Written by Asli Shebe
For the average person, knowledge of lights goes as far as deciding which bulbs to buy. For SCAD Alumna and production designer Alexandra Vásquez Dheming, lighting is about so much more than just seeing. It’s about feeling. It’s about emotion.
“My favorite moment is hearing a low gasp in the audience during a sudden blackout or an involuntary moan during a slow cue and knowing that they don’t know what exactly caused their physical reaction,” said the Salvadoran in an email interview.
And it is that same feeling—that inexplicable gut wrenching pull—that inspires her designs. When given a piece to work with, Vásquez Dheming starts with whatever theatrical aspect draws her in the most, whether it be the music, movement, words, setting, costume or the color palette of the scenic design.
Vásquez Dheming mocked her own attention to detail and constant pulling from the things she sees around her in New York City, saying that it can sometimes be excessive.
“I don’t know how fun it is to hang out with me when I have to stop every few minutes to take a video of a leaf breakup texture on the sidewalk moving with the wind…” said Vásquez Dheming.
“…Or to stop in the middle of a heated argument to point out that at least the neon pink CAFE sign side-lighting your face makes this a very cinematic moment,” she added, noting the self-proclaimed “visual library” that is all around her.
But it is her attention to detail and passion for all things visual and visceral that has taken her so far. Vásquez Dheming’s experience spans from lighting design for Savannah Stopover Music Festival 2016 and SCAD’s production of “Rent,” to multiple shows for the New York Theatre Ballet including “Cinderella,” “Black Panther Women” and the NYTB Nutcracker Tour.
If her lengthy list of experiences doesn’t tell you she has a wide set of skills, her SCAD experience most definitely will.
Vásquez Dheming began as a production design student in 2011. First dabbling in costume design, she then found her place in lighting design and discovered her passion for sustainable designing. Despite this, she never lost or strayed too far from her extensive dance background, which was and still is, a big help in her design work.
“Some of the key characteristics I love about lighting are the same aspects I love about dance; they’re ephemeral, subtle languages that impact you deeper than you realize, and the canvas for both, the way I see it, is space and music,” said Vásquez Dheming.
A year later and she has just finished her season working for the New York Theatre Ballet. Taking a brief hiatus from design, she’s focusing on exploring other passions.
“I’m programming a new musical that’s set to open this month, working as Master Electrician in different theaters, and later on this summer I will be going on a short tour to Spain with Caleb Teicher and Company.”
Employed, experienced and with not a minute to waste, Vásquez Dheming in many ways is living the SCAD post-grad dream.
And with that in mind, she leaves students with a few sage words of advice. “Friends are worth more than [fill in the blank].” Vásquez Dheming said, “If you foster real relationships with the people you work with or want to work with, then the opportunities you crave arise more organically, and truer collaboration is possible.”
Vásquez Dheming’s curiosity is a crucial element to her art, as she is always pulling from experiences and stimuli around her, and she encouraged students to try similar tactics. “Try everything and learn the skills you think you’ll never use. Try to learn from everything and everyone you meet. Also, everything you learn teaches you a new way to think and approach problems.”
She also reminded students to be intentional with their art. “We’ve all had enough art history papers due the next morning that we learned how to support ANY claim with “factual” evidence,” Vásquez Dheming said. “Don’t do it with your art. Have a substantial reason for doing anything you do and take pride in it. If you’re not proud of it, just don’t do it.”
For more information about Vásquez Dheming and to view her work, visit her website.