Student Q&A: Yajayra Franco BFA '23

While finishing up her first year at the School of Dramatic Arts, Yajayra Franco BFA ’23 reflects on learning the ropes of lighting design from industry professional faculty, and the things she hopes to accomplish in her next three years as an SDA student.

Girl withe shoulder length brown hair and bangs stands in front of a wood fence while wearing a black and white stripped shirt.

Yajayra Franco (Courtesy photo)

SDA: Where are you from?
Franco: I am from Pacoima, Calif.

SDA: What program are you in at SDA? Why did you choose this program?
Franco: I am in the BFA in Design program. I chose this program because of the hands-on and structured curriculum. I liked the idea of a curriculum built specifically to cover my main interest in lighting design, as well as being able to expand my knowledge in other design elements. The BFA program allows me to learn in the moment by applying concepts learned in the classroom to a production assignment. There is never a moment where I do not learn something new.

SDA: What else are you involved in outside of SDA? (ISPs, TSA, student films, etc…), and how does it fit into your university experience? Is there anything you hope to get involved in later in your time at SDA?
Franco: Outside of SDA, I’m involved with Christian Challenge, a Christian community on campus. I stop by La CASA occasionally to participate in their events and gatherings. Both organizations help me establish a community that I was surrounded by before attending USC. Christian Challenge and La CASA help me stay in touch with who I am and where I come from. I hope to eventually get involved in ISPs soon; I would love to put on a show with friends and peers!

SDA: What is your favorite thing about the faculty at SDA? Has any one professor had a profound impact on you?
Franco: My favorite thing about the faculty at SDA is how patient, humble and dedicated they are in answering our questions, and ensuring that we as students comprehend the concepts of every aspect of production. Elizabeth Harper has had a profound impact on me. She is the first professional female lighting designer I have ever encountered, and her passion and knowledge for lighting design is infectious. I have learned so much from her, both inside and outside of the classroom. She is so humble and always willing to share her expertise. I look forward to possibly having her as a mentor during my time at SDA.

SDA: Which show has been the biggest learning experience at SDA?
Franco: For me, Safe Harbor from the New Works Year II Festival was the biggest learning experience as a lighting designer. Even though we couldn’t put on the show and had to go virtual (the show was canceled due to COVID-19), I still learned so much about the research and process that leads to the design of a show. I learned how to articulate my design ideas with the director, as well as ensuring that my designs depict the director’s vision. My favorite thing I have learned was that I have to build a cue sheet ahead of time before paper tech — crazy, I know! I did not know that before! I am looking forward to learning so much more.

An example of Yajayra’s early work. (Photograph by Jesse Santos)

SDA: How do you hope your SDA education will inform other creative endeavors?
Franco: I hope my SDA education will help me become more confident in my knowledge and expertise as a lighting designer when I get the opportunity to work or design outside of school, and I hope that it will give me the courage and tools to attempt lighting design in areas outside of theatrical lighting.

SDA: How has SDA changed your outlook on theatre?
Franco: SDA has greatly changed my outlook on theatre. Throughout the curriculum I have interacted with so far, I’ve learned how to delve into a script or play. I have developed a greater appreciation for theatre than ever before — be it from the lines articulated by the actors on stage or the various design elements that put the show together. Every person that participates in a theatrical production, from the box office to the stage, puts in their heart and grit to display the best performance for both them and the audience.

SDA: What do you hope to accomplish in your time at SDA, and what impact do you hope to leave after your four years?
Franco: At SDA, I hope personally to see a noticeable growth and development in my designs from high school through the end of my college career. I hope that incoming lighting designers at SDA can learn from me in the future, whether it’s how I organize myself or the specific ways I approach a design. Sharing knowledge and tips is beneficial for all of us; we are always learning, no matter what. I continue to look forward to learning different tactics from my faculty and peers.