Level Designer


Theatre & Taking Care of Your Audience

Photo from travels with my wife to New York City © Jon Hickenbottom

Photo from travels with my wife to New York City © Jon Hickenbottom

More and more I have been reflecting on how to pair my undergrad studies with my profession as a level designer . . .

I attended Cal State Northridge studying Theatre Arts for my undergrad. As a program, Cal State Northridge had a collective Theatre cirriculum. Every student was required to take courses in performance, production and history. This means—even if your ideal pursuit was acting—you were also required to take on a wide variety of courses including lighting design, stage design, theatre history, directing, voice/speech and acting. This comprehensive approach to learning created a well-rounded theatre program.

Among the excellent staff, one professor always stood out: Larry Biederman, acclaimed director who directed seven seasons at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I feel fortunate to be a part of his directing courses when he joined Cal State Northridge’s theatre staff.

Biederman demanded a certain degree of perfection. The class would individually prepare scenes we would then perform, followed with a critique. No matter how good your scene was, he would point out the smallest of details to heighten your awareness on your work. As you can imagine, this initially was very frustrating to hear. One seemingly unimportant detail, for example, was a single chair turned five degrees in the wrong direction, obstructing what could be a better view for the audience on the far left. Yet, as I began to release my ego, an appreciation for deeper awareness made headway and I then embraced the necessary path towards refinement and excellence in storytelling.

Consider every aspect as a director or game designer for one ultimate goal—to take great care of your audience. Thoughtfulness, specificity and focus make beautiful, polished productions. While this hard, tedious work may go completely unseen, more than likely it will be felt by your audience. In the end, whatever I may be a part of, it is my artistic mission to ensure each audience feels taken care of.

Below are stills from Independent Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream production I was thankful to be a part of . . .

Jon Hickenbottom