Hustle and Grow

by Ross Jackson

An Interview with Eb Madry, Lighting Designer

Ebony (Eb) Madry identifies as a black, queer female. She loves to create and support a space with lighting. She started to fall in love with lighting at 16 years old. And since that time, she has earned her MFA in Lighting from UC Irvine. She considers herself blessed to work with notable artists including Christian Vincent, Leslie Ishii, Paul Barnes, Michael Franti, Brandi Carlisle, and Melissa Etheridge. Eb’s designs are bold and actively strive to evoke strong emotion whenever possible, but what separates her from other lighting designers is her ability to stay calm during the sometimes stormy period of tech while continuing to explore ideas and enhance the show. Eb could sit at the tech table all day and night. 

Stage Directions: How has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?

Eb Madry: It has certainly been both. As for harming, it has made me the target of microaggressions on a creative team. As for helping, it has given me the advantage to have a more personable and understanding perspective on life and in my work.

How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?

It has made me aware that as a black, queer women that I have to hustle and prove myself. While some people might get many chances to do something or to screw up on a job, I generally only get one. So I don’t want people to doubt my ability.

What would you like for people of color considering - or in the early stages of - a theatre career to know?  

  1. As a young artist, you can question and call attention to situations that are microaggressions or not inclusive.
  2. Remember to value your time.
  3. Telling your story, or the story of people that look like you, is so important.
  4. Find things that will artistically feed your soul. It doesn’t have to be theatre but it should inspire your art and creations.
  5. Travel and take pictures. How can you create a Midwestern sunset with fireflies if you have never experienced it?

Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?

My Parents and Grandparents. My Parents wanted me to know my worth and pushed me to be the best I could. They are hard workers and team players and then made sure I understood the importance of those two things. My Grandparents supported me and filled my weekends with cultural events and activities. At an early age, they taught me how to analyze movies, architecture, and the world around me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their guidance and support.   

Do you ever find that in trying dispel the inherent doubt of others that there are times when you can't seem to do enough? If so, how do you deal with that?

Yes, I feel that often as a lighting designer gaining the trust of directors can be difficult to earn because I am actively creating and changing things in tech. I try to be open and upfront with my directors about my ideas and the progress I have made on their notes prior to the start of each tech. I create a document ahead of time that maps out all of my ideas with research images (and sometimes renderings) to show the director and creative team how I will support the story. 
However, sometimes those measures still cannot avoid a director's mistrust or doubt. When that happens I just try to give the director exactly what they are asking for and if time allows, I go back and make it artful and sculptural. But the goal is to address the director's needs first. They generally have a more in-depth understanding of the script since they have spent the most amount of time with it. 
 

Is there a type of production you haven’t done yet that you’d like to endeavor upon? (i.e. Opera, Dance, Themed Entertainment, etc.)

I would like to do more concert lighting. I love the chaotic style and scale of concerts.   

Can you give us three reasons you love what you do?

  1. The technology is always changing. I enjoy that lighting technology has given me a wider range of tools to use in a space. It has certainly made my job easier but challenging at the same time.
  2. I love collaborating with other artists. Walking into a space to create an environment with people that have the same passion and drive as me feeds my artistic soul.
  3. I enjoy impacting the audience. People don’t notice the minute long light cue but suddenly they are on the edge of their seat during a tense moment because of the isolation that I created in the space.

How important has your Master's Degree been? Is it possible to achieve without it?

It was very important for me and the life I wanted for myself. I think it would’ve taken me a lot longer to get where I am now. But with that in mind, I do think you can still achieve without it. It will just require you saying “yes” a lot more to any show/opportunity that comes your way.

People like to refer to matters of discrimination in the workplace as "isolated incidents" do you feel this is an accurate representation of the issue?

Most certainly not. Discrimination is not isolated, it has been threaded into the fibers of our society and culture.