A freshman at Fordham University, studying Theater Design and Production, Amara Payton McNeil is one of the six Pat MacKay Diversity In Design Scholarship winners. She received the 2018 Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative Training Scholarship from the American Theatre Wing, which allowed her to attend the NYU Tisch Summer High School Production and Design Workshop, and the 2019 Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative University Scholarship. Her show credits include Seussical (Hartford Stage Education), Stained Pages (Carriage House Theater), and Uprising (Herman Gillman Theater). McNeil is a strong believer in the need for more women of color in all areas of theater technology.
Live Design: Why did you apply for the Pat MacKay Diversity In Design Scholarship?
Amara Payton McNeil: I chose to apply to the Pat MacKay scholarship out of pure necessity. I knew that unless I did everything I could to finance my education, there was no way I would get a chance to go to college, studying what I love. The fact that I was able to find a scholarship that supports and encourages diversity in design was simply a miracle. As someone who rarely sees someone who looks like me in the field of technical theater, it is comforting to know that there are organizations that are advocating for me.
LD: What made you interested in the field of lighting, projection/video, or audio design?
APM: From the ages of twelve to fifteen, all I ever did was act. I knew that I enjoyed the process of creating art; however, I had absolutely no desire to be on stage. When I was first taught about lighting design, I knew it was for me. It allowed me to contribute to the story, without me ever being seen. It gave me a chance to enhance the experience of a show without the audience even realizing it is being done.
LD: What are your career goals?
APM: Although I am currently studying theater lighting design, I hope to go into the career of concert lighting. There is something about going to a concert and being immersed in the show that I feel you cannot find anywhere else. It is almost otherworldly. Although concert lighting is my ultimate goal, I hope to get to a point in my career where I have the skills to light any venue or event.
LD: How can the industry better serve underrepresented communities?
APM: The largest way that the industry can better serve underrepresented communities is by advocating for and supporting the education of the arts, as well as recognizing and lifting up those designers who are already representing their communities. In design specifically, I found that I had nowhere to learn, as well as no one to look up to. I believe that the industry needs to support the expansion of design education in low-income areas and lift up all of their fellow designers, not just the ones who look like them.
LD: Are there particular challenges you have faced?
APM: One of the most significant challenges I have faced has been the discomfort of being a female, especially a female of color, in a male-dominated field. Often times, when I am doing overhire/electrics work, I am not only underestimated because of my gender, but I am forced to endure sexist comments. It is issues such as these that prove that we have a long way to go as an industry, and giving a Tony to a woman is not going to solve it.