Trefoni Michael Rizzi
Set & Exhibit Design
Designer, Lead Faculty, Set & Exhibit Design
The Art Institute of California—Hollywood, a campus of Argosy University
Creativity isn't about thinking outside the box. It's about understanding that, to be competitive in today's market, there is no box. Trefoni Michael Rizzi , Designer, Lead Faculty, Set & Exhibit Design , The Art Institute of California—Hollywood, a campus of Argosy University
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
From an early age, I was always drawing and building things. After working in graphic design and arts administration, I shifted to education, spending three years counseling art students to follow their dreams and pursue their passion. That’s when I realized I wasn't listening to my own advice. So I went back to school to focus my energy on designing for the theatre. Earning my MFA in Theatre and Dance-Design turned my interest into a passion.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
As a working scenic and lighting designer, I use the same techniques in the classroom that I use professionally to help students take their design ideas from research to 3D realization. I bring examples of my own work into the classroom, and invite my students to attend productions I‘ve designed so they can expand their visual vocabulary.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
In one of my final classes in the Set & Exhibit Design program, students design Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on a stage the size of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. They need to understand not just a classic text, but how to work within the limitations of a chosen painter or illustrator’s style. As they explore the artist's work, students find nuances and details that expand their vision of the play and see how their design can incorporate the artist's visual world. The project asks them to explore the use of space on a grand scale, similar to music festivals. How do you design a space this large and still keep the focus on a single person? It’s a challenge we deal with every day in live entertainment.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?
Collaboration is the foundation of all work in this business. From theatre to film to television to theme parks to events and festivals, no one person's vision can be realized without the work of designers, artists, craftspeople and technicians. Whenever I can, I build collaboration into my classes to provide the critical give-and-take experience students need to succeed. Working with students in programs such as Digital Film or Graphic Design or Photography, they learn that sharing their ideas in a group of creative people actually makes those ideas better.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
First and foremost, we are storytellers. In all my classes, I strive to engage my students in the process of storytelling through research, dramaturgy, textual analysis, character analysis, concept development, the psychology of space, light, color and texture, and in their designs. Their work is always filtered and critiqued through the lens of whether they’re clearly telling the story.
What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?
It’s time management. The live entertainment design industry is an extremely fast-paced, highly competitive world. If you don't learn to manage your time well, someone else is waiting to take your place.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Creativity isn’t about thinking outside the box. It's about understanding that, to be competitive in today's creative market, there is no box.