Mentor Award Nominations

Nominations for Ken Billington

Ken Billington has been a mentor to more people in the business of lighting than anyone I could possibly think of, including myself. He has been the “first real job” to so many New York designers it would be impossible to list them all. Ken has lit more shows then anyone I can think of and he always has an assistant or two with him, we work with him, learning all the while. Most of us have gone off and done other things having learned how to light plays, TV shows, restaurants, buildings and countless other things from KB. I can not think of a person more deserving of the Wally Russell award then Ken and it gives me great pleasure to write this letter of nomination. Come to think of it I can’t imagine how many letters of recommendation Ken must’ve written over the years, what a thrill to write one for him.


Howard Werner
Lightswitch New York

I would respectfully like to nominate one of the greatest theatre mentors of our time, Ken Billington. 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. Of course 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. No matter what Ken is in the middle of he will always stop and take time to converse and advise anyone seeking help thinking through a situation. He is truly a unique guiding force in our industry.

Very truly yours,

Jason Kantrowitz
Luminous Ventures Ltd.
New York, NY

To  Whom  it  May  Concern:

I  am  writing  to  recommend  that  Ken  Billington  be  considered  for  this  year’s  Wally  Russell  Mentoring  Award,  presented  by  USITT.  In  my  opinion,  no  other  is  more  deserving.

Ken  took  me  in  just  out  of  grad  school  with  very  little  professional  experience  under  my  belt.  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.

Ken  and  his  team  never  faltered  at  taking  the  time  to  work  with  me  on  the  little  things  –  teaching  me  why  design  choices  were  made,  how  best  to  handle  professional  contacts,  why  draftings  and  paperwork  need  a  signature  look,  etc.  I  often  tell  people  that  Ken’s  office  was  my  post-graduate  education:  As  Ken  often  jokes  about  attending  “Musser  U.,”  I  like  to  tell  others  that  I  am  a  proud  graduate  of  KBU.

I  know  that  I  am  in  a  long  line  of  talented  professionals  that  have  been  born  under  Ken’s  wing.  I  am  honored  to  be  a  part  of  this  elite  and  privileged  group  of  “Ken-babies”  who  had  the  opportunity  to  be  taught  by  him.  It  would  be  an  honor  to  return  the  favor  and  have  Ken  acknowledged  with  the  receipt  of  the  Wally  Russell  Mentoring  Award.  Even  an  award  as  prestigious  as  the  Wally  Russell  cannot  repay  Ken  for  the  gifts  he  has  given  me  in  life,  but  it  sure  would  be  a  great  start  at  saying,  “thank  you.”


Anne  E.  McMills

Ken Billington took a leap of faith when he hired me to work for him in 1984 to be in charge of
his architectural lighting projects. I graduated from NCSA in 1975 and spent 9 years trying to get
ahead as a lighting designer and scenic artist, but I hadn’t yet joined United Scenic Artists, and I
had absolutely no experience in architectural lighting. He saw something more, something that I
could be, and changed my life completely.

Ken showed me how Broadway works and introduced me to producers, directors, designers,
stage managers, electricians, company managers, interior designers, architects, choreographers,
actors, and dancers – which enlarged my knowledge and potential far beyond anything I could
have done on my own.

Ken taught me to never stop trying to make my lighting perfect, to never be afraid to change
whatever needs changing and to pay attention to every aspect of the lighting – whether it was a
restaurant, nightclub, show, or arena spectacle.

Ken taught me what professional designers need from their paperwork and to this day he still
happily critiques each new version of Lightwright I release. And I listen! I listen to every word,
for I’ve learned that he’s almost always right and to ignore him would mean I’m settling for less
than perfect.

During my thirty years of working with Ken, I’ve watched him do the same thing to help
countless other students, assistants, and colleagues. His generosity with his time and life
experience is amazing.

And most importantly, he taught me to always enjoy what I’m doing, because if it isn’t making us
happy it isn’t worth doing.

I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of the Wally Russell Mentor Award than Ken.

John McKernon
Phillipsburg, NJ

Ken Billington is renown in the design community for mentoring up and coming artists.  He is legendary.  I’m not a lighting designer – I’m a lighting desk designer.  Every desk I’ve helped design (Obsession, Virtuoso, Eos) has been stamped by Ken.  He’s signed on to beta test each and every one.  He’s provided detailed feedback about features, displays and so forth.  Every time we work on GUI, I hear Ken’s voice in my head – what color should mean (and when is it just visual noise), how to create contrast (or the lack thereof) for designers and programmers working in dark theatres with brightly lit stages, how to reduce fatigue.    And the work that we have done has impacted desks across the industry.  I see these design elements duplicated in other products and know that Ken’s vision is impacting more than just the products I work on personally.  Designers, programmers, ALDs and production electricians globally benefit from Ken’s input – even on products he’s not touched personally.  That is an amazing impact!

You will hear from other’s about Ken’s impact on their design career.  But his impact in our industry far exceeds just the design community.

Anne Valentino
Eos Product Line Manager
Electronic Theatre Controls

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is with huge pleasure that I nominate Ken Billington for The Wally Russell Professional
Mentor Award.

I have witnessed Ken’s mentoring skills in action on many fronts: In his work in the
theatre, I have seen him teach and mold Assistants and Associates into efficient,
professional, courteous, forward thinking, precise, and passionate collaborators. In Ken’s
more public teaching capacity, I have seen him lecture at master classes and
Universities where he inspires and encourages and sparks young minds into believing
that they have the abilities to follow their aspirations of pursuing careers in design. And
lastly (and most importantly for me) on a personal level, I have seen Ken mentor and
teach his friends the lessons of kindness, generosity, patience and respect.

Ken adores his craft and he’s so excited to teach his love of theatre and lighting. He
wants those that will follow him to share in his enthusiasm and passion. To be around
Ken is to automatically absorb all the wonderful things that he teaches — it is a gift. I am
proud to call him my mentor, my colleague and my friend.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

With Very Kind Regards,

Philip Rosenberg
New York, NY

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is written in support of nominating Mr. Ken Billington for the Wally Russell Mentoring Award.

I have known Ken for the past 30 years. I met him when I began my career as a young Lighting Designer in New York. Ken was helpful and instrumental to me at an early stage of my career when I assisted him on several projects. I always felt that Ken was supportive and nurturing to myself and noticeably to other young designers working with him.

Once I began designing shows on my own, Ken was always approachable to answer questions, both technical and professional that I had concerning my own projects.

In recent years, I have interviewed young designers to help them in their careers and many have mentioned how generous Ken has been with his time and helpful guidance.

To this day, when I see Ken’s lighting in the theater I feel I am watching a Master Class in theatrical lighting design.

If you have any questions that I did not address, please feel free to contact me at or (646) 342-7398.


Kirk Bookman

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is written in support of nominating Mr. Ken Billington for the Wally Russell Mentoring Award.

I have known Ken for the past 30 years. I met him when I began my career as a young Lighting Designer in New York. Ken was helpful and instrumental to me at an early stage of my career when I assisted him on several projects. I always felt that Ken was supportive and nurturing to myself and noticeably to other young designers working with him.

Once I began designing shows on my own, Ken was always approachable to answer questions, both technical and professional that I had concerning my own projects.

In recent years, I have interviewed young designers to help them in their careers and many have mentioned how generous Ken has been with his time and helpful guidance.

To this day, when I see Ken’s lighting in the theater I feel I am watching a Master Class in theatrical lighting design.


Kirk Bookman

Nominations for Guy Berquist

Dear Wally Russell Mentoring Award Selection Committee –

Please accept this letter as our highest recommendation of Guy Bergquist as the recipient of the inaugural Wally Russell Mentoring Award. Throughout his 40+ year career, spent mostly at Washington DC’s Arena Stage, Guy has encouraged, taught, led by example, and challenged dozens, if not hundreds of young theater professionals, in both formal and informal mentorships. These mentees are now scattered throughout the country, further spreading the “gospel of Guy” to yet another generation.

For the three of us, Guy served as a very hands on mentor when each of us worked in the Production Office at Arena while Guy was Associate Producer there from 1982-2005. While each of us had a different job under Guy, the common principles he taught us by example and by instruction were the same.

The first thing we learned from Guy is that theatre is about people.  If you have good people and take care of them, they will go to amazing lengths to put the best possible art onstage. Guy exemplified this by making sure that he knew every employee from the Artistic Director down to the janitors, not just by name, but well enough to converse about their families and lives.  At any time of day, anyone could approach him for work or non-work related issues.  He treated everyone with the same respect and always gave his honest opinion or advice.

Another principle we all learned from Guy is that of being “visible and available” in order to know what’s going on in all corners of the organization.  He made sure he was available by being the first one in and the last one out most days of the week.  Even when he stayed late during tech, Guy would still arrive early the next morning to check in.   Constantly visible, Guy worked the building – popping into all the shops and the rehearsal hall multiple times each day, making sure to catch each group both during work periods and during breaks so that each of the staff could take their moment to talk with him if needed. He encouraged his junior staff to do the same and we learned how much can be accomplished through passing conversations and that often in-person communication is much more useful than email or telephone calls.  Without formal instruction to do so, we quickly learned to get out from our desks to talk to people for answers or to work through issues.

As part of his focus on people, Guy was instrumental in making sure that both the history and the future of the institution were represented.  He regularly convinced directors working at Arena Stage to hire mature designers such as Allen Lee Hughes and Karl Eigsti while at the same time encouraging and mentoring young designers by connecting them with mid-career artists.  One of the formal ways in which Guy worked as a mentor was through the Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship program, in which talented young artists of color came to the theatre for a year long paid fellowship in one of a variety of positions.  Guy always advocated for the program by helping to preserve its budget and keep it strong. In the truest meaning of mentorship, Guy wholeheartedly believes that interns and fellows are not just inexpensive laborers to do the work that no one else wants to do – making coffee, cleaning up after rehearsals, or other tedious tasks.  Interns’ and fellows’ first priority is to soak up and learn anything and everything that you can teach them.  Especially to those in whom he recognized the initiative to ask questions and show dedication, Guy was certain to take the extra time to explain and teach anything he could.

Another method of mentoring Guy used was to find creative ways to retain talent. For one of us, Guy bridged the gap between positions by creating a position supporting the Education Department and special projects until a more appropriate position in the Production Office came available.  He did similar things for numerous overhire technicians finding them special maintenance projects to fill in gaps between shows and round out a schedule.  Guy demonstrated to us that skills can be taught, but that temperament and commitment may be just as important.

In addition to people theatre requires money.  Production in particular requires money.  If the money is poorly managed, no theatre can happen and your people aren’t taken care of.  Guy modeled this by constantly massaging the budget, shifting money back and forth between departments and shows and making sure that there was room to deal with the inevitable last minute addition.  This also allowed him to be creative in keeping people employed. He knew where he could afford more help or shift resources to keep staff employed until their next contract began.  He trusted his department heads to help him plan for each production’s labor and materials.  As nonprofit organizations around the country struggle to balance budgets and hold on to their staff, these lessons have stood us in good stead.

Guy encouraged not just the interns and the fellows, but he also supported the staff in their own learning and growth.  He was open to new ideas and models of working, and with a well-made case, he would find a way to fund it or help gain approval.  Guy facilitated both formal education and on-the-job training.  He would give people time to go back to school with a promise that he would do his best to have a job opening for them when they returned.  Guy also would arrange for staff to spend time in other departments so that they could get first hand experience in another area of interest.

Without even realizing it, after working with Guy, you see that it wasn’t just that he was a great mentor but that he himself followed all the principles that you learned from him.  We learned to trust in people; find people good people to work with; keep an eye out on the money because it also affects people and it’s not just a bunch of numbers; and to also share a laugh or two along the way.  And it’s not the principles themselves which are important, but the how they help the people that you work with day-to-day.

Please accept this letter as just a glimpse at a few of the things that he has taught to the many hundreds of young people he has molded and whose careers he has launched.  We voice here our most vigorous support of Guy’s nomination for the Wally Russell Award.  His work for decades has embodied the ideals of mentorship that this award is intended to recognize, and he would be a most worthy recipient.

Thank you for your consideration,

Jill A. Anderson (Arena Stage ‘01-’06)
Director of Production
Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Waterford, CT

Jane G. Casamajor (‘99-’05)
Production Manager
Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA

Angie Moy (’03-’05 A.L. Hughes Fellow)
General Manager
Kollaboration DC
Washington, DC

Guy Bergquist held the following job titles: Production Coordinator, Production Manager, Associate Producer, Producer, Interim Managing Director, and Facility Project Director in his twenty-plus years of service to Arena Stage.  No matter what the title, his primary position was that of leader, advisor, wise and trusted counselor.

His commitment to excellence encouraged the same standard for everyone around him.  The lives of countless theater professionals working today have been enriched by Guy.  He has an extraordinary ability to bring out the best in everyone, so much more than they thought they had.

Theater is a collaborative art, and Guy’s work enabling the collaborative process has influenced not only the works that have appeared on stage, but many of the artists and artisans who created that work.  Most artists are willing to take risks and fight for their vision, but a successful stage production is greater than the sum of its parts.  Guy has shared with countless people the skills needed to harness their inspiration and passion, to work as a team, and to create a production with a unified vision.  People working with Guy soon learn that theater production is like a machine, where every cog and sprocket and spring is precisely machined, well-oiled, and vital.  Guy makes sure every cog, sprocket, and spring knows they are vital.

Guy was instrumental in helping create Arena’s Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship, a training program for young, under-served theater students seeking to grow in a professional environment.  As Stage Managers and designers with decades-long associations with the Arena Stage, we have worked with more than one generation of these Fellows, both during their enrollment in the program, and afterward in their professional careers.  Guy’s influence is easy to recognize in many of them.

Guy Bergquist’s tenure had a profound impact on the hundreds of people he hired, mentored, and worked with at Arena Stage.

Respectfully submitted,

Martha Knight
Production Stage Manager
Member AEA

Nancy Schertler
Lighting Designer
Member USA

Susan R. White
Production Stage Manager
Member AEA

Dear Members of the Committee:

It is with great enthusiasm that I write this letter in support of Guy Bergquist for the Wally Russell Award. I know Guy from Arena Stage and his work with the National Theatre of the Deaf. We have worked together many times over the years and I trust him very much as a leader and colleague. He is well loved in the theater community for his ability to create collaborative relationships and a positive working environment in the theater. He is deeply committed both to his work and to the people he works with. Guy brings enormous enthusiasm and energy to all his activities and work. His process is efficient, thoughtful, thoroughly professional and organized. He is an excellent example of a mentor and supporter of artists.

The Allen Lee Hughes Fellows Program at Arena Stage is known for the young theater practitioners that get their start or improve their craft by working at Arena Stage. This program has been used by many to get a foot in the door with things like directing, lighting, costuming, stage managing and theater administration. Guy has been a tremendous supporter of the program and one of the main mentors for the young people that participate in the fellows and intern programs.

I believe that Guy truly embodies the principles that Wally Russell exhibited. He has provided many young and even mature professionals with guidance, advice and aid. You could not ask for a better friend. He would make a tremendous mentor to be honored by your program, and I recommend him to you wholeheartedly.

Sincerely yours,

Allen Lee Hughes
New York, NY

On the day over 28 years ago that Guy Bergquist hired me at Arena Stage for my first job out of college, he told me I would learn a lot in my new position. Though I think he was trying to put a positive spin on the entry level position he was offering, Guy was actually totally correct in his assessment.

I have learned a lot working at Arena Stage and much of it I have learned from Guy Bergquist. It was not the technical details of lighting that I learned from Guy because that is not his area of expertise. What I learned through his example was less tangible, but so much more important. I learned the true craft of theater, which is that everything in a production is there to support the storytelling. I learned from Guy that everyone plays a unique and important part (whether they work on stage, back stage, front of house or administration) and that it is these people working together that is the most important factor in bringing that written word to life for an audience. Guy exemplified this by continually showing that he cared deeply about all aspects of the organization and always doing his best to balance the sometimes opposing artistic, financial, personnel and personal demands of Arena Stage.
It is this example that Guy Bergquist shared over his years at Arena Stage that informs all my work as I strive to maintain Guy’s standard of excellence.


Christopher Lewton
Master Electrician
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater

Nomination for Mark Stanley

To whom it may concern:

Mark Stanley has dedicated an enormous part of his professional career to mentoring young lighting
designers so I can’t imagine a better candidate for the Wally Russell Professional Mentor Award. If not
for Mark and the Gilbert Hemsley Internship, which he oversees, my life would be very different. He
gave me a safe place to begin my career and learn from the best in the business. Twenty years later I
still remember with great admiration the days I spent working Mark. I am a better lighting professional
because of that time. There are countless others who can tell a similar story.


Jeff Croiter
New York, NY

Nomination for Sonny Sonnefeld

Dear Nominating Committee,

I am nominating Sonny Sonnenfeld as my mentor and a mentor for most of the sales people in the lighting industry today. I started with Sonny in 1986. I was a Production Electrician at Juilliard School in Lincoln Center and I wanted to get into the commercial side of lighting. I asked Sonny if he knew anyone who would need a sales person or needed anyone with theatre experience. He said he would call around and check. Well, he called me the next day and said he would hire me. He wanted Barry to meet me for final approval so we all met for a drink and Barry gave Sonny the nod and I was hired.

This was at the end of the year. I was itching to start and so started a week early. I bought a $100 dollar suit and I was ready to start! I showed up at his office on Sixth Avenue and 36th street ready to help Sonny sell. He said grab these Christmas gifts and let’s go to Imi Fiorentino’s office, THE IMERO FIORENTINO’s office? Gulp! I sat there with Imi and the whole group eating bagels listening to everyone telling lighting stories. Wow, the best first day ever!

After a week of delivering Christmas gifts to various consultants and electrical engineers it was time for me to do some cold calling.  Sonny pulled out his Rolodex from the 1960’s and scribbled the names of various electrical engineers and other customers on index cards.

I started calling on some of the names Sonny gave me. I would try and find the name of an electrical engineering firm on the address board in the lobby, I couldn’t find it? I would ask the doorman, “Where is this company”? He would say, “That company closed ten years ago”! This would happened quite often, so much for the Glen Garry leads!

I have learned many things from Sonny in 1985 that are still applicable today. Sonny always stressed extreme customer care. Sonny was very aware of how important it is to take care of your customers, treat them like gold. He also stressed that you should establish friendships with your customers that last will a lifetime.

Sonny has trained many lighting sales people over the years and those people have gone on to train many other lighting sales people. I would say that most of the sales people past and present in lighting and dimming sales have directly or indirectly have been trained and mentored by Sonny.

I would not be where I am today if not for the customer care and sales training I got from Sonny. Yes, Sonny is very old school and yes, some of his methods are out of date but if you really take time to learn and understand what he is saying, there is nobody who cares more about the customer.

Mark Vassallo
VP of Global Sales
Middleton, Wisconsin 53562

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