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|A romantic scene on Bali Ha'i in UMD's production of South Pacific.|
School of Fine Arts senior Jim Eischen has taken a unique route to graduation. Not many students can say that they need to trim down their resume, or that they spent a tour of duty as an Army National Guard helicopter mechanic in Iraq. Not many can say that they have had experience as lighting director for many different theatre productions both on and off campus. In these ways, Jim Eischen has certainly taken a different path.
Eischen was born in Duluth in 1984 and moved to New Hampshire in 1985. He moved back to Minnesota in 2000 and enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard as an aircraft electrician in 2002 and graduated from his advanced training in 2004. That same year he received an opportunity that ended up changing his career goals.
Eischen’s fascination with lighting design sparked in earnest in December of 2004 at the Guthrie Theater, where he was an intern in the crew on the production of Oedipus the King. He shadowed lighting designer Christopher Akerlind. “I was intrigued by his skill and approach, especially in the way he used light to paint the stage. It was as if the light became another player in the performance." UMD’s strong theatre program lured Eischen to UMD in early 2005. “UMD is unique because it has such a great theatre program without offering a master’s degree. This means that students going for Bachelor’s degrees, such as myself, aren’t limited by the competition associated with graduate students; we’re not confined to the background here,” Eischen said. He has certainly proven that UMD is accessible, having been involved in numerous productions both on and off campus.
In 2005, Eischen worked as the lighting designer for the Stage 2 (a student-run theatre group) production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Due to the quality of his work in that production, he was employed by the Duluth Playhouse theater as master electrician for the 2005 through 2006 season. Eischen has since served as the lighting designer for over 12 different performances in the Duluth Playhouse Theater, UMD, and the Sieur Du Luth Summer Arts Festival, Including UMD’s rendition of South Pacific in the fall of 2010.
“The themes we chose for this South Pacific production were ‘Americans in a strange place, in the style of gritty poetic realism.’ I wanted to reflect that in my lighting,” Eischen said. “Part of that realism was to capture the coloration of the native flowers in my lights, colors that no American would see on a plant if they hadn’t been to the South Pacific themselves.” Eischen also used different styles of light to capture different moments. “For one romantic scene on Bali Ha'i, I used a deep pink light to symbolize their passion. It allowed the actors to be separated from the rest of the performers during an intimate moment right on center stage.”
Eischen was invited to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. He first participated in the regional competition in Ames, Iowa. After performing well there, he went on to the final competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. While there, he got feedback from experts such as Beverly Emmons. Eischen's talent caught the attention of two separate groups, and he reeled in the benefits. He will travel to New York City in May, where he received an award of free enrollment in a light master’s class, in which he will study under theatre professionals such as Tony Award winner Jules Fisher. This opportunity was available to all eight lighting designers skilled enough to make it to the competition at the Kennedy Center. 2001 Barbizon lighting Award winner Raquel Davis offered Eischen an all expense paid internship at the National Playwright’s conference this June in Waterford, CT.
Jim Eischen certainly has a bright future. He understands that part of an artist’s life is to stay flexible. “My dream job will probably change. Right now, I’m mostly interested in traveling the country, making a living as a lighting director,” he said. “The key words there being 'make a living'; internships are a bridge to the design world, then comes assisting existent designers. The last part is just getting lucky.” The skills he learned at UMD will certainly be useful once he’s out in the theatre world, and help to reduce the amount of luck Eischen needs to be successful. "One great thing about UMD, from my experience in the theatre program, is that the students are treated as equals during collaboration in the production process. The relationship that faculty and staff designers have with student designers is very positive, because everyone is operating on the same level."
Written by Zach Lunderberg and Cheryl Reitan.
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