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  • Chi

From Theater to Film/TV-Part I

Updated: Jul 16, 2020


Honestly, I never thought that I would leave my theater carer ever.

I love lighting design and performing arts with a burning passion. They are the reasons that I moved thousands of miles away from home and started a new life in foreign country.

But, to have a financial stable career in theater is a challenging task. It is not always about what you can do and how talented you are. I would say 9 out 10 is about your timing and who you know. I am never a smart worker. As a free lance designer, you have to work smart to conserve your energy. The “smart” I mentioned is your marketing strategy- How you market yourself as a brand that everyone would remember. It requires a lot of tactics and maneuvering among this vast theater ocean. I’d say after years of hard work I didn’t improve much at this department.

I used to keep an excel file and a detailed calendar dedicated all my email correspondences. The excel file had all the informations about artistic directors, production managers and lighting designers, including where I met them or know them from; where they work; where is their theater company located etc. And the calendar marked with all the dates that I should send out emails again or when I should follow up with people who applied to my last email. I did try to go to previews and openings but they never taught you how to do small talks in grad-school. I had 0 skill point in making connections that way.

It was exhausting.

I had an excellent resume comparing to other lighting designers of my generation. But I am positive that we were all barely making a living. I knew from the bottom of my heart that it could be worse if I wasn’t a graduate from a well-known school. That degree didn’t make you less stressed when you worried about your rents and all the bills.

Finally, I had enough. The last straw came from a dance company that my mentor connected me with. I am very grateful that she thought about me and helped me. But I never told her this story of how they mistreated me. In 2018, in the process of negotiating my contract as their lighting director for a piece that I had been managing every time it went on tour, their director of production used my immigrant statues as the bargaining chip attempting to cut my fee from underpaid to unreasonably low. The artistic director had written me a recommendation letter supporting my visa renewal application. From the director of production’s point of view, she thought that I owed them big time, as if that one letter could make that much of a difference. I was furious. I had never gotten so angry ever in negotiating a contract. I almost quit right then and there but my agent calmed me. I thought about my colleagues who would totally suffer more if I wasn’t there. In the end, I put my integrity aside and bowed down to my empty pocket.

That was my last project in theater.

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