What She Looks Like: Jiyoun Chang, Scenic and Lighting Designer

Jiyoun Chang‘s ability to tell a story through light speaks to her gifts and sensitivity as an artist. As a mother, Jiyoun brings those same gifts and sensitivity to articulating the fear leading up to motherhood and the discovery of strength after the fact, as well as the hope she has for her daughter’s relationship to the work. As a woman in the technical field of scenic and lighting design, Jiyoun already works as a minority, and adding motherhood to the mix makes her situation all the more unique.

When Jiyoun begins to share “what we should know” about parenthood in the performing arts life, she dives into incredibly relatable, heart-rending advice from people that discouraged her at first, and then the advice that helped win her over. Her belief in the resolve and resilience of people who work in the performing arts is a tribute to the encouragement we can gather when we remember that – as a community – one of our greatest strengths is gathering in spite of uncertainty to “make it happen.”In her interview, she weaves beautiful connections between the discoveries of motherhood and the strength of storytellers in the performing arts. Visit her site to see her work with light and sets here: Jiyounchang.com/


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Far Right: Jiyoun Chang, Scenic and Lighting Designer, holding Eva (2.5 years old), at the theater with fans and friends.

Name: Jiyoun Chang

Profession: Scenic and Lighting Designer
Status 2.5 old Baby Girl

What surprised you about having a child and working your performing arts life?

First of all, it surprised me to learn about the evolution of a human being. Just every step of growing amazes me. I had never thought that would be something that I would experience through my child. I thought I knew everything about growing up, but I don’t, and it surprises me every little step she goes through with amusement – and scares me too with fear that I may ruin something so wonderful before its full realization. And that surprise in learning deepens my work. I am a better person with my child through the better understanding of how difficult it could be to learn how to lift up a head and crawl and walk. and that understanding goes further in the context of grown people and grown people in a story that I deal with my work.

What excited you about having a child and working your performing arts life?

My friends said to me that it shouldn’t be a problem for me to have a child because I never sleep anyway, but having a child is not like performing art that you work on and it lives a life for a while and ends one way or the other. Having a child is an ongoing project that never ends, and it’s exhausting, rewarding and tiring and joyful. Having to have work that has a limited life brings a different joy to my life now. It gives a balance to my life. I like going to work more than before and love coming back home more than before.

What challenged you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

I don’t want to miss every step of my child growing up. I like spending time in a theatre, and I do more precise notes and perfect what I do as much as I can, but I cannot be at both places and I will miss something somehow by what is clearly my choice. Making a choice is challenging – between my child and work. She has traveled to so many places and met with colorful people and experienced many things she couldn’t have if I had a different job, but at the same time, I am a person who goes away and does notes after hours and spends all day at tech, and she starts to express that she doesn’t like that sometimes, and it’s hard. My absence is more obvious than my husband’s, and it’s just the way it is with being a mother, and I can see that it can be harder later when she can fully express herself and articulate her feelings then I will be questioned what is more important.

What you look forward to about having a child and working your performing arts life:

I did a few shows in Korea, and my nephews came to see my show. I am very close to them, and I was always so sad I couldn’t spend much time with them. So it was very special when I could present work in Korea a few times and one of them was old enough to sit through my show for one act, the first half. My sister told him what I did for the show, and he observed the lights and asked a few questions during the show to my sister. The questions and comments he made were shockingly accurate to the contents and simply a wonderful response. I want that with my child. I want my girl to come see my show and tell me what and how she thinks of it. What she sees and hears and feels. I want her to criticize my work and make an argument about issues we deal with in the story. I can’t wait to hear her experience. It will make me feel so good that the time away from her is worth something.

What you think people should know about having a child and working your performing arts life:

Once I asked a very well-known lighting designer what it was like to have a family with a child while she was so busy working as a designer. She had a life I was anxious to have. I was in my early 30s, and I was simply nervous that I couldn’t have it. She said, “After I got my two Tonys, I was able to afford to have a nanny. I had a child with my partner and we got marries. When she came to this world, my emptiness was fulfilled.” I was devastated. I didn’t think I could every have a family or career or baby or anything. It will take a million years to have a Tony. I didn’t think it was possible at all. I was very depressed. I asked the same question to my mentor and he said, “You don’t plan these things. You don’t expect these things, and it just happens, and you deal with it.” He didn’t say anything further, but by the expression on his face, he was telling me it was not easy, but he dealt with it.

When I was so worried about the reality of having a baby and working at the same time, expecting a child in a few months, my friend told me, “You don’t know where your career is going whether you have a child or not. You don’t know it. So what does it make a difference if you have a child? You have a life full of unmarried, childless friends who can become aunties and your child’s life will be so rich.”

Once another friend asked me about having a child and working the performing arts life, and I couldn’t quite tell her what is best for her because it is true that it’s not easy to have a child and work. Period. Especially as a woman. Working in the performance arts has a different challenge all around with traveling and long hours and no weekend and no days off for two to three weeks to a month or more. But when it happens, you deal with it. When I was expecting my girl, I packed every thing in our house for moving in two days, and we closed our house in one month. We failed to get the first home we wanted, even my husband was skeptical about it working out, but then we moved to a new place somehow as planned and unpacked all in three days and hung curtains and cleaned up the house within a week with a feeling that our girl would come out few weeks earlier.

I really believe people working in the performing arts industry can do anything. We have to open a show tonight, and it will happen no matter what. We have to do a turn around overnight for tomorrow’s new show, and we will do it. Yes, maybe some need one broadway hit and two Tonys to have a child and have a family, but it’s all their choice of how to deal with having their family. When It happens to us, we will deal with it no matter what. We will bring the whole village of people to raise our children and make sure they are ok. And they will be ok with some mistakes and hiccups, with tears and laughs and sleeplessness and pain – and unbelievable joy. We work with limited resources and time and money under a huge stress, and it’s like going into labor with a different challenge, with pain that comes and goes away as if nothing happened, and just leaves pure joy.

Your favorite mommy-artist story:

Eva plays a lot of role playing. She pretends to be someone and assigns you a role to play as if she is a director. It happens fast. She plays different roles and gives you different roles to play very quickly and frequently (and it seems to be a good exercise for actors). Anyway, she sometimes plays the role of mama, Me. She would say, “I need to go do my notes,” which I say to her a lot at the end of dinner break or in the morning before tech.

My Favorite Quotes:

“I thought I knew everything about growing up, but I don’t, and it surprises me every little step she goes through with amusement – and scares me too with fear that I may ruin something so wonderful before its full realization. And that surprise in learning deepens my work.”

– Jiyoun Chang

“I really believe people working in the performing arts industry can do anything.”

– Jiyoun Chang

“We work with limited resources and time and money under a huge stress, and it’s like going into labor with a different challenge, with pain that comes and goes away as if nothing happened, and just leaves pure joy.”

– Jiyoun Chang


Jiyoun’s interview reads like poetry revealing the dance between reservation and resolve. Both light and shadow fill her piece to bring dimension and visibility to the working theater mom. I couldn’t be more grateful for her story.

More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!


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