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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From a lighting designer/electrician in Texas to a costumer in Chicago, here are some folks you should have on your radar.

Alison Lewis

Alison Lewis.

Profession: Lighting designer and electrician
Hometown: Born in Central California, raised in Austin
Current home: Austin
Known for: From 2016 until this past July she worked at ZACH Theatre, where she was the company’s first full-time board programmer and assistant master electrician and worked with the organization to help define that role to best suit ZACH’s needs. She also served as the theatre’s light board operator.
What’s next: After spending some time at Maine State Music Theatre to help finish out their summer season as assistant master electrician, she plans to pick up freelance lighting design gigs in Austin and the surrounding areas.
What makes her special: Lewis possesses “a wonderful balance of depth of knowledge and joy in her that makes her such a treat to work with,” says ZACH production stage manager Cate Tucker, who worked with Lewis for several seasons at ZACH. “As a stage manager I’m a jack of all trades/master of none, and she is a master of a theatrical electrical system and what is best to do to aid the production, which is a wonderful support to rely on. I adore having her as a part of the team and know she is on to great things.”
Forging her own path: “I think theatre is so odd yet freeing in that there isn’t one way to be successful and there isn’t one definition of success,” says Lewis. “The definition varies from person to person, and while that can be hard when trying to figure out next steps, it’s nice to know that I can really determine my own path in this industry.”

Chloe Treat

Chloe Treat. (Photo by India Treat)

Profession: Director and choreographer
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Current home: New York City
Known for: Treat served as the associate choreographer of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway and choreographed (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at Santa Fe Opera in 2017.
What’s next: After working on a secret project in a medium that isn’t theatre, she’ll return to (R)evolution at Indiana University (Sept. 14-22) and other venues. She’s also directing and choreographing Spring Awakening at Manhattan School of Music (Nov. 5-7), and she’ll choreograph the world premiere of The Good Swimmer, by Heidi Rodewald and Donna Di Novelli, at BAM (Nov. 28-Dec. 1).
What makes her special: “I’ve never seen someone more in their element than Chloe standing in the middle of a Broadway theatre on a God mic, directing traffic in all directions,” says Great Comet choreographer Sam Pinkleton. “She’s brilliant, she takes no shit, she’s committed to making everything she touches less boring, more accessible, more joyful, more responsive to the times we’re in.” He adds, “As soon as the rest of the world catches on (which is inevitable) we will all be so lucky to have her running all of the American theatre.”
On starting the journey: The wayward path of building a career has been challenging, she says. “It’s like, if there is a path, I definitely started it. I parked in the correct parking lot and got on the trail head. But then I saw an interesting bird and wandered off and lost sight of all those tree markers and now I’m basically wandering around the woods yelling, ‘Has anyone seen the director path?’ By all means if you know where it is, point me in the right direction.”

NSangou Njikam

Nsangou Njikam.

Profession: Actor and playwright
Hometown: Baltimore (but representing Cameroon)
Current home: New York City
Known for: He performed in his play Syncing Ink, co-produced by the Flea Theater in NYC and the Alley Theatre in Houston. His show Re:Definition was part of La MaMa’s Hip Hop Theater Festival, and Hands Up was at the New Black Fest.
What’s next: Njikam is currently working on an untitled project with UNIVERSES Theatre Company. His play When We Left Part 1, as well as Syncing Ink, will be produced this season.
What makes him special: Niegel Smith, artistic director of the Flea, who directed Syncing Ink, called Njikam “a joy to work with…because he is fiercely committed to staging black joy, legacy, and resilience. And through our seriously fun work manifesting the cypher and Yoruba culture—his play and presence created space for off-the-dome spirit raising by his collaborators and audiences.”
Building on tradition: “One thing that always raises discussion is the aesthetic,” he says. “I pull from traditions that originated in West Africa. That means it may not always look or feel like what Western theatre is used to. At first some may be intimidated, until they see how audiences respond to it. I do love performing my own work. My people are traditionally the authors and the storytellers, so what I’m doing is in line with my lineage. I am grateful to the ancestors for that.” Njikam continues, “Theatre is birthed out of ritual, and the purpose of ritual is to transform and elevate the inner and outer lives of people. When theatre does that, we understand why we need it.”

Lauren Turner

Lauren Turner.

Profession: Producer, director, actor
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Current home: New Orleans
Known for: She’s the former producer of artistic and community engagement at Southern Rep, and she’s the producing artistic director of No Dream Deferred, a NOLA-based company that foregrounds the work of artists from historically marginalized groups. She’s directed or appeared in several productions at those two companies, and was a TCG Leadership U Cohort 4 Grantee.
What’s next: This month Turner will be directing readings of two new plays, as part of No Dream Deferred’s series Black August: A Call to Action!
What makes her special: “What makes Lauren special,” says Southern Rep producing artistic director Aimée Hayes, “is her dynamic and thoughtful instigation of and investigation into tough conversations, while leading them with care, humor, and love.”
Making nutritious work: Turner says her favorite kind of theatre “unmasks and cuts right to the core of what it means to be human.” Regarding theatre in her local community and in the U.S. generally, she says, “As neighborhoods in New Orleans rapidly shape-shift and cultural displacement grows, as our nation battles with a core values crisis, the American theatre owns the distinct capability and responsibility to hold up and push forward stories that force us to honestly examine our developing narrative.” Drawing the personal and the political together, she adds, “To steal a wonderful use of a word from leadership consultant Paul Robinson, it’s ‘nutritious’ work. It facilitates growth of the human spirit. I am about that growth as it pertains to this field and what that growth has to offer to communities, youth, and our nation. I am about ensuring equitable and inclusive practices in the field because it makes the art better.”

Philip Luna

Philip Luna. (Photo by Lina Krueck)

Profession: Actor and director
Hometown: Pueblo, Colo.
Current home: Denver
Known for: Luna is a recipient of a Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship with Denver’s Su Teatro. Though he’s won awards as a director, Luna says he’s best known for performances in Red, Waiting for Lefty, Beirut, and The Normal Heart, as well as work with Su Teatro, especially Chicanos Sing the Blues and the ensemble-created educational piece The Cancer Monologues. This past summer he appeared at that theatre in The Revolutionist by Chicano rights activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales.
What’s next: Following discussions with Daniel Valdez, a founding member of Teatro Campesino, and time in Cuernavaca, Mexico, studying with Lalo El Guajolote of Teatro Zero, Luna says he hopes to share what he’s been learning with Su Teatro to continue the tradition and themes of Teatro, Carpa, and Chicano theatre.
What makes him special: “Phil Luna has been at the forefront of Denver’s theatre scene for nearly 40 years,” says Su Teatro executive artistic director Tony Garcia, adding that Luna’s work with his company stretches back three decades. “He has created important characters across multiple genres and is committed to the craft, continuing to take classes and audition, something he has always done throughout in his stellar career.”
Soul goals: Referencing Terrence McKenna’s quote “The task of the arts is to save the soul of humanity,” Luna says, “At the risk of sounding esoteric or ridiculous, I believe the best kind of theatre is the kind that is done in pursuit of that seemingly crazy goal.” He says he will use the Fox fellowship opportunity to “pursue that ideal, and ask myself: What is my role?”

Sanja Manakoski

Sanja Manakoski. (Photo by Nemanja Zoravkovic)

Profession: Costume designer
Hometown: Belgrade, Serbia
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Manakoski co-created or worked on several award-winning theatre and movie productions in Europe (In Secret, Chernobyl Diaries, and Panama). Her work on Hair earned the ULUPUDS award for Outstanding Costume Design, and was exhibited in the Prague Quadrennial 2015. In the U.S. she’s worked on Quixote on the Conquest of Self at Glencoe, Ill.’s Writers Theatre, plus several productions at Northwestern University, where she is an adjunct professor.
What’s next: Hair at Western Stage, The Tempest at the University of Wisconsin, Futura Past Forward at Hedwig Dances, and When She Had Wings at Imagine U at Northwestern University.
What makes her special: Ana Kuzmanic, costume designer and Manakoski’s former professor in Northwestern’s MFA theatre design program, says that Manakoski truly understands character. “Although Sanja’s medium is costume, her vision goes way beyond the clothes,” she says. “What immediately struck me about Sanja was her wonderful curiosity about the world—curiosity that allows her to see the beauty and inspiration everywhere and in everyone she encounters.”
Journey on: “Working in theatre is not just a profession for me; it is a way of living and a continual journey,” Manakoski says. “Every play is a new poetic adventure, and provides the opportunity to ‘travel’ to different places and time periods to meet new characters and learn their stories. While designing I don’t make just pieces of clothing—I am visually translating emotion, feeling, and experience into the costume to create the character’s second skin.”

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