UNCSA Design & Production student, two awarded graduates at USITT


A student and two alumni of UNCSA’s School of Design and Production (D&P) were recently honored by the US Institute for Theater Technology (USITT). Two of these honors will be showcased at USITT22, March 2-5 in Baltimore, the institute’s first on-stage conference and exhibit since 2019.

Sarah Penlandcandidate for Master of Fine Arts in Production and Project Management in 2022, was named a new member of the Board of Directors and begins her term on the Sherry Wagner-Henry Board Fellowship.

Former student John McKernonwho earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Lighting and Scenic Design from UNCSA in 1975, will receive a Distinguished Achievement Award in Lighting Design in Baltimore.

Former student Kevin Lee McBeewho graduated with an MFA in Stage Design from UNCSA in 2021, will receive the USITT Scene Design Award sponsored by Rose Brand in Baltimore.

“We congratulate Sarah, John and Kevin on their recognition by the nation’s leading organization for theater and entertainment design, management and technology,” said Dean Michael J. Kelley of the School of Design and Production at the ‘UNCSA. “We are thrilled to see our students and graduates continue to ‘turn the corner’ at USITT, which everyone in our industry aspires to.

“We are especially proud of John, who has had an incredible career performing plays, musicals, ballets, modern dance, galas and themed entertainment for clients in the United States and abroad. , and who continues to make an impact on lighting design with his Lightwright computer application.”

penland is a production manager from Neptune Beach, Florida. She is in her final year of her graduate program in Production and Project Management at D&P, where she received a scholarship from the Semans Art Fund.

Sarah Penland

Last summer, she served as production manager for the Chautauqua Theater Company, successfully bringing the theater company back to in-person performances after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

Prior to her graduate studies at UNCSA, she worked as a stage and production manager for Holland America Line, helping manage and manage branded entertainment partnerships on ships around the world. She has also received the HESS and Sail Safe awards from Holland America.

Penland says she is committed to dismantling systemic racism in the theater industry and in our country.

Established in 2014, the USITT Board Mentorship Program was founded by USITT Secretary Sherry Wagner-Henry. Renamed in his honor, the program refocused to become a flexible 12-18 month fellowship with an emphasis on finding future USITT leaders and investing in their growth. This fellowship serves as a bridge to connect emerging professionals with current leaders in the theater and entertainment industry, as well as an opportunity to learn new skills that will help fellows develop valuable expertise on their journey to leadership at non-profit.

McKernon has lit numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions, as well as regional theaters, national tours, events, and more. He began working with Ken Billington in 1984 as an associate responsible for architectural lighting including restaurants and clubs in New York and Japan and the renovation of Sea World Orlando in 2002. Since then he worked with Billington on a dozen Broadway shows.

John McKernon

John McKernon

McKernon’s career also includes such productions by Vernel Bagneris Jelly roll!” and “One Mo’ Time, the Signature Theater production of “The Trip to Bountiful” (directed by Harris Yulin), the Actor’s Fund performance of “The Visit” (with Chita Rivera) and the Roundabout Theater production of “Othello” (with Earle Hyman).

A frequent dance contributor, McKernon created new lighting for the UNCSA production of “The Nutcracker” in 1998.

Lightwright now takes center stage in McKernon’s career, receiving numerous accolades including the 2004 Eddy Award for Lighting Product of the Year, LDI Lighting Tools and Software Product of the year in 1998 and 2003, and being named by Lighting Dimensions magazine as one of the products that changed our world.

McBee currently lives and works in Los Angeles as a stage and set designer. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he grew up in North Carolina. He describes himself as “a story-driven designer with a passion for long-form theatre, film and television.” His previous work ranges from rebranding cultural institutions to writing, designing and art directing experiments in theme parks and museums. “I strongly believe that design is both a lens and a mirror – a way to better understand the world, the self and those who inhabit it,” he said. “And a world without design and without art is all the poorer.”

Kevin Lee McBee

Kevin Lee McBee

The McBee Award is part of the 2022 Young Designers, Managers, & Technicians (YDMT) Awards which provide recognition and support to young designers, managers, and technicians at the start of their careers. The awards are made possible through the generous donations of its sponsors to USITT.

USITT was founded in 1960 as an organization to promote dialogue, research, and learning among practitioners of theater design and technology. Today it has grown to include members at all career levels and has embraced new technologies used in entertainment. USITT is now the leader in lifelong learning opportunities for the entertainment design and technology industry. It connects the performing arts design and technology communities to ensure a dynamic dialogue between practitioners, educators and students.

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