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Lighting artist shares tools of the trade with IU Kokomo theater students

Nov. 30, 2016

For many people working in theater, the goal is to light up the stage with a memorable performance.

But for Diana Kaiser, her job has been done well when it goes unnoticed.

The visiting lighting designer gave Indiana University Kokomo students a backstage pass to the behind-the-scenes career opportunities available to them in theatrical arts.

Diana Kaiser works with students on stage

Lighting designer Diana Kaiser, left, gives a lighting demonstration on stage at Havens Auditorium on the campus of IU Kokomo. | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

Students clustered around Kaiser on the darkened Havens Auditorium stage, watching as she manipulated lights with colored gels in blue, green and red, to change the appearance of a bowl of multicolored M&M’s.

The most important part of her job is teamwork, she said, because what she does can change the appearance of the costume and set designers' work, and can even change how the actors look on stage.

"Now, when you go to a professional show, you’ll understand why things look so sharp, and why everything seems to go together, which doesn’t always happen with community theater led by volunteers," she said. "If the lighting designer has done a good job, you tend to not even notice the lighting."

From practical tips -- when you carry tools up a ladder, tether them to yourself so you don’t accidentally drop a wrench on someone’s head -- to more personal -- don’t work in theater if you aren’t having fun -- she shared what she’s learned in her career, first in a lecture on design and then in a hands-on lighting workshop.

Diana Kaiser was invited to IU Kokomo by her mother, JoAnn Kaiser, a senior lecturer in communication arts.

"My number one goal is for (my students) to recognize that there’s more than acting," JoAnn Kaiser said. "They only think of television and movies, but there are also possibilities working in live theater. There’s publicity, there is behind-the-scenes work. This is broadening their horizons."

She said theater can also provide a second income, like it does for Diana, whose main job is in marketing and training for GrubHub in downtown Chicago.

Senior Nate Taff, whose focus is in creative writing, Said Diana Kaiser’s lecture and workshop gave him new ideas of how he could get involved in theater.

"I’m used to looking at the acting perspective, but the costumes, sets and lighting all have to work together for a successful performance," the Noblesville resident said. "This gives me a greater appreciation for what goes on backstage."

Freshman Cheyenne Brumbaugh plans to be a middle or high school teacher after earning her degree in education. She said directing a play or musical could be part of the job.

"It’s cool to make connections with people who have expertise in the field," she said. "They are giving me a hand up as I prepare for my career, and if I am successful, then I can come back to help future students. If I were to direct, this gives me a better idea of what to expect from the crew, and an idea of how I can help them succeed."

Diana Kaiser earned a degree in theater design and technology from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Arkansas, with a focus on lighting design. She also expanded her studies in design with props, costumes and other technical aspects of theater.

Since moving to Chicago, she has worked with Chicago Youth Shakespeare, The Kinematics and the Fringe Festival, among others. She’s also consulted and collaborated in fashion, music videos and galas.

Diana Kaiser's work with IU Kokomo students aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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