PwJ Team Member Spotlight

Finding My Light
Author: KC Wilkerson
I get a lot of questions about my current job so let’s start there. I’m the principal lighting designer for Disney Parks Live Entertainment at the Disneyland Resort. My role consists primarily of three parts:
  • I oversee the creative implementation of lighting and visual effects (including lasers, fountains, fire, and atmospherics) by providing leadership for my team. Together, we design, implement, and program creative visual elements for shows, parades, and projects in California and Hawaii.
  • I provide creative direction for our fireworks program, overseeing all of the creative elements for the seven different shows we perform.  
  • I design projects. If you’ve been to Disneyland in the last 10 years, you’ve seen my work or the work of my talented design team.
My theatre career didn’t start at Disneyland, though. It began with a passion for music, art, and architecture.
 
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a rock star (always a great career plan). My parents gave me an electric guitar for Christmas one year, and I tried to teach myself to play but I was undisciplined. I eventually abandoned it because I realized I didn’t have a passion for playing music – the passion was for listening to music, collecting records, and going to see concerts.
 
My second passion was art. I dove deep into art classes and as I learned more, my passion for art and artists grew and I found myself expressing things I couldn’t say in words. There was, however, the nagging realization that while I was deeply passionate about art I couldn’t see it as a career.
 
Then there was architecture. From an early age, I was always trying to figure out how things were built. In junior high I took drafting classes which taught me how to be intentional and precise. I took Shop which taught me how to build what I had drafted. However, I had significant struggles with math and without math, architecture would not be possible.
 
What I realized, years later, was the common bond between my passions involved the act of creating. Art, music, and architecture were the manifestation of my core desire: to be creative. I had no idea how what to do with that much less how to turn it into a career. Then, in high school, a friend of mine who knew my art background asked if I wanted to come to a “paint party” in the school auditorium to paint the set for their upcoming show. I showed up and almost immediately realized I loved the inclusive, creative environment. I hadn’t previously experienced that camaraderie, that shared sense of purpose. It wasn’t about the set, or the acting, or the lights; it was about all of us working together towards something bigger.
 
I can’t write something about my career path and not acknowledge two specific teachers who were instrumental in connecting me to my creativity.
 
In addition to introducing me to design principles, art teacher Martha Doyal pushed me. Her simple demand was “show up to the canvas”.  She forced me to challenge myself. She insisted that I not allow anyone to place limitations on me. Perhaps most importantly she inspired me to kill my excuses. Those are eternal lessons that I use nearly every day of my life.
 
As my first theatre director, Ken Dyess taught me the power of elevation. The idea that there is a bigger picture, that it was important to understand that picture, and the only way to see it all is to get out of the weeds. He gave me the opportunity to use my passions and skills by designing sets. He was the one that connected the dots and pointed me down the road to becoming a set designer.
 
The summer I graduated, I went to see The Police in concert. There, I saw moving lights (which were in their infancy) for the first time. It was magic as far as I was concerned and I fell hopelessly in love with light. In retrospect, it’s still surprising to me how one experience can crystallize everything and shoot lightning bolts deep into your core and fundamentally change your life. After that night, I no longer wanted to be a set designer.
 
So off to college I go, and since I was a scholarship recipient I was required to audition for all of the shows. Much to my dismay, I got cast. The more time I spent onstage, the more convinced I was that I wanted to be backstage. My college years were filled with design work, acting in shows, and being on stage crews.
 
After graduation, I bounced around the local theater scene in Houston (where I was living at the time) taking the typical odd jobs just to make ends meet. I had the opportunity to move to southern California with my family. I worked in many small theatres, and even though there were more gigs it was still tough to make a living. Then, on a whim, I applied for a summer job at Disneyland.
 
After a year or so, I was getting opportunities and enjoying the working environment. One of those opportunities was a series of promotional tours which allowed me to travel across the U.S. and Europe over a span of three years. In those short three years, I rose from being a tech to crew chief to technical director. While being on tour is exciting, it’s also exhausting so I decided to come back home and put down roots.
 
Returning back to the park, I began to seek out other opportunities. I said “yes” to everything, including an offer to be assistant technical director for a new Disneyland fireworks show. It was there that I fell in love with larger-than-life spectaculars. It was (and continues to be) great fun working at such a grand scale. That show was a huge hit and shortly afterward I was offered a job as one of Disneyland’s technical directors.
 
You’re thinking, “Wait, why are you a TD? Didn’t you want to be a designer?” The answer is yes, but one of the most important lessons I have ever learned is that the path isn’t straight. It includes curves and dips, each one of which contains opportunities. At the time, the company did not have design roles within the organization and being a TD was the closest I could get.
 
Once I was a TD, I realized I could do some of the design work myself. I began doing larger projects where I was fulfilling both the TD and the design role. That got the attention of my leadership and over the course of the next several years, my role evolved to include more design work. When the company restructured our organization about 10 years ago, they created new positions and I was moved into the lighting design role. I am now part of a larger group of designers (lighting, audio, video, show control) and technical directors.
 
I’ve also continued to work in theater, designing lighting and projection for a variety of shows (and picking up a slew of design awards), in addition to corporate work and museums. Along the way, I discovered that I love sharing what I’ve learned with students so I’ve participated in the California Thespian Festival and the International Thespian Festival; conducting workshops and mentoring design students. With Disney Performing Arts, I’ve developed a series of technical theatre workshops that allow students a peek behind the curtain to see how we create some of the magic they see in Disney parks. I’ve given keynote addresses to students and spoken with teachers around the country about the arts, creativity, and design. I love doing all of those things but nothing really eclipses the moments I can stand in front of a new rig and see it light up for the first time. After 38 years in this business, it’s the one thing that makes me feel like I’m in high-school again; and it never ceases to bring up a sense of wonder and give me the feeling of so many possibilities waiting to be realized.
About The Author

KC is an award-winning designer who leads the team that designs, implements, and programs entertainment lighting for The Disneyland Resort and Aulani. A professional member of the Association of Lighting Designers, he has been published in Live Design, Stage Directions and Teaching Theatre among others. He develops and presents technical workshops for Disney Performing Arts and is a speaker for high school and college tech students.

 

 

 

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN
TO BE AN ACTOR CEO?

Author: Michael Moreno 

Creator and host – Actor CEO Podcast 

It’s a truly special thing to be in training as an actor. Whether you’re in a high school program, college or beyond, that growth and incubation period is important for developing your craft. 

But then you graduate…and immediately become a business. That’s right, you become a creative entrepreneur, the CEO of YOU – THE ACTOR, and your success over the years is based very much on you operating from that perspective. You are in charge of the marketing, pitching, relationship building, improvement and direction of your business from day one! And it’s hard to get that education in school. 

This education is where The Actor CEO Podcast comes in. With over 150 episodes with industry pros reaching 14K followers around the world, the podcast and ActorCEO.com are focused on helping actors treat their career like a business. It’s what has kept us rated as a Top Podcast for Actors by both Backstage and Casting Networks and has allowed me, Mike Moreno, to host the show, write articles for Backstage and Stage Milk, coach actors and bring these teachings to schools and programs around the country. 

One program I teach (now virtually) to college and university acting classes is called Actor to Actor CEO: 5 Keys to Building Your Acting Business. The 5 keys I think every actor must master to create a sustainable creative life (even in a pandemic) are:

  1. Know what you’re great at right now.

  2. Find your audience.

  3. Never be afraid to pitch yourself.

  4. Master your messaging.

  5. Build relationships.

I’ll dive into two of these keys, Know what you’re great at right now and Never be afraid to pitch yourself, in detail here. If you want more details and discussion on these 5 keys please feel free to reach out so we can share this program with your school or actor training program.

Know what you’re great at right now: Don’t be that actor who says “I can do everything.” It’s bad for business. It may be true, but you should find what one or two things you can do best right now and focus on them to build some momentum and foundational relationships with the people you want to work with.  The 80/20 rule works well here. Most likely, when you really think about all the roles you’ve been cast in or found that they came easy to you, there are probably about 20% of your roles that lead to 80% of your bookings, castings, rave reviews, and best results. That’s a profitable ratio and it makes things easier for you. You’re not wasting your time stressing over an audition, job, training, or trend that falls outside that 20% of roles that you can NAIL 80% of the time. You literally stop engaging, looking at or submitting for that work. It’s outside of your focus. You instead spend a year or two focusing and improving that 20% gold mine.

Never be afraid to pitch yourself: Knowing exactly who you are, what you do, and having a succinct way of telling someone can open incredible opportunities. What is your elevator pitch? How can you answer the question of, “So what do you do?” with “I’m a (sarcastic best friend with biting wit and a heart of gold) who (stands her ground and always brings her best).  You can see how that immediately allows someone to know who you are and what you do best. Now they know how you can help them in the future and it took you six seconds to make that impact. 

Quick story – Elizabeth Maxwell is an actor I had on the podcast, and she started out as an actor in LA then moved to Austin and things were moving slowly, she felt, in her acting career. She started to get interested in voice over, made her own VO demo in her closet from scratch by researching the VO demos of other working actresses and recording stuff she thought worked for her, THEN she also went to animation conventions to meet the people who were creating the work she wanted to be a part of. She did meet some people, got connected, got some contact info to follow up and she did. FOR MONTHS. “Professional persistence.” And one of those contacts finally had the time and space to get her in on an audition for an upcoming project that she booked and that started her journey into the world of voice over which she has been doing consistently for the last 10 years, because she pitched what she did best – non stop.

No matter what happens in our industry (recession, pandemic, changing trends) the fundamental fact that YOU are the chief creative decision maker and do not have to wait for permission, acceptance or validation from another to push your career forward will remain true. In fact, with more content out there than ever before and more platforms making it accessible directly to the audiences who want to see it, there is less preventing you from reaching those goals than in our entire artistic history.  

So empower yourself to own your space, your voice and take action every day that builds your business and pushes your dreams forward. 

About The Author

Michael runs The Actor CEO Podcast + ActorCEO.com (a Top Rated Podcast for Actors by both Backstage and Casting Networks), connecting thousands of actors around the globe to industry pros, tools, and resources to help them treat their career like a business filling the gap between training and building a sustainable creative life. Michael empowers modern artists by contributing content to multiple online outlets, teaching industry business and marketing classes in drama schools around the country and coaches creative professionals.