Randy Lutz receives 2018 Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award

In the words of one of the 23 people who wrote letters of support:

“Randy is the best manager of people whom I have ever met. He hires his staff and assistants for each summer season like an artist chooses paints: looking for complementary skills and personalities that blend together in a positive and productive way.”

The award was presented at the annual USITT Conference and Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 16.

Guy Bergquist receives 2016 Wally Russell Professional Mentor Award

Arena Stage‘s Guy Bergquist received USITT’s 2016 Wally Russell Professional Mentor Award March 18 at USITT 2016 in Salt Lake City.

Bergquist retired from the Washington, D.C. theatre company in 2011 after 25 years. He is the second person to receive the award created in memory of Russell, a beloved figure in lighting and theatre technology who helped many people get their start in the industry.

Wally Russell Foundation board members Paul Vincent and Tom Folsom presented Bergquist with the award, which he accepted with an emotional speech that touched on his love for collaboration that honors the work onstage.

“When I heard I would receive this award, I kept wondering, ‘Why me?'” he said. “And after 374 versions of this speech, it came to me: Respect. Respect for the art of storytelling, respect for the artists and the audience, and respect for our process of collaboration and for each other.”

In his 25 years at Arena Stage, Bergquist served as production coordinator, associate producer, producer, and interim managing director — the latter while also leading the theater’s $137 million construction and renovation project for the Mead Center for American Theater, which opened in 2010.

He worked with all three of Arena’s artistic directors — Molly Smith, Douglas Wager, and founding artistic director Zelda Fichandler.

Bergquist began his career in 1970 at the O’Neill Theatre Center, where over ten years he worked as both production manager for the National Playwrights Conference and stage manager for the National Theatre of the Deaf.

He also served in the US Army, Special Services, and worked as production stage manager for the Hartford Ballet, co-owner of Melodrama Theater in Austin, Texas, and producing director of the theatre and interpretation center at Northwestern University.

But it was at Arena that he had the most impact as a mentor, teaching, encouraging, and challenging “dozens, if not hundreds, of young theatre professionals,” three former mentees wrote in their nomination.

“His mentees are now scattered throughout the country, further spreading the ‘gospel of Guy’ to yet another generation,” read a letter signed by Jill Anderson, general manager of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut; Jane Casamajor, production manager at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, and Angie Moy, production director at Kollaboration D.C.

Bergquist received many nominations from current and former Arena staff who praised his nurturing leadership style and his availability to everyone “from the artistic director to the janitors” if they needed his ear.

Bergquist was moved to tears when he thanked “my colleagues who conspired to nominate me,” many of whom were in the audience. Then he joked, “A big part of mentoring is teaching people to write good nominating letters.”

He described his approach to his work as simply pursuing his passion and doing what he loved every day. “I love going to work,” he said. “I go in early and stay late. I especially like being backstage with actors and crew waiting for curtain.”

“I find nothing more satisfying than problem-solving,” he added. “The three words I hate most are ‘Not my job.”

Bergquist was then invited to join the panel that followed, USITT’s 2016 Distinguished Achievers in Conversation. The discussion featured scene designer Anna Louizos, sound designers John Leonard, theatre safety pioneer Monona Rossol, Wally Russell 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award winner Gordon Pearlman, and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, who accepted the USITT 2016 Distinguished Achievement Award for her partner, the late Sonny Sonnenfeld, who passed away on February 10.

From Lighting & Sound America Online, March 29, 2016
http://www.lightingandsoundamerica.com/news/story.asp?ID=NDQU3

Ken Billington to receive first Wally Russell Mentor Award March 20, 2015

Lighting Designer Ken Billington will receive the first Wally Russell Mentor Award at the Cincinnati 2015 Conference & Stage Expo.

Several people nominated Mr. Billington for the award, established last year by USITT and the Wally Russell Foundation. It recognizes generous mentorship by an entertainment industry professional.

The award is named for the late Wally Russell, a beloved figure in lighting and theatre technology who helped many young colleagues get their start. USITT will present it Friday, March 20, as part of its Distinguished Achievement Award Winners in Conversation, followed by a meet-and-greet reception.

Mr. Billington is principal designer and owner of KB Associates, Inc., a New York lighting design and production firm. In the last 30 years, he has designed 98 Broadway shows including 2014’s Act One. He has seven Tony Award nominations and won the 1997 Lighting Design Tony for Chicago. His designs have enhanced many acclaimed opera, dance, and concert productions. For 27 years he lit the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.

According to his fans, some of his most appreciated work has been hiring young assistants, teaching them to be great lighting designers, and helping launch their careers.

Jason Kantrowitz, a lighting designer with 25 Broadway credits and a lineup of Disney and Las Vegas spectaculars, called Mr. Billington “one of the greatest theatre mentors of our time.”

“After beginning his career under the mentorship of Tharon Musser, Ken has always followed the age-old tradition of nourishing young talent, spreading his wisdom and experience, and prompting young people to think in new ways,” Mr. Kantrowitz wrote. “He has guided countless lighting designers, but he has also been a brilliant influence on so many set designers, costume designers, stage managers, technical directors, managers, manufacturers, sales teams, directors, and choreographers … He is truly a guiding force in our industry.”

Another successful lighting designer, Anne E. Mills wrote, “Ken often jokes about attending ‘Musser U.’ I like to tell others that I am a proud graduate of KBU.”

“Ken hired me right out of grad school with very little professional experience,” she wrote. “He made me an integral part of his office, exposed me to the world of Broadway shows, mentored me through acquiring my union card, and generally nurtured my career into becoming the best professional that I could be.”

Anne Valentino, Eos product line manager for ETC, said she has relied on her former mentor to test every lighting desk she designs. “He is legendary,” she wrote. “And the work that we have done has impacted desks across the industry.”

In a 2008 Playbill interview, Mr. Billington said, “I always wanted to be an artist, but I couldn’t paint. So I paint with light. I don’t use brushes; I use electricity.”

For more info on Mr. Billington, see his website, www.kbany.com.

Announcing the New Wally Russell Mentor Award with USITT

October 20, 2014

The Board of Directors of the Wally Russell Foundation announce the creation of the annual Wally Russell Mentoring Award in conjunction with the United States Institute for Theater Technology (USITT). The first annual award will be presented this year at the USITT Conference and Trade Expo in Cincinnati, Ohio, March 18-21st.

Because of the commitment of both Board’s of Directors and the generous sponsorship of Philips Strand Lighting and Thern Stage Equipment, this award will be a permanent part of the USITT awards program each year at the National Conference. Details regarding nominations for the award can be found by going to the USITT website, (www.usitt.org).

“Since 1992, The Wally Foundation has been a major contributor to the Lighting Intern programs at the Los Angeles Opera and Canadian Opera, contributing over $200,000 to those organizations in support of their Wally Russell Lighting Intern Programs. In addition, the Foundation has provided for a ‘lifetime achievement award’ on an annual basis”, commented Richard Pilbrow, Chairman Emeritus of the Wally Foundation. “We strongly felt the need to create a ‘permanent’ award in Wally’s name, and the USITT Board was in agreement. The creation of a Mentoring Award in Wally’s name is an excellent opportunity to continue to recognize the many and diverse contributions of Wally Russell, in addition to promoting active mentoring in our industry, of which he was a superb example.”

David Grindle, Executive Director for USITT also commented on this exciting development. “When the Wally Board first approached USITT with the idea of creating a Wally Award, we considered many options. When we hit upon the idea of a mentoring award, there was unanimous agreement that such an award was needed, and that there was no better means of celebrating Wally’s life than to create this award in his honor.”

“USITT by-laws require sufficient funding to support such a permanent award”, commented Tom Folsom, Chairman of the Wally Foundation. The Wally Board agreed to back the funding, and we are very fortunate to have leadership support from Thern Stage and Strand Lighting to help sponsor and support this commitment.”

The Wally Russell Mentor Award is an award to recognize, encourage and permanently commemorate that process which so often lies at the heart of our profession . . . the mentoring of young people at the start of their careers by colleagues, teachers or benefactors. We all began somewhere; we all received inspiration and support from someone . . . we wish to record these networking relationships and begin to build a “family tree” of the influences that have guided all of us through our careers.

For more details on the award and directions on how to nominate a potential winner, please visit either website where you will be directed to the nominations page.

The Wally Foundation will continue to support the Los Angeles Opera and the Canadian Opera Lighting Intern programs moving forward.

“We can always use more contributions to continue this good work”, said John Wiseman, Wally Board Member and President and CEO of Chaos Visual Design. “There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be here today without the positive influence of Wally Russell in my career”.

Any and all contributions to the Wally Foundation may be made at:

Wally Russell Foundation, Inc.
16458 Bolsa Chica Street #221
Huntington Beach, CA 92649 USA
714-699-3573

open pdf of press release