A look into the life of BYU’s assistant lighting designer

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The lighting crew members worked on the stage of the Pardoe Drama Theatre stage in the Harris Fine Arts Center.

Their boss, Marianne Ohran, walked in, but nobody changed what they were doing, apparently at ease in her presence. Ohran paid no attention to the empty audience seats or the scattered light gels on a work table. Instead, she focused in on what mattered to her: the lighting.

The crew was setting the lighting for BYU’s production of “Argonautika.” Ohran’s job as assistant lighting designer for BYU Arts Production doesn’t specifically call for her to be head lighting designer on every project, but she gets the occasional opportunity to design. “Argonatika” is one of those opportunities.

Ohran is not only an assistant lighting designer — she is also an example to her crew, a mom who balances work and family and a woman who’s figured out what she likes to do.

Before her time at BYU, Ohran was a young Idaho girl who scrambled to fill her class schedule at Ricks College, now known as BYU–Idaho. Her dad suggested she talk to their family friend Rodger Sorensen, who was the theater department chair at Ricks College.

Sorensen suggested she take an introduction to theater class. Ohran had done theater for fun but had never been introduced to the technical side. During her second semester at Ricks College, she took a technical theater class and was assigned to run the spotlight for the school’s production of “My Fair Lady.”

“I look back now and would say it was probably the Holy Ghost,” Ohran said. “I was just like, ‘I don’t care what else I do in this class; I’ve got to get on the lighting crew.'”

Ohran remained on the lighting crew until she received her associate’s degree and transferred to BYU. She wasn’t at BYU very long before she joined BYU’s equivalent to a lighting crew, where she met her husband, Mark.

Ohran hadn’t considered majoring in theater because she “had it in her head” she wouldn’t be able to make a living doing theater. She soon realized theater was the route she should go after she spent a semester pursuing a degree in computer science.

“I realized this is what I like doing,” Ohran said. “I can make money at it if I like it, and I want to do it.”

Ohran received a technical theater degree with an emphasis in lighting design in 1999. She continued working at BYU and oversaw the lighting crew for four years until moving so her husband could attend graduate school. They moved back to Provo at the completion of his degree, and Ohran got a job as BYU’s assistant lighting designer in 2006.

Ohran enjoys the flexibility to work around a performance-based schedule and be a mom to her four children. There’s never a typical day on the job, according to Ohran, as she manages and schedules the lighting crew, oversees setup and attends meetings and late night rehearsals.

Keeping up-to-date with all the industry technology is another task Ohran does well, according to head lighting designer Michael Handley.

“Her understanding of current technology greatly facilitates the enormous workload that flows through our department,” Handley said in an email. “Lately, she has taken on an increased design load and seems to enjoy that creative outlet.”

Ohran said she does, indeed, enjoy the creative outlet designing provides. She’s headed the lighting design for BYU productions such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Charlotte’s Web.” Ohran has also done lighting design for various dance productions and occasionally does projects for Utah Regional Ballet and SCERA Center for the Arts.

Lighting designer is a job many understand, according to Ohran. Other parts of theater productions are tangible — like the set, props or costumes — but lighting is harder to notice.

“If you don’t know to look for lighting when you go to something, then you don’t notice it.” Ohran said.

But for the students who work under her, Ohran’s work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Kenzie Ottley, Ohran’s assistant, praised her laid back nature.

“Generally, always working with her is happy,” Ottley said. “She’s not a high-stress person. She doesn’t ever freak out if something goes wrong. She’s just like, ‘It’s OK. We can fix it; it’s fine.’”

Ohran is also a source students turn to for help and advice. Susan Kupferer, a student who works for Ohran, said her favorite interaction with Ohran happens outside of their time spent together on the lighting crew. Kupferer shares an office with Ohran as a stage management major and said she enjoys their conversations.

“It’s always fun to go into the office when she’s there,” Kupferer said. “She’ll talk to us about what we’re doing outside of the crew and in the department. She understands that we do other things, and she’s interested in those things.”

Interacting with the students and teaching them what she knows is rewarding, according to Ohran. But students don’t just go to her for advice about the lighting crew. Kupferer said she looks to Ohran as an example of how to work in the theater industry.

“She’s definitely been an example that you can do this and still have a family and still have time to do other things,” Kupferer said.

Ohran said she is able to balance having a job and raising a family because she has “a husband who helps.” Mark and Ohran try to be flexible and share in taking care of home responsibilities.

Working and raising her family aren’t the only things Ohran makes time for. She makes room for personal time and attends several clogging competitions with her competitive clogging team. She said her team often finishes in the top of its competitions.

Ohran plans to continue at BYU while working toward a master’s degree in theatrical lighting design through a distance learning program with the University of Idaho.

She not only enjoys her job but also feels strongly she’s where she’s meant to be. Ohran described her experience of becoming a lighting designer as a “spiritual confirmation.”

“It’s always been like, ‘This is what you’re supposed to be doing,’” Ohran said. “It wasn’t ever, ‘I’ll just do this for fun,’ or ‘I need to be home with my kids.’ It was always like, ‘This is your path and make it work.’”

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