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Kenton Yeager: Lighting Design Expert, Rock Collector, Meditation Guru

Kenton Yeager in his UT office

Kenton Yeager in his UT office.

At UT: Kenton Yeager is a professor in the Department of Theatre and head of the graduate program in lighting design. He came to UT in 2001 from the Virginia Stage Company to establish the university’s graduate lighting design program. To ensure that students retain what they are learning in the classroom, they work on designs for three real productions each semester. “It is entirely immersive,” he said. “It has totally changed how we teach.”

An example of the program’s success? “We have 100 percent job placement both on the undergraduate and graduate level in lighting design,” he said.

Yeager travels around the country and the world—and takes students with him—to design shows. He has taught more than 100 master classes and at more than 40 universities in the United States, as well as in Germany, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Austria, Mexico, France, Wales, India, and Holland.

Why he chose this field: In high school, Yeager did a bit of acting and sang in a barbershop quartet. He went to college aspiring to be a high school English teacher. The field was already saturated so an advisor who knew his background in the arts suggested he consider lighting and theater. “The randomness of a 15-minute conversation with a stranger totally flipped my life,” he said. “The exciting life I’ve got to lead traveling all over the world designing shows was triggered by that conversation with her.”

Outside interests: He is president of the American Meditation Society and an advanced certified meditation teacher. He incorporates these techniques into his teaching at UT. “I teach our students mindfulness practices so they understand how their mind works. We’re getting them in touch with who they are. They’re artists first and then become artists who paint with light.” Understanding this helps them to think outside the box, Yeager said. “Many of my students never go into theater. They work in theme park design and for architecture lighting firms, allowing them to make a good living and not just be limited to theater.”

He also teaches a First-Year Studies course on meditation for academic success. He shows students how to use meditation techniques for test taking and stress reduction. Three years ago, several students who took the class went on to form UT’s Mindfulness and Meditation Club, which now has 400 members. Yeager serves as its faculty advisor.

Yeager loves to bring back a memento from every state and country he visits. His office is filled with dozens of rocks, shells, stones, and sticks from all over the world.

In his spare time, he enjoys restoring antique British cars. He is currently setting up a blacksmithing shop with his son.

If I didn’t do this, I’d: “Find happiness in anything I did. As long as you’re awake and alive in anything you do, you could do anything.”

One last thing: He is creator and owner of Yeagerlabs, a company that specializes in innovative ways of teaching theater. It includes the use of fully functional miniature theater model labs that can be outfitted with equipment for lighting, audio, projection, several types of draperies, and rigging.

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