Distinguished Achievement Award Winners Announced

January 31, 2024

Congratulations to all of our award winners! Our Distinguished Achievement Award winners will be honored on Thursday, March 21, at our Awards Awards Awards ceremony in Seattle as part of our USITT24 Conference & Stage Expo. Join us for the ceremony, and afterward be one of the first on the Expo floor as our winners drop the rope and open it for attendees!

Distinguished Achievement Awards (DAA)

The Distinguished Achievement Awards honor individuals who have established meritorious career records in specific fields of expertise in any area of design or technology in the performing arts or entertainment industry. Each will be a featured part of the Conference in a special session presented by one of the Commissions.

Areas of achievement include, but are not limited to disciplines represented by the Commissions of USITT, scenic design, lighting design, sound design, technical direction, costume design & technology, theatre architecture, theatrical consulting, production management, stage or arts management, entertainment technology, education, or a convergence of these disciplines.

Distinguished Achievement in Education

Nancy Uffner

Nancy Uffner
Nancy Uffner

Nancy Uffner (she/her) is a teacher, mentor, stage manager, colleague, wife, mother, sister, cousin, in-law, and friend. She looks forward to adding “grandmother.” Nancy was introduced to stage management at 19 years old during an acting internship at Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Michigan, and never looked back. She was granted the opportunity to teach in an adjunct position at Eastern Michigan University and then at Northwestern University in Evanston and found her calling. She is finishing her 29th year at the University of Michigan this spring. One of the wonderful gifts of teaching stage management is engaging with all the students involved in a performing arts event. Nancy has poured into and impacted hundreds of students for 35 years. In 2021, Nancy received the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s Teaching Excellence Award. 

Nancy’s former students are stage managing in all genres and arenas of the performing arts in both commercial and not-for-profit settings. They are also calling shows and managing decks for corporate, athletic, entrepreneurial, fundraising, and charitable events. Some alumni are in artistic leadership, general management, production management, company management, directing, and casting, while others are in leadership positions in law, medicine, business, and education. Nancy deeply appreciates the many alumni who stay in touch, give back, and nurture the new generations.

Nancy is a proud, 42-year member of the Actors’ Equity Association. Her regional theatre stage management work includes the MUNY, Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Lythgoe Family Panto, Goodspeed Musicals, Music Theatre Wichita, the U-M Festival of New Works, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chicago Opera Theatre, Virginia Stage Co., Baltimore’s Center Stage, Granbury Opera House, and Cherry County Playhouse. Her national tour experience includes All Shook Up, Fame, Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific with the late Robert Goulet, and Camelot with the late Richard Harris. She has worked with Complexions Contemporary Ballet and the Peter Sparling Dance Company as well as a variety of music and corporate events. She is a member of the Stage Manager’s Association and of USITT. She holds an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS with secondary teaching certification from Eastern Michigan University. Her fun fact is that she was a math minor in undergrad and took three semesters of calculus.

Nancy is very grateful for many mentors and teaching collaborators and would particularly like to lift up Diana Rose, George Bird, Danny Vice, R. Craig Wolf, Dick Block, Amanda Mengden, Kit Bond, Allen McMullen, Christianne Myers, Jessica Hahn, Vince Mountain, Rob Murphy, Brett Finley, Priscilla Lindsay, Linda Goodrich, Deb Acquavella, Michelle Kay, and Tina Shackleford.

"I am incredibly honored by and grateful for this award.  Honestly, my eyes well up every time I think about it. Special thanks to my colleague Christianne Myers for nominating me.”


Distinguished Achievement in Scene Design & Technology

Karen Maness

Karen Maness
Karen Maness

Karen L. Maness is an Assistant Professor of Practice at The University of Texas at Austin, Associate Director of the Fabrication Studios at Texas Performing Arts, and Director of the Texas Performing Arts Hollywood Backdrop Collection. Her research centers on motion picture scenic art, artists, and the language of painting across digital and analog platforms. She is the co-author of The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, 2016 (ReganArts) and co-curator of the 2022 world premiere Boca Raton Museum of Art exhibition Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy. Dedicated to preserving painting as a language, Maness teaches painting and visual communication to digital and analog artists through observational painting and Hollywood motion picture scenic art history. Maness has served as Commissioner of Scenic Design and Technology, Director for the United States Institute of Theatre Technology, US Delegate to OISTAT, a partner in The Art Directors Guild Archives - Backdrop Recovery Project, and as a consultant for The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Museum.

Maness is also a multi-media artist known for her studio practice of painting expansive landscapes and capturing intimate human stories. Influenced by her career in American theatre, she explores connections between individuals and their environments and the passage of time. In addition to her studio practice, Maness engages in public art, public speaking, art consultation, and corporate commissions. She is a founding member and faculty at Atelier Dojo, a renowned Austin-based institution focused on figurative painting.

“I am honored and humbled to be a recipient of USITT's Distinguished Achievement Award. USITT is an organization through which I have grown through service, leadership, and connections to artists, organizations, and scholars worldwide. The opportunity to program a USITT session celebrating the West Coast Scenic Artist ignited my creative research and aligned me with partners dedicated to documenting the history of the art form. USITT provided fertile ground to cultivate and explore ideas connecting the strengths of multiple organizations and collaborators to elevate an art form and its unseen artists beyond our collective imagination. 

This March, we will celebrate the new global motion picture backdrop collections, national exhibitions, and institutes dedicated to preserving motion picture scenic art history and the art form itself through access to original artworks, growing archives, educational opportunities, and training of future artists. 

This March, we will honor the legacy of Hollywood motion picture's scenic art giants upon whose shoulders this research stands. May their work and abilities live on and evolve through generations of artists to come.”


Distinguished Achievement in Engineering

Karl Ruling

Karl Ruling
Karl G. Ruling

Karl G. Ruling holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois. For a decade he pursued a career as a faculty technical director and designer in educational theatre before joining the staff of Theatre Crafts and Lighting Dimensions magazines as technical editor. In 1996 he joined the staff of the Entertainment Services and Technology Association as Technical Standards Manager and Technical Editor for the association's journal Protocol. Karl has stepped back from full-time standards program management, but continues to help support ESTA's Technical Standards Program and continues as the technical editor for Protocol. Karl is a regular contributor to The New England Theatre Journal, reviewing of the Long Wharf Theatre's productions for its “New England Theatre in Review” section. He irregularly designs scenery, lighting, sound, and special effects for theatre.

"I'm pleased to receive this award, not for what it suggests I have done, but for what it suggests that ESTA and its community have done. Most of my work has been in developing standards. These are consensus documents; they go nowhere if they do not have support and help from a large body of concerned and knowledgeable people. I am grateful for the opportunities I've had to work with others to create documents that help make staging shows and events simpler, safer, and more profitable."


Distinguished Achievement in Lighting Design and Technology

Dawn Chiang

Dawn Chiang
Dawn Chiang

Dawn Chiang was the lighting designer for Zoot Suit and the co-designer for Tango Pasion on Broadway. She also co-designed five productions with Richard Pilbrow for City Center's Encores! Series, and she was the associate lighting designer a number of Broadway productions, including Show Boat, The Life, Four Baboons Adoring the Sun, and the original La Cage Aux Folles.

As resident lighting designer for the New York City Opera, Dawn designed and supervised the lighting for the second largest repertory opera company in the U.S, with 14 to 20 productions in rotating repertory.

She has designed Off Broadway and at many regional theaters, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Guthrie Theater, Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, The Acting Company, Syracuse Stage and Trinity Repertory Company.

Dawn earned two Drama-Logue Critics’ Awards, Lighting Designer of the Year award (from Syracuse Area Live Theater), a THEA Award (Themed Entertainment Association) and nominations for a Maharam design award, Los Angeles Drama Critics', and San Francisco Bay Area award.

She is a mentor for Theater Development Fund’s “Wendy Wasserstein Project” theater outreach program for New York City high school students, a board member for Behind The Scenes charity that provides grants to entertainment technology professionals in need due to illness or injury and has served as a board member for Theatre Communications Group.

As a project manager, Dawn helped to plan, design, and supervise the construction of one of the world’s largest water-based, acrobatic spectaculars, “The House of Dancing Water” in Macau.

"I am honored to receive the USITT Distinguished Achievement Award. I want to acknowledge and thank the many mentors, colleagues, and teachers that I have worked with along the way – the piano teachers, ballet teachers, college theater faculty, the set and lighting designers that I assisted, the innovative, world-class directors, and many more.

Everything that I learned from each of them has informed how I see, how I respond to the work, and how I create today.

I love that our love of and insight into the performing arts is often passed along from person to person. It is not at all just learned from a book.

At the same time, one of my favorite quotes is from a book -- “The Art Spirit” by painter and teacher Robert Henri. He writes, “Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, the artist opens it, shows that there are still more pages possible.”

That is the credo of my life and work."


Distinguished Achievement in Sound Design & Technology

Richard Bugg

Richard Bugg
Richard Bugg

Richard Bugg is the Digital Products Solutions Architect for Meyer Sound Laboratories. Before that he was the Digital Products Technical Support Manager for Level Control Systems (LCS) which became part of Meyer Sound in 2006. For the past 17 years Richard has been working with Digital Audio Show Control and the automation of sound manipulation in support of live theatre. Richard has been a member of the AES since 1976.


Distinguished Achievement in Costume Design & Technology

Susan Tsu

Susan Tsu
Susan Tsu

Susan Tsu is an award-winning costume designer whose work has graced the stages of 45 LORT theatres in the United States as well as international venues the world over. Designing costumes for theatre, opera, and television, she is cited in Who’s Who in Fine Arts Higher Education and Who’s Who of American Women, and has been a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recommender. Her awards include the 2017 Carol R. Brown Creative Achievement Established Artist, 2016 Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement, NY Drama Desk, NY Drama Critics, NY Young Film Critics, LA Distinguished Designer Awards and a KCTF-Kennedy Center Medal of Achievement. Susan’s designs and forwards may be seen in over a dozen books on costume and theatrical design.

Memorable productions include the award-winning hit musical Godspell, The Joy Luck Club– a first-time collaboration between Chinese and American companies, and The Balcony at the Bolshoi Theatre for Sarah Caldwell’s US-Soviet Cultural Exchange. Her design work includes King Lear, Collaborators, The Winter’s Tale, The Golden Dragon and Pantagleize for Quantum Theatre; Paradise Blue, The Revolutionists, The Last Match, Outside Mullingar, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Pop! for City Theatre; Little Shop of Horrors, The Royal Family and Metamorphosis for the Pittsburgh Public Theatre; Hairspray, The Book of Will, Shakespeare in Love, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Titus Andronicus for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Most recently, Susan has designed Young Americans at Portland Center Stage and the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, The Merry Wives of Windsor at American Player’s Theatre, Hamlet for Quantum Theatre, and The Importance of Being Earnest at the Guthrie Theatre.

During a 6-year term on the Board of Directors for Theatre Communications Group, Tsu was on the task force that reconfigured American Theatre magazine and was a strong advocate for the Free Night of Theatre initiative across America that reached over 600 cities. She is currently a board member on the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

Susan has been a featured guest presenter at iSTAN (International Stage Art Network), at World Stage Design- Taipei, Taiwan, and the Texas Educational Theatre Association; and an invited presenter at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts as well as the Shanghai Festival of Scenic Arts, the Beijing International Design Symposium, the Beijing Film and Television Technician’s Conference, the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, and the Interdisciplinary Study of Estrangement (ISME) Conference at the American University in Paris.

Tsu co-curated the National and Student exhibits for the 2023 and 2007 Prague Quadrennial and was the Artistic Director for the USITT-USA-PQ 2011 exhibit entitled From the Edge, shown at La Mama La Galleria, the A.A. Bakhrushin State Museum in Moscow, and at the Miller Gallery at CMU. She also curated the U.S. designs represented in the World Costume Design Festival in Vigan, Philippines, and Costume at the Turn of the Century: 1990-2015, a benchmark costume exhibit hosted by the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum where 31 countries presented the work of 400 leading costume designers world-wide. Opening in Moscow, the exhibit has also been shown in Salt Lake City, Utah, Asheville, NC, Fuzhou and Shanghai, PR China; and Warsaw, Poland, with upcoming tours pending. To view Costume at the Turn of the Century, see the website here.

Susan is the Chief Curator for Innovative Costume of the 21st Century: The Next Generation- an extraordinary international exhibition featuring 250 of the world’s most imaginative costume designers from 50 countries, curated by over 100 curators. Hosted by the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, the exhibition premiered at the State Historical Museum in Moscow at Red Square in 2019. A full-color 467-page catalogue champions the work of the international costume designers.

Susan’s own designs have been exhibited many times including a major exhibition at Lincoln Center Library entitled: “Curtain Call: Celebrating A Century of Women Designing for Live Performance.” Her work has also been shown in “From Shakespeare to Sondheim” at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, and the 2003 and 2023 USA National submissions to the Prague Quadrennial.

Tsu has been elected a USITT Fellow and is a member of United Scenic Artists Local #829, the National Theatre Conference, and Phi Kappa Phi. She headed the costume programs at Boston University and the University of Texas at Austin before joining the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon, her alma mater, in 2003, where she holds the honored position of University Professor and currently teaches between August and December.

Susan adores her students at CMU, and also delights in the ability to spend more time designing again. She is grateful for her fabulously talented, wonderous and loving family.

“I am deeply honored and moved by having received the USITT Distinguished Achievement Award in Costume Design and Technology. In many ways, I am surprised by the DAA as I actually still feel like I am just getting started. Once I began teaching, balancing my obligations meant that I turned down as much work as I accepted, and there is still so much that I would like to do. My father taught me as a youngster to always look forward, and that is what I have to pass on to young designers today as well. We have been through some tough times, but the world has seen pandemics and strikes and financial downturns before, while creativity, invention, sharing your view of the human condition, and telling the stories of humanity shall always prevail. To my fabulous colleagues who have been part of the nomination process-  thank you from the bottom of my heart. To everyone who is bursting at the seams to express themselves- bravo! Show us your truth! Keep on keeping on! Be the flower that struggles through the rocks and surprises the world!”