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LIGHT IT UP BLUE FOR AUTISM AWARENESS

Since 2013, I have worked with the Office of Student Accountability, Advocacy, and Disability Services to light up the Washington Oak behind the University Center on UNO's campus for this annual autism awareness event.

As a member of a family touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder, this occasion is particularly meaningful for me. I am very grateful and proud to be able to contribute time and expertise to this event annually.

I am the daughter of a nurse, an electrical engineer, and a theatre artist. I consider my path to becoming a lighting designer for the theatre to be greatly informed by the men who fathered me and raised me, respectively. I believe that my mother’s role as a caregiver is the last piece of this puzzle of influence that placed me here, as an educator and professional Theatrical Lighting Designer, in what I believe to be a position of service .


I care about my students’ success and safety, both inside the classroom and out. I revel in their achievements, and do my best to advise them in moments when they feel inadequate or insecure. I strive to make myself available for them: for academic advising, for help with their coursework, for mentoring in various production roles, and for conversation.

The shop, the stage, and electrics environments are inherently dangerous places that must be treated with utmost respect. This lesson was deeply instilled from infancy: my birth father was killed in an industrial accident because others cut corners. Safety must be the highest priority, never open to question.

Safety is important in other ways as well. As a woman educator, I offer a safe environment and a model for any concerns or discomforts a student might bring forward.


I grew up in and around the ensemble theatre company co-founded by my stepfather, inspired by the accomplished resident and national guest artists constantly flowing through my life. From them I came to understand the dedication, restlessness, and rigor required of a life in the arts built around social concern and a deep appreciation of community. 


I am a curious artist. I am passionate about inspiring curiosity in the students I teach. Theatre, and art in general, is fluid and constantly evolving. I work to stay abreast of, and to present current practices and theories to the students for consideration and discussion. By their nature, current innovations can challenge previously held conceptions of what ‘Theatre’ is, what it can be, what it can do, and what it could become -- what they, ultimately, can make it. While our history, shared or otherwise, is essential to impart, I teach of today and for tomorrow.


I delight in being a lifelong learner. I believe that the students respond positively to the fact that I encourage them to find their own answers, and that I am open to their teaching me as much as, or more, than I teach them. This isn’t to say we enter the classroom as equals: I bring information, experience, and a deep skill-set, but when it comes to the space of the creative being, the playing field levels. I can teach them how to pursue and express their innate creativity. I rejoice in spirited creative and philosophical discussion with students, who teach and challenge both me and their peers by bringing new ideas and information into the room.


I am passionate about Social Justice, and helping to provide the opportunity for all who are interested in and dedicated to their education, to become successful at this institution of higher learning.


I am a committed member of the Faculty at the University of New Orleans, and in the Department of Film and Theatre Arts. Since  joining the Faculty in 2011, I have worked to make the courses I am tasked with teaching more valuable, the curriculum more effective and consistent, Production work as current and safe as possible, while also introducing methods and practices for improving the art we create, from initial statements of intent, through a frank and clear assessment of ultimate impact.


Specifically, I have targeted the Theatre Practicum course (FTA 1800), which is a requirement of all our majors; Methods and Materials of Stagecraft (FTA 1100), another required course, and the prerequisite to the Theatre Practicums; the Introduction to Lighting Design course (FTA 2100), which is one of four courses in Production that majors choose from; and Advanced Summer Theatre Workshop (FTA 4080 and 4081), which is currently a departmental elective, and a course I am hoping to develop further.


In the Summer of 2012, I taught  Advanced Summer Theatre Workshop with guest artist Kathy Randels of ArtSpot Productions. For eight weeks, we met with students and developed an original piece of theatre which was presented publicly twice. Several factors have prevented this course from being offered recently, which is unfortunate. I hope to reignite this effort, and am currently investigating ways to make this course a more central part of the Department’s mission. There is a great opportunity with Summer Theatre to present new work, particularly as New Orleans has become nationally recognized for innovation. We have an opportunity to collaborate with extraordinary local artists, and to employ an interdisciplinary approach—I want to help facilitate this shift, with an eye toward the successful future of the Department and the School of the Arts.


In an effort to present the best work we can, I introduced Post Mortem discussions in the Department. These discussions serve to critique the work—the process, as well as the final product—and to provide a sense of closure to the production. I firmly believe that honest critique of each production we present is a vital part of our students’ learning experience, as it helps them develop skills in critical discussion, while separating ego from their work by investigating and discussing the original intent versus the impact of the final public presentation. I lead these discussions, using Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process—a four-step framework for conversations surrounding the successful communication of ideas in nearly any media. This defined structure helps participants feel safe with regards to giving and receiving critique. Students respond well to these structured conversations—which often continue in a healthy, unstructured form after the Post Mortem session has officially ended. I am currently formalizing a schedule for these discussions to make them an integral part of production, and to tie critical response more concretely to our curriculum. 


Similarly, I am committed to the integrity of the Design process, both in the classroom and in production. I work hard to teach and practice an open and collaborative approach to design, in service to the work. Awards and recognitions that our productions have received are a testament to the success of our process, and our commitment to the quality of what we put on stage. Since I joined the Department, we have been recognized for design annually by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, both regionally and nationally. We have also been nominated for four Big Easy Awards for ‘Best University Production,’ receiving two.


In the shops, the Scenic Design Faculty (Prof. Kevin Griffith) and I strive to utilize and teach the most current practices in stage and film scenic construction and surface treatments, with the hopes that as our students become familiar with real-world methods and materials, they will prove more employable. This makes the work we present publicly not only better, but more valuable for the students. Professor Griffith’s work on major motion pictures contributes greatly to our efforts in this area. We constantly learn about new materials, or new ways to utilize the tried and true, and we share that new knowledge with the students on a daily basis. Safety is always our prime concern, and to that end Prof. Griffith and I have completed OSHA 10 Certification courses, and achieved certification for operation of Fork Lifts and Elevated Work Platforms.


Throughout my time at UNO, I have attended several National conferences and gatherings for Theatre professionals: Theatre Communications Group National Conferences; Network of Ensemble Theatres Gatherings, Conferences, and Micro-Fests; and AlternateROOTS National Gatherings. At the Network of Ensemble Theatres Conference in Seattle in the Spring of 2017, with award-winning New Orleans based artist Jeff Becker, I presented on University/Ensemble Collaborations, on a panel moderated by Todd London. That proved an important experience for me, and I am actively seeking other opportunities to proudly represent the work we do here at UNO. I am currently an Individual Member of TCG, NET, AlternateROOTS, and USITT.

This summer I also had the privilege of attending a Lilly Teaching Conference; I believe what I took away from that opportunity has already impacted my teaching. I learned valuable techniques for student engagement, and accessed numerous resources about current teaching practices and evidenced-based pedagogy, which I am continuing to research and incorporate into the classroom.

In addition to teaching and production work, I have taken on several administrative duties for the Department. I execute the requisitions, purchase orders, and receipts for Department expenses in the areas of Scenery, Property, Costumes, and Electrics. This includes managing invoices, keeping accurate records of expenses, and ensuring that materials are received and paid for in a timely manner. For the 2016-17 Academic Year, I became the Departmental Timekeeper for seven Federal Work Study student workers, and currently I directly supervise three of these students. 

Since the Fall of 2011, I have designed more than 35 productions as a freelance professional, from large-scale musicals to small site-specific outdoor productions. Staying active and engaged with New Orleans and national theatre communities is vital for my effectiveness with the students, and for myself as an artist.

I am a member of IN GOOD COMPANY THEATRE, a New Orleans-based ensemble that focuses on multi-disciplinary, female-forward work, that is supported by the National Performance Network, and has been featured in THE NEW YORKER magazine. We collaborate with visual artists, musicians, writers, and choreographers, as well as theatre artists, and typically present the work in non-traditional venues (outdoors, in houses, art galleries, etc). Working in non-traditional spaces allows me to explore how light enters and supports a story, and how to practically execute those ideas in innovative ways. I frequently collaborate with other groups in New Orleans, as an independent artist or consultant.


Compiling this file has been a humbling and renewing experience—there has been great progress since I began my time at UNO, in  our academic programming and the areas of Production, as well as in my own teaching. There are certainly challenges ahead, and I welcome the opportunity to be a part of the group that moves forward to meet them. I will continue to impart caring, knowledge, and rigorous artistry to the students of the University of New Orleans.

DIANE K BAAS

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
LIGHTING DESIGNER
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR

 
 
 
 

©2017 BY DIANE K BAAS