Lighting student interviews for Hemsley internship

Lighting student interviews for Hemsley internship

calendar icon12 Mar 2013    

Aja Jackson
Aja Jackson

Aja Jackson, a senior from Bellevue, Neb., loves to dance and has a passion for lighting design. With a combination of these two, Jackson decided a few years ago to double major in dance and theatre with a lighting emphasis. Jackson’s goal after graduation is to be a lighting designer for dance and/or opera.

“There is a certain language you can speak if you have danced before that’s going to make designing the dance a little bit more involved and little bit more intuitive, and [you'll] understand where the dancer or the choreographer is coming from a lot more because you’ve been there before,” Jackson said.

Right now, Jackson is in the process for preparing for an interview and presentation for one of the more prestigious internships in the lighting world: the Hemsley Lighting Internship Program.

Jackson applied in January and received an e-mail stating that she was one of the top six finalists a few weeks later. Students from all over the country applied. The winner of the Hemsley internship is given an opportunity to move to New York City for nine months and work on lighting for the New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, Lincoln Center Festival and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

“I said ‘Oh my gosh, this is the internship that anyone would want,’” Jackson said. “Even if you weren’t a lighting designer you would want this internship because of the people you work with.”

As a finalist, Jackson will go to New York and give a presentation of her work in front of a panel of judges.

“It’s two solid days of a star-studded, knowledge-filled world,” she said. “It’s really cool to be selected for that and only a few people get to that point.”

Learning from a faculty mentor

Jackson has worked with assistant professor Laurel Shoemaker to help prepare for her presentation.

“It’s pretty exciting for us, for her especially,” Shoemaker said. “It’s nice for our school to have that kind of recognition.”

The process to get Jackson set up for the interview is extensive. She has to pick her best shows, draw out a draft and print off photos that best exemplify her lighting work. Jackson will be putting all of the components together while in New York.

Photo of Laurel Shoemaker
Laurel Shoemaker

“It’s a testament to your work because you don’t want to embellish it to make it look better - you want your work to speak for itself,” Jackson said. “It can’t be a really good photograph just on your computer, it has to translate. That’s what a lighting designer does. They need to transfer their work so that people can see it. That’s the whole point of doing what we do. They want to see you translate your work into a simple display and how does that translate to them.”

Jackson was given a grant through the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts to travel to New York.

“We want it to be a great experience,” Shoemaker said “We don’t want students to not go because they can’t afford it.”

During her time at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Jackson has lit numerous shows within the Hixson-Lied College, with theater companies around Lincoln and assisted Shoemaker in lighting a show in New York.

“She has become a very crucial role in my whole career and my life,” Jackson said.

Getting to work on Broadway

Last semester, Shoemaker e-mailed a few students asking to assist her on lighting the off-Broadway production of “Flipside: The Patti Page Story.” Jackson replied within 30 seconds of Shoemaker emailing, and graduate student Clay Van Winkle responded within 45 seconds.

“In reality, it was sort of a test, and it was first-come, first-served for an undergrad and a grad student of the ones who acted the most interested,” Shoemaker said. “One of the things you have to learn in theater is when to say 'yes' and figure it out later because these opportunities come to you in the middle [of things]…You figure out how to get the rest of your life in order to do it. It’s sort of a lesson in seeing an opportunity and taking it.”

While preparing for the off-Broadway production, Jackson was in the middle of working on the lighting for the University’s production of “Candide,” a production with the Angels Theatre Company and other projects.

Shoemaker explained that she had to keep her word and still work on these shows since there are so few lighting designers in the world, their promise is important.

“I will do anything I can to make this dream happen,” Jackson said. “And that’s what you have to do if you want to be in this field, you just have to do it.”

Shoemaker, Jackson and Van Winkle didn’t spend a lot of time in New York. Shoemaker made sure to reiterate to her students that the trip wasn’t going to be about touring New York City.

“In reality, it’s not only 'do you want to go to New York with me and light a show,' but 'this is not a fun trip to New York,'” Shoemaker said. “This is a work trip to New York…But It’s kind of cool to get off the plane in New York City and know you’re going to work instead of going to find a cheap place to eat.”

Though the show was in New York, Jackson came to see that it was no different to be lighting a show in a theater house there. She and Shoemaker agreed that when you’re lighting a show, a theater is a theater no matter where they were doing it. The job is the same and just as much hard work and passion goes into lighting a show no matter where they are.

“The cool thing about lighting a show in New York, though, is when you’re done with the show and you go outside and you see more theaters,” Jackson said. “You’re sort of at a center of this world that does exactly what you want to do.”

After lighting the show and seeing a preview of it, Jackson, Shoemaker and Van Winkle made it back to Nebraska to enjoy the rest of their winter break.

“It was utterly eye opening and affirmative in that it reminded me that ‘Yes, this is exactly why I want to do this and this is what I want to do,’” Jackson said.

- Ally Phillips, College of Journalism and Mass Communications