A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes
This month: María Cristina Fusté ‘00
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
I’m currently producing in New York the play The Conduct of Life by María Irene Fornés for our company Boundless Theatre Company, designing Tosca for Ópera de Puerto Rico, and getting ready for my new commitment with the Merrimack Repertory Company. I recently won the Princess Grace Award in Theater and as part of the commitment, I get to design a show there. I am also going to be part of the play selection committee for the company.
You graduated in 2000 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
I believe that commitment to the work and the team is essential to succeed in any discipline of theater. I personally think that intense and honest collaboration are key to the development of ideas and the final product.
Do you have any thoughts about being a minority designer/producer?
I don’t think of myself as a minority, but I do think I have a different voice that represents a sector of the community that traditionally is under-served. I appreciate that, today, many theater companies are working on diversifying their staff and creative teams. I embrace those efforts and want to be part of the revolution. As a producer and designer I want to tell stories where our community can see themselves represented, and when I say our community I speak of every single person that come to see our shows.
How are you currently involved with the department? Are there any ways that you would like to be more involved?
I try to attend Design Show every year. I enjoy meeting young designers and seeing the fruits of their MFA journey. I also stay in touch with several of our professors. I want to be more present at alumni events. I spend a lot of time out of town, but I will make a bigger effort to attend whenever possible.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
Working with NYU alumni is one of my favorite things! Currently our resident costume designer, Sarita Fellows ‘08, is an NYU alumnus. The foundation of the Boundless Theatre Company was created by NYU alumni. As a designer, it is so fruitful when an NYU designer is on board! Collaboration is detailed, thorough, and it goes beyond the traditional meetings.
What moment(s) of your career are you most proud of?
Last year I designed in Colombia the Cuban Opera Cecilia Valdés along with NYU alumnus, set designer Julián Hoyos ‘00. The first day of tech, Hurricane María hit my hometown in Puerto Rico, and for a few days, I didn’t know the fate of my friends and family. I was in Bogotá at the most beautiful theater I’ve ever worked at, collaborating with one of the most exciting teams I’ve ever been a part of, but I was anguished by what was happening back home. Thanks to the support of my old and new friends, I was able to pull through it and honor the script and the music of this beautiful play. It was a real test of character. The result was beautiful and one of my favorite experiences so far.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
Ohhhh well....I’m not going to say how long ago, but at the age of five, I was performing as an actor and dancer and I knew that theater is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to college in Puerto Rico to study acting, but as soon as I took the first set design class with my mentor Checo Cuevas, I lost interest in acting and became obsessed with research and architecture. Soon after I learned that my music education, my addiction to Mozart and to everything Opera was instrumental in my discovery of painting the stage with lighting. I fell in love with the ability of telling stories through light and that is how I decided to apply to NYU for my MFA.
What or who were your influences?
My first scenic design professor, Checo Cuevas, is a pioneer in set design in Puerto Rico and he definitely helped me see, in a clear way, that other world behind the scenes. During my MFA, I was inspired by professors like you Allen - you understood my vision, my color palette, and gave me the opportunity of expressing myself. After graduation, I’ve been fortunate to find myself surrounded by very important people in my life, other designers, producers, directors, actors that in one way or another continue teaching me about this profession. On the “what” side of things, I follow Sal’s advice. I intently observe life. I observe people’s behavior, architecture, nature. I find so many answers to the most difficult designs in observing my surroundings! I love to travel. Every trip is more of a research trip than vacation, learning about how, why, and where people live is something I am very interested in. Hopefully that information will help me somehow in the future.
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 know that I can reach out to my professors for advice, and I have done so since graduation. My classmates/colleagues are essential to my survival! We consult one another all the time. Through the years one gathers a group of go to as friends/professionals that will give you a hand when needed. I love the producers, artistic directors, fellow designers, directors who share the same passion as I do.
How do you manage to balance work and life?
Well, I guess I barely manage! I’m lucky that my husband understands what I do, and he also knows that the career is more than that to me. It is really who I am. I am very conscious of schedule and I make sure, whenever possible, that I schedule time for myself and my family.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel lighting designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
The big challenge is that we are creating live in front of everyone. We are building with all eyes on you during tech. This could be nerve wracking, but I love the thrill! I also find fascinating that because of the nature of what we do, we develop a close relationship with the director, we become complicit of one another and I love that dynamic.
What are some of your other interests in life?
I love hiking, the dessert, owls. I am a fan of National Parks and one of my goals in life is to visit all of them one day. I am also obsessed with the architecture of churches, especially gothic and neo gothic churches. So...when I travel I need to visit all the churches possible.
What was your favorite snack that your assistant brought to you during tech?
Black and white cookies!
Do you have any final thoughts?
Allen, thank you for having me as part of the Alumni Alley, you have been very important in my life and career and I wish you a happy sabbatical!
María Cristina Fusté (Lighting Designer) has a career in lighting design with credits in New York, her native Puerto Rico, major cities in the U.S., Bolivia, Colombia, México, and the Dominican Republic. She is also the founder and artistic director of BOUNDLESS Theatre Company, a designer-led theater company that produces theater in NY and PR. Recent credits: ABIGAIL/1702 (Merrimack Repertory Theatre, MA/IRNE Award nomination for Best Lighting Design 2016), In the Heights (Aurora Theatre and Theatrical Outfit, Atlanta GA. Suzi Bass Award and Broadway World Award for Outstanding Lighting Design on a Musical/ 2016), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Aurora Theatre and Teatrical Outfit), Prospect by Octavio Solis, Mud and The Conduct of Life by María Irene Fornés, directed by Elena Araoz (BOUNDLESS theatre company, NYC), Mariela in the Desert and Real Women Have Curves (Aurora Theatre, Lawrenceville GA). Opera: Tosca, Bluebeard’s Castle, Madama Butterfly, Don Pasquale, and L’Elisir d’Amore all produced by Ópera de Puerto Rico. Zarzuela Cecilia Valdés at Teatro Colón at Bogotá, Colombia. She holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Puerto Rico, and an MFA in Lighting Design from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is a Princess Grace Award recipient. www.mcfuste.com, www.boundlesstheatre.org