Jack Cannon is the principal designer at the company he founded, Cann Light. Jack is just 20 years old and the youngest graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, which means if you’re a high school or early college reader, Cannon was recently right where you are.

So how has he built a career in the world of lighting design and what advice does he have for students looking to do the same? Read on as Jack shares his story and actionable tips to chart your path beyond the school stage.

Focus Delivers Results

Jack Cannon Headshot

Jack Cannon Headshot – Photo By Meredith Adelaide

At age 14 Cannon got involved in theatre and quickly “fell in love,” and realized he strongly disliked having to turn down theatre work gigs because he had to finish high school first. So Cannon graduated early in 2020 as a 17-year-old junior.

Even before he’d graduated from high school, Cannon was focused on his dream. “I taught theatrical design for the first time when I was 15, at the Illinois Community Theatre Festival,” he said. “At age 16, in January 2020, I taught at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival and the Indiana State Thespians Conference where I also adjudicated the [state] Thespian Excellence Awards.”

During the pandemic, Cannon completed his CalArts degree plus an associate’s in Business Management and Administration.

Seeing is Believing

Students experimenting with lighting design at the California State Thespian Festival Workshops

Students experimenting with lighting design at the California State Thespian Festival Workshops – Photo by Cann Light

While not everyone knows so early in life what they’re passionate about, Cannon knew what he enjoyed and saw opportunities that became stepping stones to his current career. If you know it’s theatre you love but you’re still not sure what you want to do, check out this post.

At the end of the 2020 Illinois High School Theatre Festival where Cannon taught six workshops, a participating teacher told Cannon, “It’s one thing when an older professional comes in to teach. Students see what they can become in 30 years. It’s a whole other thing when a student sees someone who is literally their age; a working professional and teaching.” 

That experience has led to much of his success in lighting design and has also led to countless other opportunities. 

Jack Cannon’s Tips for Theatre-Industry Success

1: You Be You.

“The best advice I can give to students is to never let anyone put you in a box or try to keep you in a box. You have to force yourself to push boundaries,” says Cannon. “It’s the only way you can explore your art and the art form that you enjoy most.” So be brave enough to figure out who you are and courageous enough to bring a unique set of skills to the table.

2: Think Like a Business Owner.

“Another piece of advice is that you must learn the business side of entertainment. Art programs struggle to effectively teach the business of being an artist,” he said. “It’s important that you take the time early in your career to understand business management, client development, accounting, and contracts.”

3: You Must Network. Period.

Lighting control at NBC Universal Virtual Production

NBC Universal Virtual Production – Photo by Cann Light

Cannon admits, “All of my work can be traced back to asking and having coffee with an industry professional.” Who you know, who knows you, and who knows what you can do, makes the difference in getting gigs. In a world full of so many choices, it’s human nature to choose someone you know – or at least think we think we know. Introduce yourself and talk to people at every gig you do.

Choose the social media platforms where your decision-makers are hanging out; you don’t have to have a profile on them all. Then present a polished, on-brand profile with clear and easy ways to communicate with you. Interact in a general way on social. That is, don’t leave your profile to gather dust from inactivity.

Go to trade shows and meet people; leave a positive impression on them along with a way for them to remember you and contact you. And believe it or not, email is still one of the most effective ways to connect with people. Grow your email list and use it wisely. Reach out via email with a clear reason for someone to respond and have a conversation with you.

Jack Cannon teaching lighting design at California State Thespian Festival Workshops

Jack Cannon teaching lighting design at California State Thespian Festival Workshops – Photo by Cann Light

4: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

“Photography of your work is key. Start building a portfolio as soon as you have work to showcase,” Cannon says. Become friends with photographers that you meet, because it takes a special skill to capture the right image in a theatrical environment. Make genuine connections so photographers can also get to know you and what you’re trying to convey through your photography.

You can contact Cannon who said, “I’m open to everything and can be reached for engagements via email at [email protected].” Find him on Instagram and LinkedIn, too. 

Patty Craft is a regular contributor to the Educational Theatre Association.

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