENT PROJECT(S): Assistant lighting designer on The Marvelous Wonderettes (designer: Jeremy Pivnick); Blasted (Soho Rep. designer: Tyler Micoleau), Civil War Christmas (Long Wharf designer: Scott Zielinski).

Lighting designer on A Slight Headache, to be performed at the South Street Seaport Museum, 2009; a new multimedia production of This Is Way Beyond My Remote Control by Megan Bienstock at the Wild Project, NYC; Nixon in China (an unproduced Opera America Director/Designer Showcase project with director Jennifer Griesbach).

OTHER POSITIONS: Adjunct faculty member, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Undergrad Drama/Technical Production Track?“Vectorworks for Lighting Designers.”

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Lighting design of the Obie-winning production of The Argument (written and performed by David Greenspan, directed by David Herskovits); surviving graduate school.

WHEN I STARTED IN THIS INDUSTRY: I have been working in NY ever since graduating from Columbia in 2002.

HOW I GOT INTO THIS INDUSTRY: I took a lot of dance classes when I was younger and auditioned for school plays but never really wanted to be a performer. I started a drama club in my middle school and began doing technical theatre in high school, including a very minimal amount of lighting design. I was very active in extracurricular theatre in high school and college (where I double majored in Theatre and English) and eventually ended up concentrating in lighting design in the drama department at Columbia University. After graduation, I did my best to meet people whose work made an impact on me. I have been lucky enough to have found out how generous people in our industry are with their time, their knowledge, and their recommendations.

INFLUENCES: Lenore Doxsee, David Herskovits, John Conklin, ML Geiger, Robert Wierzel, Allen Lee Hughes, all of whom I have been lucky enough to work with and learn from, as well as all of the designers I have been lucky enough to assist. I am always inspired by the work of designers like Brian MacDevitt, Heather Carson, and Kevin Adams.

And, of course, my parents, who raised me to believe I could be whatever I wanted and surrounded me with all kinds of art and technology (and their relationship to each other) and instilled in me a real love of travel.

WORST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: I really don't know — probably a sign that I wasn't listening very hard.

BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: ML Geiger always says that two of the most important things to remember are: it always looks bad on the first day, and always, always have a valid passport. You never know when someone might want to fly you halfway around the world for a job.

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY: The unpredictability, which is also my least favorite. I am lucky enough to wake up every morning to do exactly what I want to be doing. And the people.

FAVORITE DESIGN/PROGRAMMING/TECHNICAL TRICK: I don't know if I really have one. I try to not have things to fall back on. It pushes me to work harder to find the right solution, instead of just any solution. I do, though, have a thing for hanging light bulbs. I also recently figured out that Lee L206 in an ETC Source Four PAR almost matches the color of a PAR 64 1kW.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: To continue designing interesting pieces and assisting people who inspire me. I am particularly interested in new work, site-specific projects, and productions that blur the boundaries of theatre, dance, music, and opera.

OTHER INTERESTS/SIDE GIGS: Reading, travel, photography (I still shoot and print film). I also see a lot of performance (theatre, opera, and dance). I spend most of my nights off in another theatre. I work in the lighting department at the Guggenheim Museum for lighting designer Mary Ann Hoag. I have also recently become a contributing writer for Live Design.

AWARDS, HONORS: JS Seidman Scholarship (NYU).

ORGANIZATIONS, MEMBERSHIPS: Associate artist, Target Margin Theater; associate company member, Polybe + Seats.

Roz Fulton

“Bob [Bonniol] and I were introduced to Roz when she became a student at CalArts. Roz came to CalArts with a unique skill set and vision. Her previous experience in music design and in experimental work had provided her with a base for process that was very interesting and an eye for precision. We watched her develop the discipline that enables a truly great designer to emerge. As an assistant, she has been fantastic. She helped create media content for Nickelback that was tremendous. Her work as ALD on Journey proved critical. She efficiently managed the lighting department and jumped on the backup console to help with effects and cue generation. Since graduating, her schedule has filled with amazing things. We're looking forward to seeing the productions she has yet to accomplish.”
— Colleen Bonniol, MODE Studios

RESIDENCE: Los Angeles, CA

POSITION/TITLE: Assistant designer, MODE Studios

EDUCATION: MFA, CalArts, 2008

CURRENT PROJECT(S): Growing Up Linda, Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Joyful Noise, Boston Pops, Wizard Of Oz tour.

OTHER POSITIONS: Lighting designer and resident video designer for Kinesthetic Sense Dance Company (

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Making my parents proud.

WHEN I STARTED IN THIS INDUSTRY: In high school at Walnut Hill, where I helped design my first set with Cap Courduan after the scenic rental house called to say our rental choice was burned in a fire so we could have the deposit back.

HOW I GOT INTO THIS INDUSTRY: A love of being involved with live production coupled with a case of stage fright, plus someone asked me to run the moving light board at Limelight in Manhattan when I was 19. Video design was a curiosity that developed into an obsession after CalArts accepted me into the Integrated Media program.

INFLUENCES: Frieder Weiss, creator of software for video/dance.

INTERACTIONS: I recently was able to see Weiss at work with Australian dance company Chunky Move while at the Fringe in Scotland. It inspired me to keep thinking of more ways technology can integrate into live production. His comprehension of movement in a digital form allows the dancers to be magically transplanted into vivid geometric dreamscapes or surreal bedrooms or anywhere one can imagine, just by his manipulation of video-generated light and textures. Looping video, sound, and the dancers' movements, while feeding back each signal into itself to create one piece that can never be duplicated or repeated, is sheer genius!

Christina Giannelli, Dance Source Houston producer and Houston Ballet lighting designer: Giannelli's dedication to producing new dance works in conjunction with her commitment and talent as a lighting designer has allowed me to see that you can successfully pursue two things at once. Both full-time passions, she works in grassroots arts development while serving as head of lighting for a world-renowned ballet company. Her desire to bring beautiful works of dance to the community in different ways combines her two talents, proving you don't have to narrow your life to just one discipline.

LeRoy Bennett, lighting designer: His incredible visionary style and meticulous cue structures are fascinatingly in tune with sound. The way he cues a song is truly how you feel crescendos and changes in the musical structure. It's not just to “the beat of the music.” It's far beyond that simple construct; it's compounded sounds and variations. And with his layered cueing so deeply embedded into the song, no other visual image could ever replace its perfection.

WORST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: “You don't need a section.” — Anonymous

BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: “You do need a section.” — Don Holder

“If you are going to dance at your console, button press timing should take first precedent, and your two-step should be second.” — Patrick Dierson

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY: The inspirational work that can generate when the entire production team is in unison and the feeling that creates. It can be a rare and unique thing, but when it does happen, it makes everything you have done worthwhile.

FAVORITE TECHNICAL TRICK: Using Max MSP from Cycling ‘74 for creating media servers, an ideal tool on a student's budget. I managed to create my first interactive video gallery exhibit using the one-month demo version.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: Learning more about infrared technology so I can follow my dancer friends with motion trackers and getting married in May to my favorite audio engineer.

OTHER INTERESTS/SIDE GIGS: Designing two pieces with Kinesthetic Sense Dance Company; video and lighting this fall for the band VNV Nation; and part-time snowboard instructing.

AWARDS, HONORS: Audelco Award Nomination in 2003 for Best Lighting Design.

Veronika Vorel

“Veronika is indeed a young sound designer on the rise. She has done some very interesting work as a student and has recently settled in the DC area to start to build her career. Deciding to move to DC is, in itself, a different choice as many designers find New York on their path to the professional world. In fact, she is a part of a trio of very unique and very talented designers that all came out of the School of Drama together this past year. In fact, this was my first class that was made up of all women. In some ways, this should not be significant, but in a field that is dominated by men, these women all have developed individual and diverse sets of talents as sound designers. Working with director Mike Donahue, Veronika further developed her unique style of sound design, creating soundscapes and music used as textural, visceral elements, underscoring entire productions. These aural landscapes constructively influence the emotional state of the production. While some might characterize these designs as intense, their influence is powerful, and in the right production, the effect is both disarming and exciting. The ebb and flow of the soundscape tracks the temperament of the play and creates a memorable experience. Of course, Veronika is capable of more traditional design work, including musical theatre, but her aural landscapes have become a mark of her design character.”
— David Budries, Chair, Sound Design, The Yale School of Drama

RESIDENCE: Arlington, VA

EDUCATION: Study in Music Composition at the Prague Conservatory of Music (1999); BFA, Sound Design, California Institute of the Arts (2005); MFA, Sound Design, Yale School of Drama (2008).

CURRENT PROJECTS: Henry IV and Arcadia, Folger Shakespeare Theatre; Alice, Roundhouse Theatre; Fever/Dream, Woolly Mammoth Theatre; sound systems consultant, Katherine Hepburn Center for the Performing Arts, CT.

OTHER POSITIONS: Assistant and associate sound designer to David Budries, Ryan Rumery, Michael Eisenberg; onsite coordinator/translator for Prague Quadrennial 2003, 2007, 2011.

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Four hours of soundscape and music for a production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt in a 360°, multi-level seating configuration.

WHEN I STARTED IN THIS INDUSTRY: I was sitting at the piano at the age of three, on stage at the age of four, and stage managing at 14. By the end of high school, I was completely torn between becoming a film score composer, a stage manager, and a researcher in music cognition. A few years later, I discovered sound design and have been doing it ever since.

HOW I GOT INTO THIS INDUSTRY: My grandmother worked for the director of the National Theatre in Prague, and my mother has always been an avid theatregoer, so I suppose it could be said that it's in my blood. The theatre was a primary center for political and social discourse in the communities I grew up in — most notably Czechoslovakia under the communist regime, where I spent my summers growing up — so it was a stimulating place to hang out… and we all know that no one hangs out in a theatre for long before being put to work.

INFLUENCES: Sound designers Steven Brown, David Budries, Bray Poor, and Martin Desjardins for their musical sensibility, commitment to text, to process, and to community. Chris Akerlind, who taught me the full scope of what it means to be a designer, in the broadest sense of the term. Eric Satie for essentially inventing background music. Trent Reznor and Matthew Herbert for what they can do with a microphone and a laptop. Brian Eno for his philosophies. Diana Deutsch for her studies in the cognitive relationships between speech and music.

WORST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: “The only reason to get a graduate degree in design is if you want to teach.”

BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: “Do not take every job you are offered. Doing less work of higher quality will be more fulfilling, professionally and artistically.”

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY: I love watching the industry change and grow, namely as technology becomes progressively more affordable and more powerful. Through it, we keep finding new channels for telling stories and creating worlds.

FAVORITE TECHNICAL TRICK: Make sure the actors can hear the underscoring in scenes. It ensures that you're all playing in the same sandbox, and most actors will naturally fall into the rhythm and phrasing of the music or soundscape, preventing the sound from coming across as “tacked on.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: Hopefully to continue doing what I'm doing and continuing to diversify. The more eclectic off-the-wall projects I get, and the more continents they're on, the better. Eventually, I'd like to pass along my experiences through teaching.

OTHER INTERESTS: Environmentally conscious architectural and industrial design, travel, cooking, swimming.


Sarah Sophia Lidz

“Twice, on her own initiative, Sarah secured necessary funds for international training and experiences — once for several weeks studying drawing, painting, and art history in Florence, Italy and again in 2003, when she received a USITT Student travel award to conduct research in the Czech Republic at the world-renowned Prague Quadrennial, followed by travels in Hungary and Romania. The 2003 USITT Study Tour group included Sarah and only one other student, Jessica McDill, traveling with some 20 design professors from colleges and universities nationwide. Some young artists might regard these as potentially stuffy travel companions and think it weird to spend nearly a month on and off buses, in and out of hotels, visiting theaters and museums totally outnumbered by older folks. Sarah's choice to join us afforded her lots of training from 20 professors! Rather than being intimidated, it is a tribute to her creativity, courageousness, and curiosity that she embraced this unusual circumstance…”
— Sylvia Hillyard Pannell, Professor of Drama Emerita, University of Georgia, USITT Immediate Past President


DEGREE(S): MFA in Theatrical Design from the University of Georgia; BA in Studio Art from Castleton State College in Vermont.

CURRENT PROJECT: I am currently designing costumes for a new play titled Oh My by Maggie Surovell who is a classmate from UGA. It will be produced in New York in 2009

OTHER POSITIONS: Assistant costume designer on Legally Blonde, the first national tour, costumes designed by Gregg Barnes; followed by assistant costume designer on Grease, the first national tour (of the most recent production), costumes designed by Martin Pakledinaz

MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Moving to New York upon finishing graduate school in Athens, GA to work on Broadway….When I arrived, I began working at Carelli Costumes, a premier costume shop in New York, followed by an internship at William Ivey Long Studios.

WHEN I STARTED IN THIS INDUSTRY: I officially started my costume design career when I was in undergraduate school, but reminiscing about my path, I realize that at most stages of life I was pointed in this direction. For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the possibilities that garments, shoes, and accessories have to offer and to communicate. At a young age with a fabulous dress-up collection supplied by my mother, I would dress up my two sisters and friends and create plays and haunted houses. I have always obsessed over fashion magazines, Tim Burton movies, and costume dramas. My affection for the beautiful city of Charleston, SC and attending a costume workshop given by Douglas Stetz, men's tailor at the Guthrie Theatre and a tailor most summers at the Spoleto Festival, inspired me to apply to work at the Festival.

HOW I GOT INTO THIS INDUSTRY: After returning from Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy where I had the privilege of studying sculpture during the fall of 1999, I decided that my art needed direction. I slowly made a move from the sunny art department to the windowless basement where Theatre Arts thrived. My undergraduate design professor, Angela Brande, gave me the opportunity to design the costumes for Castleton State's production of The Rocky Horror Show, and it was Earth-moving!

INFLUENCES: My parents and family, who encourage a “free to be” kind of attitude, exposed me to art and theatre from a very young age; my design professors Angela Brande and Sylvia Hillyard Pannell; great artists and fashion designers; and the legendary costume designers and engineers that I have been lucky to work with; William Ivey Long, Santo Loquasto, Martin Pakledinaz, David Woolard, Carolyn Kosopoulos, and Gregg Barnes.

BEST ADVICE I'VE EVER HEARD: My mother always tells me to keep walking toward my goals with dignity and grace. Gregg Barnes always says, “Never underestimate the power of hot-fix (rhinestones).”

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY: Collaborating with smart and talented people — I love the highly social aspect of our field.

FAVORITE TECHNICAL TRICK: The 4" heel or covering a pronged rhinestone button with net so it still twinkles but doesn't destroy everything in its path (silks, chiffon, hose, wigs, etc.)

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: Continuing to design, working in film, seeking new opportunities and traveling. There are some great new shows coming up in the spring, and the prospects of involvement with some of them excite me. I have been dabbling in film and television in the past couple of years, and more recently, I have done some stylist work.

OTHER INTERESTS/SIDE GIGS: I love hiking, kayaking, sailing, skiing, and swimming. I grew up in Vermont and enjoy the outdoors very much despite my penchant for pretty, delicate clothes and impractical shoes. I am an aspiring yogi who likes to cook, draw, paint, and shop.

AWARDS, HONORS: Zelma H. Weisfeld Award Nominee; USITT 2003/Young Designers Forum Award Nominee; USITT 2003/USITT-SE and USITT National Travel Grant Award for Summer Theatre Study in Eastern Europe, 2003; UGA's Student Artistic Leader for the International Schools of Scenography Exhibition; Prague Quadrennial, 2003; W. Joseph Stell Award for Excellence in Design, USITT-SE, 2002 and 2003.