Jessica Baker, a University of Wisconsin-Parkside student, is enjoying a lot of “firsts.”

Last fall, she did her first lighting design for a show, UW-Parkside’s production of “The War of the Worlds.”

For her efforts, she was a first-place winner at the 2019 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Madison.

That brings us to this week, when she will be competing in the Kennedy Center National Competition for Lighting Design in Washington, D.C.

When we talked with her about these accomplishments, she was still stunned at her success.

“It was my first time doing a lighting design, and my first time at the regional competition,” she said. “This will also be my first time at nationals and my first time in Washington, D.C. I’m really excited.”

The Wilmot High School graduate first got involved in theater during her high school years, as an actor, not a lighting designer.

At UW-Parkside, the junior is studying theater and geoscience and “hopes to intertwine the two areas, using theater to get across the message about protecting the environment.”

“I have a passion for earth science,” she said, “but my mom knows I love theater, too, and she encouraged me to do both.”

Theater, she added, “is stressful, but it’s so great when it comes together.”

She got into lighting design after taking a class in it at UW-Parkside “and finding out that I like it and am good at it. I enjoy creating an atmosphere with lighting.”

She credits her acting background with helping her get through her presentation to the judges at the regional contest.

When asked what constitutes “good lighting” in live theater, she said, “You should be able to see all the actors’ faces, and it should have a little spectacle, a little bit of fun, too.”

Going to the weeklong national competition is daunting to Baker, who says she’d like to work as a lighting designer in the theater world after college.

“My dream job was to be part of the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live’ — I wanted to be the next Tina Fey,” she said, laughing. “Now acting is more of a hobby. Maybe I can be a lighting person on ‘SNL.’”

Design Storm project

Tyler Coffey, a UW-Parkside senior from Kenosha, won a regional award for directing his Design Storm project of “Arcadia.”

“They assign you a project, and you have three weeks to complete it,” he said.

He directed the project, which included coming up with a set and lighting design for the 1993 Tom Stoppard play “Arcadia.”

“The play is cool, but it’s a beast,” Coffey said. “It’s very wordy and has a lot of math references.” (The drama is set in an English country house in Derbyshire and takes place in both 1809/1812 and the present day.)

Coffey said the judges at the Madison competition “said we were very cohesive, which is great to hear because that’s our job.”

He added that his team “was shocked that we won; so many of the other projects were so good.”

The Lakeview Technology Academy graduate is majoring in psychology and theater and hopes to earn a master’s degree in counseling. His dream job would be teaching theater at a college and also being a director.

“I like to help people, and I hope to be able to do that,” he said. “Theater is a flexible thing and offers a lot of opportunities.”

Also at the festival

Also competing at the regional festival was junior theater arts student Kyle Racas, from Salem, who was one of 16 actors from a field of 250 who made it to the finals in the acting competition.

Antioch, Ill., native Noah Frye, a junior, received a Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award and was runner-up in the National Lighting Design category for his design of UW-Parkside’s “Midnight & Moll Flanders.”

“Midnight & Moll Flanders,” written by Marie Kohler, was one of just five productions chosen to be performed at the Region III competition. More than 30 students were involved.