Shirley Prendergast Receives USITT 2014 Distinguished Achievement in Lighting Design Award

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Trail-blazing lighting designer Shirley Prendergast accepted the 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award in Lighting Design at USITT's 54th Annual Conference & Stage Expo on Thursday.

USITT Lighting Design & Technology Co-Commissioner Vickie Scott presented the award to Prendergast in recognition of her ground-breaking career in lighting design.

Prendergast entertained a crowd of admirers with stories of studying lighting design in the 1960s at Lester Polokov's Studio of Stage Design in New York, becoming the first African-American woman to pass the lighting design exam for United Scenic Artists Local 829 in 1969, and the first black female lighting designer on Broadway in 1973.

Her mentee, Kathy Perkins, who became the second African-American female lighting designer to join Local 829 in 1987, asked Prendergast if she was aware of her "firsts" at the time.

"I didn't know that," Prendergast said. "I just knew what I wanted to do, and if you wanted to come along with me, fine. But I was going to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And that's about it."

Dozens of lighting design and technology students attended the session celebrating Prendergast's career at USITT's Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Fort Worth. The event boasts 5,000 attendees, 260 companies displaying live entertainment products and services, and 240-plus stagecraft-related workshops and events.

On Friday, Prendergast will participate in a panel discussion with USITT's five other 2014 USITT Distinguished Achievement Award winners: Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth, SNL and Wicked scenic designer Eugene Lee, sound design pioneer Bob McCarthy; Texas stage manager and mentor Susan Threadgill, and technical theatre educator Dana Taylor.

Prendergast, who studied lighting design at night while working for the City of New York as a bacteriologist, went on to design for Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatre. Her previous awards include the 2011 "Viv" (Vivian Robinson/Audelco Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre) Lighting Design Award for Knock Me a Kiss.

USITT, the national association for theatrical and live entertainment designers and technicians, provides year-round opportunities for networking, training, and promotion of the backstage arts. For more information, visit www.usitt.org.

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