IWD 2021: Women In Lighting

With International Women’s Day 2021 theme being #ChooseToChallenge, TPi’s Stew Hume and Jacob Waite shine a light on the tireless work of organisations and individuals challenging the lack of diversity in the live events sector.

Anne Militello of Vortex

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, Women In Lighting hosted a Global Gathering open to everyone in the lighting community featuring a selection of sessions with Inspiration, Project, Action and Social themes. Lighting Designer and Fine Artist, Anne Militello of Vortex – who has toured with the likes of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed, not to mention working on numerous installations that continue to grace several buildings in New York City, including the New York Historical Society and the new 42nd Street Studio Building – spoke at the event. Now Head of the Masters of Fine Arts Lighting Design Program at California Institute of the Arts, TPi sat down with Militello to discuss WIL.

How did you get involved in live events?

I volunteered at the local theatres and concert venues as a teenager. I was entranced by the magic of the stage and decided to pursue the life of a theatre artist. I also made friends with young musicians and offered to do their lights in various clubs. From then on, it was a series of backstage jobs, road crew work, and lighting design for clubs and theatres. I worked hard and met great people who gave me great breaks into the business.

How has COVID-19 affected you and how has WIL supported the community?

All the shows I had scheduled were cancelled. I am teaching lighting design at California Institute of the Arts, and although we are online, there are things we can do with visualisation software. It’s also been a good time to read, research and study. There is such a wide world of interesting people working with light and interesting points of view. As for Women in Lighting, I can only speak personally as a member, but the organisation has been doing online interviews with many international female designers and has been a great source for connection and inspiration.

What steps would you like to see when live events return to improve diversity of touring crew and working conditions?

I am involved with a few informal design groups to talk about the future of the industry – both in theatre and concert stages. This time out has been a chance to reflect on how we have been working for so many years. In the entertainment business, the lack of diversity has been notably bad. This pandemic may spur an involuntary ‘changing of the guard,’ whereas the older, more antiquated views which have discouraged women and people of colour to enter the live entertainment design and technical field will fall away as older people retire and younger people enter. The live industries have suffered such devastating financial losses, that when shows return, the industry may well be search out vibrant young people who will accept lesser pay in favor of the industry veterans, who producers may no longer be able to afford. These emerging artists are eager to enter the field and will generally be more technologically savvy. There are more women in this crowd than ever before.

What’s next for you?

I am designing restaurants and hotels to open next year – and hoping the theatres I had been working with will make it through.

This article originally appeared in issue #259 of TPi, which you can read here.