THEATRES TODAY are creating digitally enhanced, live storytelling experiences that can rival blockbuster films. Luis Garcia, an International Thespian Society alum of Troupe 6640 at Osceola County (Fla.) School for the Arts, has been working at that crossroads of stage and screen his entire theatrical career. Garcia is an award-winning freelance lighting and video designer/programmer based in Kissimmee, Fla.

Photo of Luis Garcia by Tobin Buckley.

The theatre bug bit Garcia in seventh grade. Hoping to one day become a professional video editor, he enrolled in a school video production course taught by Randy Cochran. Cochran was also leading the school’s technical theatre team through The Little Prince. He invited Garcia to join the production as light board operator.

“I worked in many components of theatre, such as the scenery and costumes, but what ignited my passion was the responsibility of running the light board,” Garcia says. “It felt as if I was the captain of a spaceship with all the faders and buttons to use at my command. I loved every minute of it, and to this day, I can still vividly remember this process.”

Cochran played an instrumental role in shaping Garcia’s path toward a theatrical career. Cochran taught him it’s OK not to design through a traditional lens: Thinking outside the box, especially in the fast-developing field of technology, is critical for theatre artists and creative professionals — a lesson Garcia still applies as a working artist.

Garcia earned his high school diploma in technical theatre, pursued a B.A. from Stetson University, and has worked full time in theatre since graduating in 2017. He’s developed his artistic approach by going beyond the parameters of traditional theatre design.

“The visual aspect of theatre, when done properly, should create what I call the ‘wow’ moment. That ‘wow’ moment is when you can see the audience bridge that gap between reality and the world we are creating onstage,” Garcia explains. “It’s that sensation of activating the right side of their brain, and they enter into a creative zone. This is what drew me in and continues to inspire me to do this work.”

In just four years in the industry, Garcia has earned a number of accolades and honors as a designer: a Live Design’s 30 Under 30 honoree, a 2018 USITT Rising Star nominee, the 2017 Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Richard Hay Lighting Design Fellow, and a 2016 USITT Gateway Program recipient. For three seasons, he was the video technician/programmer at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in 2018, he assisted lighting designer Alan C. Edwards on The Vineyard’s Harry Clarke — a production that earned the 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lighting Design. Garcia is a member of IATSE Local 154, and he’s an active member of La Gente Network, which aims to increase representation of Latinx theatre artists through promotion of their creative work.

Luis Garcia participated in filming for a TBA Virtual Fundraiser in June 2020 with Daveed Diggs. Photo courtesy of Luis Garcia.

What project has given you the most pride thus far in your career?
I take pride in all my projects, but one that stands out is the Collaborative Theatre Project’s production of Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood. I was responsible for both the lighting and video design. This was an amazing opportunity for me to discover both my strengths and limitations, holding two design positions simultaneously.

Due to the comedic nature of the musical, I was able to create many elements, including creating random spotlights and a “circle of life” background in their Lion King spoof. This show helped me increase my confidence in my decision-making skills and identify a clear vision in the early stages of production.

What unique opportunities has La Gente Network given you as a member, and how do you envision the future of the network?
I am so thankful to be a member of La Gente Network. For most of my career, I did not see my ethnicity represented in the field of design. Now I see that I am not alone, and that has been so empowering. My ultimate goal has always been to mentor young Latinx designers because I wasn’t as fortunate to have this opportunity early on in my theatre experiences.

This network is continuously growing and is working towards greater visibility and representation of Latinx and BIPOC designers in the field, professional support for members at different stages in their career and equitable access to resources within the industry. This has opened so many doors for me, and it’s going to open a lot of doors for the next generation of Latinx artists.

The pandemic and the cancellation of live performance events have caused many theatre professionals to pivot towards different projects, even outside of the industry. What has this past year looked like for you?
I would be lying if I said the past year has been easy. Just like many other artists in the industry, I was furloughed from the theatre company that employed me. Due to this, I actually ended up moving back home to Florida to be near my family. This has completely shifted my career from being a lighting and video designer to now being a live-stream consultant for multiple virtual productions across the country. I could have never predicted this shift in media, but I am extremely grateful and humbled for these unique experiences and, as always, opportunities to network and increase my skill set.

What are you working on now?
I have a few different virtual productions in the works. In October and November, I was the video designer for The American Conservatory Theatre’s virtual production of The Thanksgiving Play and Blood Wedding. Currently, I am video designing for Theatre Forward’s virtual fundraiser; video editing for a virtual cabaret; and I will be the live-stream programmer for a fundraiser hosted by Voices of Our City Choir. I have also started as a venue tech at a new entertainment venue located in downtown Orlando. I am excited for these upcoming opportunities and continue to contribute to the theatre industry.

What advice would you give current high school students who are interested in pursuing a career as a designer?
At times in the theatre industry, it is common to feel isolated and overwhelmed. It is important to remember that you are not alone. It is always daunting to get started in this field. I’ve found that staying open and honest with friends, family, and especially mentors can make the process easier. There’s never a reason to feel embarrassed when asking questions or asking for help because we’ve all been there before. Trust in yourself and your abilities, and the rest will come.

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