A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes. This month: Beth Turomsha ‘02
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
I am an architectural lighting designer – and for lack of a better description – I’m what I call a ‘pure’ architectural lighting designer. I don’t design museums or “architainment.” I design high-end corporate interiors, buildings and exterior public spaces. It was a real challenge to transition from theater to architecture, learning on the fly about things never discussed in school. Not only does architectural lighting have to be good design, it must also qualify for energy rebate programs, energy incentive programs like LEED or WELL, meet energy code which means having restrictions on energy consumption, designing daylighting and the like! (Have you noticed how much the word ‘energy’ is used?) Architectural lighting can be incredibly dry and math oriented but the basic principles are the same, which is why the transition between disciplines can occur. It just takes a long time to get fully up to speed. I find it to be a hell of a lot harder than theater and I find it to be a challenge every day. There’s something always new to learn and master. I’m proud of the fact I’ve been able to do this. It was a huge leap and I made it to the other side.
You graduated in 2002 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
I graduated in 2002 and I wish I had some magical secrets to share! It has taken me a long time to realize this but I’m constantly trying to figure out a way to design differently. I find myself saying ‘there has to be a new idea that can be done’, but I always have Sal in the back of my head saying there are only 6 ideas and everything else is simply recycled from them. Thank you Sal….
How are you currently involved with the department? Are there any ways that you would like to be more involved?
I’m in no way involved with NYU. I probably should be. I find between work and raising a small child as a single mom, I have my hands full.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
When I was still designing theater, I worked with Donyale Werle and Kirche Zeile. Both from 2002. There’s something extremely comforting in working with people you went to school with. You have an intimate relationship and history with them. It’s a like a secret marriage to be part of. A delicious experience.
Do you have an anecdote that you think current students and faculty would find amusing or learn from?
What moment(s) of your career are you most proud of?
I won an award for a project that was ‘pure’ architectural lighting. It made me very proud because I felt like I conquered a beast (being the discipline itself). The project’s lighting exemplified all the reasons why I got into this side of the business. Recently, I’ve started to delve into (lighting) fixture design. I rarely compliment myself but I have to say I’m really good at it. I designed a lighting fixture which the NYC market went gaga for. The fixture is a perfect solution for very specific design aesthetic. During school, I never would have dreamed I would be doing something like this or would even know how to.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
I become interested in theater at 12. I was in the chorus sitting below the stage and I knew instantly I wanted to design lighting. It was a thunderbolt of intuition.
What or who were your influences?
Ahem. Allen Lee Hughes.
As a junior and senior in high school, I became very vocal with my parents that I wanted to design lighting professionally. However, by the time I was in my first semester of college, my parents had worn me down and I was studying microbiology. Then I made the mistake of seeing a touring production of Once on this Island (’92). That show and its lighting changed my life. The next day I immediately switched to lighting design. In other words, I told my parents to suck it. And for those of you who don’t know, Allen was the lighting designer. The lighting was simple, effective, stunning and poetic. It actually made me cry at one particular moment because the lighting was so beautiful.
I had to good fortune to study with Allen. Pretty much the only thing I can recall about grad school in an instant is something Allen said when our class was frustrated on how to design. His grand advice was ‘you just do it’. I always tell myself that when I’m stuck. I just suck it up and just do it, like he said. It usually works too.
As you design and meet the challenges of being a freelance artist, are there any voices that you particularly hear from the aggregation of voices?
I work for a company as an employee; I don’t freelance. That said, there’s a continual push to be profitable. My time spent on a project is tracked. It becomes very easy to see if a project is profitable or not. There’s a lot of industry discussion on how to make money. How designers can be profitable. How women are to be paid the same as men. How not to be ‘demoted’ for being a mom.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel lighting designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
I think no matter the discipline, it’s a constant challenge on how to talk about light in the conceptual design phases, because it’s ephemeral. How do you clearly present it? How do you explain it? How does a client – whether they’re visual or not – get it?
What are some of your other interests in life?
My son is 5 years old. So the last several years he’s pretty much taken all my interests away. As he’s getting older, I find myself having more time to revisit what I used to do and add to the list. I love to cook (which still doesn’t happen much), read, listen to music, swim, meditate and yoga if I’m lucky.
What was your favorite snack that your assistant brought to you during tech?
I have no idea. I feel old because I can’t remember.
Do you have any final thoughts?
• You hear it again and again. Design is a process. It never gets easier. I find I like this. It’s comforting to know every time I stare at a design, I will always feel stuck and useless in the beginning. It’s comforting to know that the panic will never go away. It’s like finding an old friend to be with.
• I find design actually gets harder as I get older. I realize what works, what doesn’t. I like to avoid what I’ve done in the past. It’s no fun to redo what you’ve been before even if it was successful. If you can’t challenge yourself to come up with new ideas, why design?
• Within the last week, I’ve come to realize I can be too hard on myself. I think it’s critical you have the ability to really see your work for what it is. To see what works and like it. To see what doesn’t and how to fix it for next time. To simply accept it and be glad for it.