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