Theater alumni brighten lighting lab with donations

Amy Milgrub Marshall
July 03, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A single LED light can produce 16.4 million distinct colors. That’s a whole lotta color. And thanks to a donation from entertainment lighting manufacturer ETC, the Penn State School of Theatre’s Lighting Lab now has more than a dozen state-of-the-art LED fixtures, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience using the same type of equipment they will encounter in their professional careers.

Penn State lighting design alumnus Nick Gonsman, field project coordinator for Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) in New York City, coordinated the donation of $50,000 worth of equipment, including new incandescent fixtures and a control system, as well as the LED lights.

“A university light lab is the perfect place for students to get their hands on equipment and learn how it affects their process and their art, without worrying about the rigors of getting a show on its feet,” said Gonsman. “But the latest technology is also expensive. ETC has a generous philanthropy program, so I worked with my team inside ETC to commit to a package that would allow Penn State design and technology students to use the widest variety of technology available, in a space that is most suited to learning.”

In addition to the equipment from ETC, 2008 lighting design alumnus Patrick Sieg, of Bandit Lights, coordinated the donation of 14 used intelligent lights — meaning they have multiple attributes that can be remotely controlled — worth $30,000. For example, a lighting designer can remotely control color and intensity, where the lights are pointed, and whether they have patterns. With the School of Theatre’s recent purchase of new cable and rigging hardware, “this collection of gear brings us solidly into the world of intelligent fixture use,” said William Kenyon, head of the lighting design program.

For the students, explained Kenyon, the new gear represents the most significant change in how designers deal with lighting since the advent of electricity.

“Suddenly, designers have literally millions of colors to choose from at the touch of a button,” he said. “This fundamentally changes how we must train new designers, because this is the world they will live in, and it is fantastic that we now have the ability to teach with this gear in the lab space to better prepare students for production.”  

According to Zachary Straeffer, who recently graduated with his bachelor of fine arts in lighting design, the new equipment allows students to gain valuable experience in the lab before they enter a show environment.

“For classes, it is a great room to teach the basics of electrics to new students, as well as more advanced material for our electricians and designers,” he said. “ETC’s gift expanded our inventory and capabilities in the lab tremendously.”

Kenyon said he is honored that alumni stepped forward to help the lighting design program, and grateful for the support of the School of Theatre in further improving the Lighting Lab.

“Now that it is finished, I can state without reservation that this is one of the best light labs in the country,” Kenyon said.

Gifts from Penn State’s alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university. Private support will keep the door to higher education open and enable students to graduate on time and on track to success; create transformative experiences on Penn State campuses and around the globe that tap the full potential of Penn Staters to make a difference; and impact the world through discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit

Last Updated August 14, 2017