Mark Ferguson, ’12, had no intention of becoming a theatre major when he enrolled at the University of Richmond. But after working behind the scenes on a few productions, he is now researching sustainable practices in theatre production.

Ferguson often performed in his high school shows, an interest he pursued when he came to Richmond. A stagecraft class offered a look at another side of theater, and he soon traded the spotlight for backstage, setting to work in the scene shop.

Once behind the scenes, Ferguson began to explore sustainable lighting technologies in live performances with theatre professor Maja White. They conducted an exercise over the summer and White was asked to present their research at the annual conference of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE).

“Theatre lighting designers have long been using incredibly powerful conventional lighting technologies,” Ferguson says, “[They create] an aesthetic shorthand to communicate with audiences. We wanted to see if newer, more sustainable technologies, such as low-power LED fixtures, could provide designers the same artistic support as conventional fixtures.”

As the basis of the collaborative experiment, White and Ferguson used a new musical, co-written by theatre and dance professor Patricia Herrera, and director and performer José Joaquín Garcia. Ferguson says he was surprised with their results.

“While theatre venues typically require huge amounts of power to sustain the array of massive 575W to 1kW fixtures that light a show, we were able to use less power than a microwave, with a lot more control,” he says.

Ferguson — who is also a member of the theatre honor fraternity, Alpha Psi Omega, and the University Players — practiced sound and lighting design during his study abroad at the University of Melbourne, which helped him in his research with White.

“Working with Ms. White was an absolute pleasure,” he says. “She has continually encouraged us to pursue opportunities that we may have otherwise let pass by, and this summer was no different. 

“I worked with technology that has not really hit mass market, but my fellowship was not only a very unique opportunity in that respect. Presenting at ATHE as an undergraduate was an incredibly rare experience.”