Q&A with Ben Rawson, lighting designer and KSU alumnus

Lighting designer’s work seen across Atlanta and coast-to-coast

KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 21, 2020) — ArtsKSU asked alumnus Ben Rawson to talk about his career in lighting design. Originally from New York, raised in Augusta, Georgia, Rawson received his B.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies in spring 2016 with a design concentration in lighting. Interested in the arts from a young age, Rawson became heavily involved in theatre through a technical theatre class in high school and realized that he could build a career working behind the scenes designing for live performance. Since graduation, his lighting design work has been seen in productions for the Atlanta Opera, Alliance Theatre, Glimmerglass Opera, and Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre, to name only a few. He was nominated for a Suzi Bass Award for Outstanding Lighting Design in both 2018 and 2019.

Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre

Image, above: Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre's production of "Horizons." Photo by Joseph Guay.

ArtsKSU: Why did you choose KSU?
Rawson: KSU had a good mix of what I was looking for in both location and program. The location, near Atlanta, gave me the chance to build relationships with companies in the city, work with local professionals who work and teach at KSU, have access to see a variety of professional productions, and the opportunity to work professionally while in school. The program itself offered several productions a season with a smaller number of design students, so there was an opportunity to be able to work sooner and more often than in other programs.

ArtsKSU: What made you want to study lighting?
Rawson: I was quickly drawn to lighting, specifically within theatrical design, because it has such versatility as a craft and offers opportunities across so many performance disciplines. As a lighting designer, you’re given the chance to create the mood and environment of a piece. Lighting is able to change the space, to snap the stage into a bright, overly colorful theatrical world—juxtaposed from something that was previously dark and intimate or realistic—in real time, in front of an audience. Lighting gives so much creative liberty and an opportunity that does not exist in other design disciplines.

Alliance Theatre Seize the King

Image, above: Alliance Theatre's production of "Seize the King." Photo by Greg Mooney. 

ArtsKSU: Did you have any favorite professors or classes?
Rawson: A project in my first lighting design course paired us with a student from the Department of Dance; each lighting student was to light one of their student works. It was one of my first experiences diving deeper into the production design world of dance and it really informed my career later as I moved into lighting for various performance disciplines and styles other than theatre. My undergraduate lighting influences include TPS professor Rebecca Makus, lighting designer David Tatu from Dance, and lighting designer Robert Wierzel, a guest lecturer at TPS who brought me into opera lighting.

ArtsKSU: What is a favorite project that you have worked on recently?
Rawson: My work with Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre (TMBT) would be some of my favorite design work. I think the openness of dance, as well as the team at TMBT, has really lent itself to me designing some of my best and most creative designs.

ArtsKSU: Describe your life post-graduation.
Rawson: After graduating, I hit the ground running trying to secure design work at local theatres from relationships I developed while at KSU. I began designing small shows around town, designing for local dance companies, in little black box theatres, anything I could book. I put my name and work out as much as I could, watched and observed other designers, and took assistant designer work to learn from—and work with—established career designers.

Actors Express Downstairs

Image, above: Actors Express' production of "Downstairs." Photo by Casey Gardner. 

ArtsKSU: What organizations do you work with on lighting design?  
Rawson: I have designed for Atlanta theatre companies like the Theatrical Outfit, Actor’s Express, Atlanta Lyric, Aurora Theatre, and 7 Stages, as well as for dance companies like Fly on a Wall, Emily Cargill and Dancers, Staibdance, and Immerse ATL. Currently, I am the resident lighting designer for Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre, and recurring lighting designer at The Alliance Theatre and Atlanta Opera, as well as frequent associate lighting designer for the Atlanta Opera. I have built wonderful relationships and friendships with many of the other designers, choreographers, directors, performing artists, and technicians in Atlanta and beyond as my work has taken me to New York, Massachusetts, California, North Carolina, Florida, and Utah.

Ben Rawson on stage

Image, above: Ben Rawson on stage, planning lighting design. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

ArtsKSU: How did KSU prepare you for your career?
Rawson: KSU helped me develop the craft and skill I needed to begin my career as a lighting designer, as well as provide me with a network of professional contacts and artists that I learned from and worked with to help me find opportunities for work

ArtsKSU: What’s next for you?
Rawson: My next steps are to continue designing and working in Atlanta, continue pursuing other regional and national design work, and to keep moving towards the kind of career and life I want for myself and for my partner and fiancée Maddie, who has been everything for me during my life and career.

To see more of Rawson’s work, please visit https://www.benrawsondesign.com/

--Kathie Beckett