Graduate Lighting Design student Oliver Littleton is in his final year at CCM, and is already working full-time as a paid professional intern at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The MFA student is finishing up his school work from Florida in order to graduate on time this May.
Littleton works as a show lighting design intern with Disney Imagineering, but is also working on a CCM project in Cincinnati that was originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions. He is the lighting designer for CCM’s upcoming Mainstage Series production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which runs Thursday, March 7-Sunday, March 10, 2019, at CCM’s Corbett Auditorium.
Now, this is not exactly like the animated film musical that patrons may remember from the late ‘90s. The stage musical is based on Victor Hugo’s gothic novel and songs from Disney’s animated feature. It showcases music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, including some new songs that weren’t heard in the film version.
“The stage musical hews closer to the original novel by Victor Hugo and, despite the endearing gargoyles, is designed for adult audiences who will see it as a cautionary tale for our times,” says CCM Musical Theatre Chair Aubrey Berg, director of CCM’s production. Parental discretion is advised.
Disney’s professional internships are designed to connect students and recent graduates with paid professional opportunities and as the company evaluates them for future employment. Littleton began his internship with Disney over the summer, and plans to continue his work for the company for the foreseeable future.
“I want to continue growing my skills in the entertainment and architectural fields,” Littleton says. “I hope to continue designing for theatre and the opera as well, for both enjoyment and experience. However, I think my long term plans lie in architectural entertainment applications for lighting design.”
Between balancing school work and his work as a Disney Imagineer, Littleton found time to catch up with us to share some behind-the-scenes details about CCM’s production of “Hunchback” and his experience in Disney’s professional internship program.
What does your work at Disney entail? How did you come to this opportunity?
In the spring of 2018, I applied for a Lighting Design Professional Internship with Disney Parks Live Entertainment in Walt Disney World, Florida. Disney Parks Live Entertainment is the group who design and plan all of the live entertainment aspects of Disney’s parks and resorts around the world. That includes stage shows, parades, live celebrations, events and nighttime spectaculars. I was chosen as the Lighting Design Professional Intern for the summer and fall cycles, and held that position from June until the end of 2018. I worked as an assistant designer, associate designer, draftsmen and lighting consultant for dozens of projects both current and upcoming. Some of the completed projects that I worked on include Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, DVC Moonlight Magic Events and The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration Live on ABC.
As the end of my professional internship with entertainment neared, I was offered a position working as a Show Lighting Design Professional Intern with Disney Imagineering. Walt Disney Imagineering is the creative force behind Walt Disney Parks and Resorts that dreams up, designs and builds all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, cruise ships, real estate developments and regional entertainment venues worldwide. As a part of the show lighting design team I work to evaluate and assess the existing lighting design in all of our venues and help to maintain the original intent as well as improve the quality of the lighting. I will be in this position until June, at which time I hope to be offered a full-time position in the same group doing similar work.
How have you been able to balance your work at Disney and your studies at CCM?
A combination of great understanding by my professors and not much sleep! Last semester I was officially on co-op for 9 of my credit hours, so that was a bit easier than this one has been. I have been working on “Hunchback” with Aubrey Berg and my assistants since last September, and that was pretty easy to balance by putting in a few hours a week in the evenings to communicate with the team via email. After I was offered the opportunity to stay at Disney, I communicated extensively with my advisors about what was best for my education along with, obviously, my future career. We worked out how many days I would be in Cincinnati during the semester for the show and how I could fulfill some of my class requirements online from Florida. I continued communicating with the director and design team from afar. Frankly it’s just been plenty of long nights and busy weekend days as its been both my full-time job with Disney and another 20 to 30 hours a week of doing things for my MFA.
It has been awesome of my professors to work with me and help me take this amazing opportunity while staying on track to get my degree in May as planned.
What sort of special effects have you incorporated into your lighting design for CCM’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
The show presents us with lots of unique challenges. We need to quickly tell complex moments of the story and show the various scenic changes as characters travel from location to location. We use some great physical tricks to achieve this in the set with props and lighting — but I don’t want to give anything away for people who will come see the show. The big two challenges on this show have been lighting a huge and architectural set, as well as treating five different backdrops for the show. I’ve used a lot of the same techniques and approaches in “Hunchback” that I have previously taken in lighting buildings and event structures, as well as approaches I’ve used in more traditional theatre settings. I think a lot of people who come and see the show will experience a set that feels just a bit different than what they are used to seeing onstage.
“Hunchback” feels epic, dynamic and very real, where so many sets can come off as thin, flimsy and flat. I think the other thing to appreciate is how we use light and subtle changes of the set to quickly move through time and place. I think the audience will be able to quickly understand where we are just from a backdrop or a color movement and hopefully they are impressed by how many looks and feelings we draw out of the space.
What has been your favorite lighting design experience at CCM? What about outside of CCM?
At CCM, I designed the 2017-18 Mainstage production of Candide in Patricia Corbett Theatre. I had both a really great experience and, I think, a pretty cool and unique outcome. We worked hard to create a very unique and bold approach to the tricky piece. A huge part of the storytelling fell to my lighting design and it was a blast to take on that responsibility with such a fun show. Outside of CCM my work at Disney has been really exciting, obviously, and I think that’s been my favorite experience in a long time.
Has there been a specific class or instructor who particularly impacted your learning experience at CCM? How so?
Mark Williams and his Moving Light Programming class my first year at CCM was both an incredible challenge and an essential learning experience for me. The course was about learning to use moving light consoles to program intelligent fixtures in high pressure environments. The course taught me about my own design process as well as ways to use technology to help create stories that otherwise couldn’t exist. The training from Mark’s course is something I use all the time in my work now.
Do you have anything else to add about your experience working on CCM’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame?
It has been great to work on my first musical at CCM and an exciting change of pace. It’s a unique and powerful addition to our season and a wonderful conclusion to my time earning a masters. I hope everyone who is able to see our production appreciates the piece as a modern and important show; watching rehearsals and being a part of the process has given me a real appreciation for the music and elegant storytelling that comes from both Hugo’s novel and Disney’s animated take on the story. It has been a process that I will remember and continue learning from for a long time.
CCM’s epic production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame opens on Thursday, March 7 and continues through Sunday, March 10, 2019. Tickets are on sale now through the CCM Box Office.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by Peter Parnell
Based on the Victor Hugo novel and songs from the Disney film
Originally developed by Disney Theatrical Productions
- 8 p.m. Thursday, March 7
- 8 p.m. Friday, March 8
- 2 p.m. Saturday, March 9
- 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9
- 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10
Corbett Auditorium, CCM Village
University of Cincinnati
Ticket prices start at $32. Discounts are available for UC and non-UC students. Service charges may apply for online orders.
Single tickets are on sale now! Tickets can be purchased in person at the CCM Box Office, over the telephone at 513-556-4183 or online through our e-Box Office!
Visit ccm.uc.edu/boxoffice for CCM Box Office hours and location.
Parking and Directions
Parking is available in the CCM Garage (located at the base of Corry Boulevard off Jefferson Avenue) and additional garages throughout the campus of the University of Cincinnati. Please visit uc.edu/parking for more information on parking rates.
For detailed maps and directions, please visit uc.edu/visitors. Additional parking is available off-campus at the U Square complex on Calhoun Street and other neighboring lots.
For directions to CCM Village, visit ccm.uc.edu/about/directions.
Mainstage Production Sponsor: Macy’s
Musical Theatre Production Sponsor: Dr. & Mrs. Carl G. Fischer
Musical Theatre Performance Sponsor: Graeter’s Ice Cream
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI, 421 West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019 Tel: 212-541-4684 Fax: 212-397-4684 www.MTIShows.com