This spring, Live Design magazine awarded Tisch Drama Assistant Arts Professor Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew a 2020 Design Achievement Award for her design work in the opera Sweet Land. Yew was both Lighting and Production Designer of the production.
The 2020 Live Design Achievement Awards honor design excellence in the fields of lighting design, projection/video design. Live Design readers voted to determine the winners.
Yew was recognized during a virtual awards presentation on headline sponsor WorldStage's Digital Oasis platform on January 14, 2021.
Live Design details: “Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's inventive exploration of conventional and non-conventional site-specific lighting design connected the audience to the complex performance and narrative experience of Sweet Land, which explored myths of American identity by offering erased or rewritten narratives of the people and land.”
Yew said the piece was “many different things,” with both immersive and site-specific components, as it explored the building of the U.S. railroad—both its triumphs and consequences—and its impact on indigenous peoples.
“The site that we did it on was the Los Angeles State Historic Park, but we also built three structures, so it wasn’t quite immersive, depending on where you were in the piece.”
Starting as a procession through the park, audiences traveled through three different historical phases, effectively becoming “an opera that erases itself.”
“This was an example of what ambition and determination looks like,” Yew said, also crediting Artistic Director Yuval Sharon, who co-directed the piece in collaboration with several indegionous artists. “Yuval wanted to do a new opera, in a non-traditional format, with site-specific aspects,” she added.
Thus, the piece was held at different locations across the park, beginning at the outdoor "Theatre" where lighting illuminated bodies against projections. In another location, "Feast," a reimagining of Thanksgiving to examine cultural exchange, featured 800 battery-operated flickering LED candles. Yew said the candles were intended to evoke an inviting feeling.
“We wanted to have a sense of warmth in the space,” Yew said. “Then, when (spectators) came back, everything becomes white, and very cold, very clinical, so I used architectural lighting to reinforce the structural design of the building, which is very vertical.”
At "Train," another portion of the production that represents the building of the railroad and the notion of progress, the lighting was harsh, cold, and aggressive.
Chris Jones, Theatre Critic for Chicago Tribune and a Design Achievement Awards judge called the work a “masterful and immersive feat of creativity.”
“I found this work to be mesmerizing, uncompromising and thrilling throughout,” Jones said. “It is hard to probe the intersection of the socially mundane and the fantastical, but this design somehow managed to do that—stunning, really.”