Alum spotlight: Sam Updike (BFA ’11)

sam in bath tub on set with greenscreen

Sam Updike, BFA ’11, Lighting Design

Originally Sam didn’t apply to the theatre program because he didn’t have the required portfolio. He called the department and asked if he could apply anyway, which got through to Lou Szari (retired lighting design/tech faculty). “I guess I impressed him enough with the interview that he went ahead and added me to the department.”

When Sam was in middle school, he was in a community production of The Hobbit. During the first tech rehearsal he saw the lighting people on the grid. When he asked the stage manager about it, he was told that he had to get into lighting. That began his interest in the field.

About Lou, Sam said, “I loved the guy to death. He knew a lot about lighting, but also how to be a good person and deal with other members of the production team. How to present myself as a pro.” Sam designed the lighting for the production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses for the department.

man and woman posing with balloons
Sam at one of the annual TheatreVCU Student Balls

About his VCU experience, Sam explains, “There are two theatrical spaces: Hodges with all the latest tech and Shafer Street with five dollar budgets. It was great to have both options, because when you work in real theatre at age twenty-three, you’ll be working in the Shafers of the world.”

four people in caps and gowns
Sam and friends at graduation

During school, his summer jobs at ETC and Barbizon would set the stage for his future in New York. His work included a cruise ship, a visit to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and design for a theme park in Dubai. His other love was computer programming and these two fields merged when he created his own company, At Full Lighting. He doesn’t actually hang the lights for most of his jobs, but he programs the sometimes elaborate effects.

apokNW Pvilion
spokane pavilion
Two views of the Spokane Pavilion in Washington State

His favorite job is the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, Quebec. He’d designed a number of color variations, but when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested rainbow lighting on all Montreal buildings, Sam was able to program the bridge from his phone is less than twenty minutes!

bridge at night with weeds in front
Champlain Bridge in Montreal

Sam gets a chance to share his experience and knowledge to the current theatre VCU students. For the last two years, he has taught a lighting programming class at VCU. If it happens this year, it will certainly be via Zoom.

sam smiling

Written by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the October 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter