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A Conversation with Lighting Designer & Inspiring Artist, Axiom Cutler

Inspiring Artists Stories

Today we'd like to introduce you to Axiom Cutler (she/they)

Current Location: Anaheim, Ca

Axiom, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?

The beginning of the journey predates me. My family comes from a line of technicians. My dad, and his dad, are both in technical theatre. My mom is in performance and stage management. And my parents even met each other when they worked at Disneyland together. Growing up, I spent a good chunk of time at my dad's office and would sometimes help out, which was the start of my technical learning. As I got older I would go to events he worked on and he would let me do some of the work.

In elementary school, I participated as a performer and technician in the school talent show, which my parents organized, and I was also in some of the mini plays they did. What I consider to be the beginning of my real work is the 6th grade play. We did a very condensed version of Aladdin, and I ran the light board. In middle school I put musical theatre classes on my schedule since it was the only theatre related thing on there. I would perform in some shows, but I also got the opportunity to do tech work for others. When I got to high school, I was able to attend the Orange County School for the Arts as a Production and Design student. I spent a great deal of time doing production work. I started with working on easier/lighter jobs such as follow spot or stage crew, and ended my high school career designing lights for shows. I am now attending college at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where I am working on my BFA in Theater, with an Emphasis on Production and Design, with a Concentration in Lighting Design. So far I've had the opportunity to learn several complicated skills and overall better my theatre knowledge. From drafting in Vectorworks, to figuring out how to measure a building in the snow, I've definitely benefited from the college experience, especially because of its proximity to New York and the professors that come to Montclair State University to teach.

Intermixed with my schooling, came my professional experience. In 2017, I attended the California State Thespian Festival. I won second place award for Best Lighting Design for a production of Legally Blonde. My mom posted this achievement on social media, and the owner of the Cabrillo Playhouse in San Clemente reached out to see if I was interested in working at their space. I did many shows there over the years, and through that made some connections. Since then I have branched out to a few other local theaters such as Stage Door Repertory and Yorba Linda Spotlight. When I turned 18, I joined IATSE Local 504 and was able to do some work with professionals, and every time I get a call, I know I'm in for some hard work and learning.

Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?

Because of the pandemic, my theatre career is on hold for the most part. I still do the occasional work day at some of the local theaters, but mostly I spend time saving for college by working in the food service industry. When I return to college this fall, I will be doing shows then, and in the spring of 2022 I will be designing Into the Woods. This will be one of my first large scale shows, and I am so excited to get started on that soon. Recent work that I did includes a Zoom show called "Enemy of the People," where I designed lighting for 8 performers using custom built mini panel lights and gel. Tracking every change was a tedious but rewarding process. When I went back to school in the spring, I had stayed in California for the fall semester, I was the lighting designer for a temporary exterior lighting installation called "Back to Life" where we lit the Life Hall building with a bunch of lights and designed them to music and ideas. That was the first full scale lighting design I had done for college, and it went really well.

The life of a Performing Artist can be challenging, and sometimes the best way to grow is to learn from other people's experiences. Can you tell us about any obstacles or challenges you've faced along your journey?

Knowing yourself is just as important as knowing how to hang a light or program a console. I used to have trouble communicating my ideas to others and always felt like I was being perceived incorrectly. The biggest part of overcoming that followed a meeting with my professor where they sat me down and told me that the way I communicated was concerning. Because in my mind, I thought I was being kind, courteous, and professional, this was a total shock. To help myself, I asked for advice, checked in occasionally on progress, and most of all, actively worked on improving my communication skills. A linked part of that was the way I experienced myself. As a nonbinary transfemme individual, I had internal struggles and dysphoria for many years before I figured myself out. When I did figure myself out, so much of my life improved. I started being able to make friends, communicate correctly, and feel right about myself. While other stressors derived from coming out, all the other ones went away, and it is so wonderful to be who I am now.

What are some of the lessons you've learned along your journey?

- Take pictures of lighting all the time. You never know when you'll need it for a research photo!

- Set aside time for self care, especially during busy tech weeks. If you work constantly, you will have trouble with mental health, school, and being well rested.

- Start learning about anti-racism, anti-oppression, LGBTQIA+ identities, and anything else that can make you a better, more open person to work with. Respecting everyone for their identities and taking into consideration other people's struggles or disabilities can massively help with an effective communication strategy. Everyone works differently. Find what they need to be able to work with you.

What advice would you like to share with other Artists?

Get some hobbies and spend time doing them. Since theater is work, if all you do is theater, you will never have anything fun to do! For me, I finally found a few hobbies I like: content creation, 3D printing, and Discord moderation.

Do you have a moment or accomplishment you are most proud of?

I did lighting design for a production of Newsies organized by Yorba Linda Spotlight. I was given the ability to design and implement an entirely new lighting rig into the venue, and it gave me the chance to dive deep into how to design a show. Seeing the final work on stage every night- since I also operated the light console, was a huge reward. From watching the 30-minute pre-show sunset, pressing GO on the button for "King of New York," initializing the timecode for "Seize the Day," seeing the incredible color palette of "Once and For All," and hearing thunderous applause as the cast bowed was proof that I created something special. With months of my heart and soul poured into the design of this show, it felt so amazing to have been a part of and see my work come to life.

Where do you draw inspiration from when creating? My inspiration comes from everywhere. Nature, architecture, music, video content, relationships. Basically anything with an emotion attached to it gets logged in the filing cabinet of my brain, and comes back when I need it. These ideas can sometimes be tricky to articulate without going straight to the design on stage section, but finding the perfect research photo, the one that matches my brain, shows that I can come up with amazing ideas for many different styles of performance.

What do you consider the role of the Arts and Artists in today's culture?

As was evident with the pandemic, Art is intrinsic to society functioning. Art is everywhere. Without Art, we would have been immensely stagnant while waiting for lockdown to be over. Because we have Art, we had access to amazing tv shows, music, videos, visual designs, and so much more. Without Art, even a football game would be different, with a lack of music, camera design, or fun merchandise. Art is everywhere.

Can you share with us your hopes for the future of the Arts?

I hope that Art can become a more prominent and recognized part of society. I do envision Art continuing to grow and evolve and I think that it is deserving of an audience.

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1 Comment

Axion, you are a talented, kind, and inspiring artist and I am so happy that I know you!

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