Wright State lighting design graduate earns prestigious fellowship

Jessica Ann Drayton, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design and Technology from Wright State, received the 2024 Howell Binkley fellowship, considered the most prestigious fellowship in entertainment lighting design.

The calendar year has not reached the halfway point, but 2024 has already been quite memorable for Wright State University alum Jessica Ann Drayton. And more is on the horizon.

Drayton, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design and Technology from Wright State, spent three weeks in Greece as the lighting and projection designer for the Greek National Opera’s production of Nadia Boulanger’s “La Ville Morte.

She earned an M.F.A. in Lighting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music this spring, one of the nation’s premier entertainment design graduate programs in the country, and is getting married in June.

Drayton was also named the 2024 fellow of the Howell Binkley Fellowship Program, considered the most prestigious fellowship in entertainment lighting design. She will serve in the fellowship for a year.

“It is a wonderful honor, and I am fortunate to have been selected,” Drayton said. “It is an amazing opportunity for aspiring lighting designers that connects you with some of the best professionals in the industry.”

The inspiration behind the program were Howell Binkley and Gilbert Hemsley, who were admired for their lighting design prowess, particularly in Broadway productions. They also shared a passion for inspiring young lighting designers and mentoring them as they began their careers.

“They were infectiously passionate and driven to mentor young designers because they said no one had done that for them,” Drayton said. “The program serves as a springboard for lighting designers, and you get a leg up in the industry because it is very well known throughout the country.”

The Howell Binkley Fellowship offers exposure to New York City-based theatrical lighting designers. Drayton will receive an inside look at the industry, including developing drafting techniques, receiving advice on finding the next job and observing the technology of a regional, opera, dance or Broadway production.

Matthew Benjamin, professor of lighting design at Wright State, who met and recruited Drayton when she was a junior in high school visiting the university, said, “There is simply not a more prestigious fellowship in the world of entertainment lighting design.”

He said Howell Binkley was one of the most respected Broadway lighting designers, citing his Tony Award-winning design for “Hamilton.”

“This is a tribute to Jessica and her hard work. When I met her, I knew she was the type of student we wanted,” Benjamin said. “She is naturally intelligent and a good person and enthusiastic about the world of theater. I was very happy when she decided to join us here at Wright State University.”

Benjamin says Drayton’s inquisitive nature led to additional opportunities and set her apart.

“Jessica was always in my office asking questions and being proactive about her own education,” he said. “It was never a problem getting her to think outside the box as an artist, which is important in any industry. I am always a champion for Jessica and so proud of the person she has become.”

Drayton, who became interested in theater in middle school, is thankful for her Wright State experience, in particular the experiential learning she garnered through Benjamin and others.

“Wright State provided opportunities for those who are willing to seek them out. The university educated me in a fashion that has prepared me to be a theater professional,” Drayton said. “I went right into the industry as the assistant lighting director for the Dallas Opera after graduating from Wright State. That would not have been possible without the training I received, and I am forever grateful.”

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