Luis Garcia, a senior at Stetson University in DeLand, FL, majoring in theatre arts with a focus in lighting design, was selected for USITT’s Gateway 2016 program. The theatre arts major focusing on lighting design had the opportunity to participate in and be mentored at the USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo in March.

Nominations are now open for Gateway 2017.

Luis recently shared his experiences.

USITT : How did you learn about the Gateway program?

Luis: I actually didn’t know anything about Gateway until two days before the application deadline because I was not yet a member of USITT. My professor, Krista Franco, got an email about it. She pulls me aside and goes, “Luis, you need to apply for this. By the way, it’s due in two days.”

I got super-nervous because I can’t always write everything that goes on in my mind properly. But I tried to explain that I want to give back to my community. I was lucky to be able to go to a public arts high school, the Osceola County School for the Arts … so I’ve been in technical theatre since seventh grade. I wanted to go to USITT and get as much info as I could so I can bring it back to people in my community who worry that, “There might not be a career in theatre for me,” because there can be if it’s your passion.

What was your impression of the USITT Conference?

What I received is not what I expected. I knew I was going to make a lot of friends and connections in theatre, but I didn’t expect it to be such a big, connected, and well-rounded group of people. I’ve never been so proud to call myself a technical theatre person as I was there, and I’ve never felt so honored to be working in an industry that I feel passionate about.

The Gateway program was like a small version of all of USITT, so I got an experience I never would have had if I went just as a regular attendee. It was all about diversity in theatre, which really hit home because a good majority of my home community is Hispanic, but there are not that many Hispanic people involved in technical theatre.

Tell us about your mentor, Jim Streeter (USITT Board member and production manager at Princeton University).

Jim is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He is just super passionate about lighting design and we clicked very well. I learned that he is a big member of the Diversity panel, so we didn’t get to see each other as much as we both wanted because he was very busy. But the time we did spend together was great.

At Gateway they really want to help you grow and become as professional as possible. Jim looked at my resume and gave me perspective on what I should and should not have in there, and the same with my portfolio. It was very beneficial to have another professional set of eyes look it over and give me advice on how to improve it.

We were able to have lunch together, we walked the Expo floor, we went to a couple sessions including the People of Color Network where April Reign and Dstew spoke, and Jim recommended some particular workshops for lighting designers for me to go to, and gave me advice on people I should talk to. If it wasn’t for him, I would have been like a chicken without a head walking around the Conference.

What did you learn about mentoring?

Actually, at the end of the Conference we got to give tours to some high school students, and I got to lead a group interested in lighting design around the show floor. I never thought of myself as someone who can help others grow, but the five individuals definitely reminded me of me when I was in high school. I gave them my card and told them to send me a text if they have any questions, and hopefully having that extra connection will give them confidence to pursue their dreams. I tried to treat them like a best friend. And seeing their faces looking at all the equipment at Stage Expo, going crazy like it was Christmas, gave me a lot of joy inside.

I told Jim and Madilynn that, if I got an opportunity to come back as a Gateway peer mentor, I would love it. I love the feeling of knowing that a person’s life is changed for the better because of you planting that seed in their life.