Interview by Laura Ng
From NASA’s Future Forum and the Palo Alto Black and White Ball to San Jose Repertory Theatre, lighting designer Selina G. Young’s versatility goes beyond the stage. The founder of Tough Chicks Productions talks about working between live performance and corporate events, and how a specialized tax knowledge led to her uncommon position at the local IATSE.
|TBA featured member Selina G. Young
Tell us about your career path into lighting design and production. Does your process change between type of client or event?
I started at age 5, as a dancing snowflake. In high school, I wanted to be a playwright, mostly writing about the Asian experience. In college, I began working backstage when I realized that minority voices had a more difficult time being heard. Thankfully, that seems to be changing. I started in costumes and, after my first daughter’s birth, switched to lighting because I thought there was less gear to travel with- haha.
I have been fortunate to continue working in many facets of theatre and am proud to be an AEA Stage Manager and stagehand with IATSE, Local 134. Tough Chicks Productions was a moniker from my ex-husband for me and two other female lighting designers I worked with years ago. When I started being asked to design more on my own, it seemed a fitting name for my company.
Corporate events don't allow things like color and texture because of broadcasting issues, but I've found ways to incorporate my favorite elements to create different moods. For NASA’s 50th Anniversary Ceremony at the Tech Museum, I added color in the truss and on the drape around the screens to accent their video footage. Sometimes I’ll add the company colors and gobos to plain drape covering building walls. For VISA's all-staff meetings (broadcast internally) I even created matching colors for conference banners.
In theatre I enjoy non-theatrical instruments, such as domestic floor lamps, industrial work lights, and lanterns. Once, I had a performer hold an under-cabinet light because she wanted the effect of a sunbeam coming from her hand. Dance calls for different angles and isolation of light to highlight a dancer’s body. Shadow is just as important as light. Different cultures have different requirements as well: Filipino dance calls for color and texture, whereas East Indian dance prefers full stage light to see the intricate hand movements. Iggy Pop didn’t want any light directly in his eyes, so lighting was more from above.
Favorite project/production that you were part of or inspired by?
One of my favorites was AlterBoyz at San Jose Stage Company. I created a concert setting in a 200-seat theatre, right down to throwing on the “work lights” at the end, just like at an arena show. Not only was it my first show for them, but also the most cues I’ve ever written for a show. For Cabaret, at the same company, I turned the entire theatre into the KitKat Klub. Working with very little budget cements in my mind that money is not a necessary part of the work. Sometimes it makes you more creative when you have nothing to start with.
What off-route attributes, hobbies or experiences made a surprising contribution to your art?
I love taking photos of the world as I see it. I try to transfer those aesthetics to my designs. A more unusual asset has been attaining an “enrolled agent status” for tax preparation. Since I specialize in entertainment personal tax, it gives me an alternative way to contribute to the industry. It opened the door for me to become interim treasurer for the IA Local, giving me a chance to be a more integral member of the union.
I have two teenage girls who are amazing and keep me honest. They remind me how fortunate I am to work in this industry and the amazing people I get to meet and work with on a regular basis.
What do you like about the Bay Area theatre scene, and being a TBA member?
The creativity. There is any type of show you want here: musicals, straight plays, concerts, dance. Even the corporate world is getting into the game, adding more moving lights and video to the presentations. I work on shows ranging from traditional to avant-garde/experimental. With AlterTheater Ensemble, we worked in storefronts in downtown San Rafael, leaving the windows uncovered so passersby could see what we were doing, hopefully enticing them to see the performance.
I don’t have time to see a lot of theatre unless I’m working on the production. The TBA website and email updates help to keep up on trends, companies, artists and opportunities.
Anything coming up soon that you are excited about?
I am taking a break as I move my daughter to New York for school, but I am in discussion about some upcoming shows starting in November. I hope to keep working on creative and inventive projects. From theatre to corporate events and parties, while knowing the boundaries of the box are required, working outside the box is fun.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.