Matthew Russell: Establishing Identity and Finding Community in Theatre

Theatrical Lighting Designer, Museum Assistant Preparator, Sound Designer, Eagle Scout: Matthew Russell’s background is as colorful as the projects they’ve worked on.

Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Matthew (who also goes by MB), fell in love with lighting growing up going to performances in Memphis. MB was especially influenced by any show they were able to see featuring Howell Binkley and Bradley King’s work—and eventually was able to work on the Hamilton (Angelica Tour) production that came through Memphis.

Carnival Vitas3
Carnival Vitas, see credits at bottom of post

From Eagle Scouts, to Museums, to the Stage

Reflecting on the breadth of experience that has brought MB to where they are today, MB discussed how their time as an Eagle Scout set them up for a career in theatre design:

“I am thankful for my time in Scouting. It provided me with several skills that proved helpful in theatre. Learning many knots was one way to get myself ahead, already having climbing safety training, knowing first aid, and having a knack for being thrifty has constantly come in handy. My Eagle project also taught me project management skills that directly translate into my work as a Production Electrician.”

MB’s work has also been seen within two Memphis Museums as a part of temporary and permanent exhibit elements. Many of the exhibits they worked on required them to approach the lighting from a scientific perspective to preserve the pieces on display and ensure accessibility. While prioritizing the aesthetic of lighting the exhibit, MB also had to be mindful of eliminating UV radiation and heat emitted from the fixtures.

MB also discussed the difference in creative processes when working on a theatre production or a museum display:

“With longer lead-times on deadlines in museums, there was a lot more time to work on projects. I had more free time for experimenting, whereas in theatre it’s very fast paced. You’re constantly thinking on your feet—and you have to move forward with whatever idea you have in the moment.”

Carnival Vitas2
Carnival Vitas, see credits at bottom of post

Dancing, Puppets, and a Cosmic Creation Rainbow Snake

When asked to describe one of their favorite projects, MB immediately jumped to Carnival Vitas, their last show with the University of Memphis that was a collaboration with Off The Wall Arts.

The production engaged with schools in the community to bring the dancing puppet extravaganza to life. Local students created the show’s 13 colorful animal puppets, with help from local artist and sculptor Yvonne Bobo. Everybody on the production team worked together to create a world and story around the animals brought to life by the children.

Among the puppets that became integral to the show were the main character, the cosmic creation rainbow snake, as well as a sizable rainbow giraffe.

Exploring Identity and Finding Community

Over the course of the last two years, MB says they’ve been especially focused on finding their identity. As a nonbinary artist, it has been important to surround themself with supportive people and places in Memphis and specifically within the local theatre industry.

MB says that they’ve been fortunate to find community in a handful of local organizations. OUTMemphis, ArtsMemphis, The Orpheum Theatre Group and the community theatre scene have all been very supportive. MB says that people working in Memphis community theatres put in the work to make sure the whole community is loved and taken care of.

Another huge source of support for MB is their partner, Lillie, who is a scenic painter and understands the demands of working in the theatre world and encourages MB to reach for new horizons, dream, and help others do the same. They met while in school at the University of Memphis.

Carnival Vitas4
Carnival Vitas, see credits at bottom of post

What’s Next on the Horizon?

Matthew RussellComing out of the depths of the pandemic, MB says it’s an exciting time to be in this field of work. We’re seeing how much people need live events; there’s no replacing the energy of gathering to enjoy art.

MB is working on establishing themself as a Designer in Memphis and the US in general. They are grateful to mentors like Mike Wood, Mandy Heath, Brian Ruggaber, Lindsay Krosnes, and Anthony Pellecchia who have helped prepare them for this next step. MB is also taking a step back to think about how they can support the local Memphis community through their design work.

In closing, MB mentioned one of the career and life skills that becomes important to many people working in the entertainment industry:

“This career teaches you to be an advocate. As storytellers, we have strong influence on societal perception towards ideas. The great joy of theatre is the ability to tell these stories again, and again."

Check out MB’s website at

(Photo of MB by Joey Echeverria)

Carnival Vitas Credits:

Neile Martin, Director/Author 
Jill Guyton Nee, Producer 
Michael Medcalf, Choreographer 
Kristen Lucas, Choreographer 
Wayne Smith, Choreographer 
Rachael Arnwine, Choreographer 
Tamara Prince-Parris, Choreographer 
Marrissa Cherry, Costume Design 
Micki McCormick, Sound Design 
Matthew Russell, Lighting Design 

Josh Williams, Production Electrician 
Zoe Perrock, Scenic Design 
Jennifer Gillette, Costume Advisor 
Anthony Pellecchia, Sound/Lighting Advisor 
Mike O’Nele, Technical Director 
Rick Mayfield, Technical Director 2 
Amy Hale, Production Manager 
Akilah Suggs, Stage Manager 
Emma Day, Asst. Stage Manager 
Hallie Phillips, Asst. Stage Manager 

Caelan Ingram, Asst. Costume Designer                   

Lauryn Adair 
Mykayla Balfour 
Jolie Berry 
Grace Byrd 
Rhaniyah Chism 
Kylie Davis 
Holly Ferguson 
Elyzah Gasmen 
Melody Green 
Ily Jeanniton 
Jasmine Johnson 
Jewell Kirksey 
Ella Lark 
Abbie Martin 
Kaylin Martin 
Kamille Moore 
Kennedy Reed 
Daniel Rickman 
Haylee White 

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Quinn Wirth
Quinn joined ETC in 2018 with a background in marketing for K-12 and higher education. Studying English in college and tutoring writing across the curriculum fostered her passion for words and weakness for puns. When she’s not writing, she’s likely watching horror movies with her husband or plugging away at her goal of reading 50 books each year. A Wisconsin local, she loves seeing ETC products at work in Madison-area venues she has frequented throughout her life.