Profiles - A Light-Hearted Look at Industry Personalities

Karl G. Ruling

Technical Standards Manager, ESTA

No. 80 in a continuing series

Karl G. Ruling

Caricatures by

David Lewis

It's all because of women.

At the University of California at Santa Barbara, Karl enjoyed spending time with a good-looking dance major, and a lot of that time was in the costume shop, where she was helping build the costumes for a production of the Croatian classic, Uncle Maroje. Not wishing to be accused of slowing the work, Karl took up needle and thread to help. It was great! While doing something practical, he could discuss art and the Meaning of It All, and if she wasn't there, there were so many other women in the shop to talk to! She moved a thousand miles away the following year, but Karl stayed, volunteering for crews and taking theatre classes.

Karl's work building costumes for an opera in the music department led to a part-time job there stage managing, building scenery, hanging lights, and occasionally designing scenery and lighting. There weren't as many women to talk to, but scenery and lighting were a lot less work than costuming, and getting paid was a definite plus. He continued to work on projects and take classes in the theatre department, and wound up with a job building a large mixing console when it was discovered that he could solder.

Eventually it dawned on him, not only was he was spending most of his time doing theatre, but he was also getting better grades in the theatre classes than he was in the classes for his psychology major. His grades in the latter were good, but probably would qualify him "for a career in the fast-food industry." He added a theatre major to the psych major and eventually finished both-years after the woman who started it all had married someone else.

Karl's first full-time position was as a staff technician at California State University in Hayward, where he was in charge of the lighting and sound equipment and spent most of his time doing shows. After three years a move from staff to faculty seemed a good idea. Karl left California to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Illinois, which then lead to an eleven-year odyssey teaching stagecraft, lighting, sound, and scenic design at various universities across the United States.

University life had the good points of designing and building shows, writing technical articles, and teaching interested technical theatre students. Unfortunately, there were also the bad points of shrinking budgets, chronically low enrollments, and way too many colleagues who couldn't understand the value of anything technical. These latter points were getting wearying when two women changed Karl's life again: Marti LoMonaco, a theatre director and Karl's intended, who was joining the faculty at a university 180 miles away from where Karl was then working, and Patricia MacKay, who was looking for a technical editor for Theatre Crafts and Lighting Dimensions magazines in New York City, within commuting distance of Marti's new post. Karl went to work in New York in 1990.

Working for Theatre Crafts and Lighting Dimensions was a great gig. Karl had carte blanche to write about any technical issue that interested him and to call up the Greats of Design and Production and ask: "Why did you do that, and how?" However, Karl was interested in doing more to actually make the technical side of show business work efficiently and safely. He joined the ESTA staff in 1996 as technical standards manager to help the working groups in their projects writing standards and recommended practices. Now he gets to ask the Greats of Equipment and Effects Design: "Why did you do that, and what do you think is the right thing for other people to do?"

Karl continues to do design work, but outside office hours. In March 2004 the first English-language production of Oriza Hirata's Tokyo Notes was presented, with Karl designing the lighting and Marti directing.

It's still all because of women.

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