We sat down with team member Ericka Delgado to discuss the firm’s early beginnings, her passion for Degas sculptures and Modern Art, and how strong female influences like her aunt and Zaha Hadid inspired her to pursue a career in architecture and theatre design. Ericka also shares how she once made the legendary Rem Koolhaas do a doubletake. So, without further delay…let’s meet Ericka! (jazz hands, jazz hands)
What do you do at TheatreDNA?
I am a consultant and BIM manager for the firm. On a day-to-day basis, I do a lot of Revit coordination and drafting work for our projects. I also do space planning and room design working alongside our principals, which I really like. That’s ultimately what I’d like to do more, to learn more about the craft of theatre consulting.
Rumor has it that you are employee #1. Is that true?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s true. I was looking for something different in the AEC industry after school and working for a small architecture firm. During my search, I had a few offers for residential design, and some commercial construction, but I really wanted to work with Michael. I thought what he did was interesting, and all the architects he got to work with were the ones I had read about in school and admired. So, I got the job and hit the ground running. It was just him at the time, so we were constantly busy. We had a project in the Philippines, which Michael had to fly to for commissioning during my first week on the job. So, here I am in my first couple of days and Michael was like, “Okay, I got to leave you. But you’ll do fine!” (Ericka laughs remembering) In those days, we didn’t have Slack or anything to stay in touch. Just cell phones. We weren’t very techie back then.
Have you always wanted to be in theatre consulting?
No, but I knew specialty consulting firms like ours did exist from my time at architecture school and before coming here. The closest experience I had with designing performance spaces was a planetarium and a small lecture hall with a previous architecture firm. But I’ve always liked music and the arts, in general. So, I immediately felt a connection there on that level. And of course, now, all I notice when I go see theatre or watch something live on TV are the position of the catwalks, missed lighting cues, or where are all the emergency exits in the auditorium.
So, work has found its way into your off time, huh?
Yes! I always take photos too! Not because I want to remember the event, but because I saw something cool in the building and want to document it. Ultimately, you have to love what you do, and I feel fortunate that I do.
Do you remember the first piece of art that had a profound effect on you?
One of the museums my aunt took me to was the Norton Simon Museum of visual art in Pasadena. I remember things about it like the beautifully landscaped courtyards and reflection pond, but what stands out the most are the museum’s collection of Degas sculptures and paintings. I especially loved his dancer series, because they bring me back to when I was a kid—just happy and always, like, jumping around and dancing across the living room. And it amazes me that a piece of art can make me feel that way. Yeah, it’s really beautiful, you know?
What did you study at school?
I did a two-year architecture program at Pasadena City College and then finished my bachelor’s in architecture at Woodbury University. My favorite classes were art history, that covered from the Impressionism period to Modern Art, and studio classes, of course. Those were architecture design classes you had each year.
What made you want to study architecture?
I think there was an influence from my aunt who had studied interior design and would take me to museums to look at art. I’ve always liked building things too. Growing up in Ecuador, we didn’t have all the toys available to us like the big Barbie house, so I would just build my own doll house. I’d use cardboard puzzle pieces for the walls and stools, LEGO’s for the structural supports and things like that. We’d build houses, stores, and anything our Barbies would need. I then took that passion for art and building and decided to study architecture. I thought that was an industry where I could find a good-paying job and be happy. I didn’t want to struggle through life like I saw so many people growing up around me, and I thought architecture could be my way out.
What do you think is the most important personality trait or skillset someone should have to work in our industry?
Perseverance. It was not an easy journey for me to get to this point as an immigrant and a woman. I’ve been working since I was sixteen in one way or another and had to do so all through college to support myself. Living in East Los Angeles without a car, I had to get up early and take three buses just to make it to my 9:00 a.m. class. But I pushed through, graduated, and eventually found myself at a great company doing amazing work. I also received my U.S. citizenship this year, which required an incredible amount of perseverance. It’s all been hard work but well worth it.
Tell us about the most influential people in your life and how they impacted you. They can be professional or personal connections.
In general, I’d have to say my family. They all in their own way inspired and encouraged me to be involved in the arts. No one was a musician in the family, but they all loved to draw—my grandma, uncles, and cousins. We would always be drawing cartoons or doodling a copy of something interesting we saw. My 4th-year professor in architecture school, Paulette Singley, played a significant role in my professional development. She took our class to New York City to study the Ground Zero site and pushed me to expand my creative thinking process. She also showed me how a female architect could convey strength while also being feminine. I would also say that our co-founding principal, Michael, has had a big impact. He’s let me shadow him during lighting system designs, coached me on how to confidently present myself during new client meetings, and has always been very honest and straightforward in his guidance. What I enjoy most about working with him is how he problem-solves. We’ll be working on a project where there is a bold design feature that no one has ever seen in a venue before or has experience integrating it into a normal performance setting, and Michael doesn’t blink twice. He may not know how to get it done in that very moment, but he always finds a way to make it happen. I just love that he believes anything is possible.
How would your friends and family describe your personality?
Oh, I don’t know. I would say happy? Generally optimistic? (Ericka laughs in embarrassment)
Okay. This may be the most important question of the entire interview…
Who makes the best tacos in Los Angeles?
I mean, everyone talks about the food trucks are where you go for great tacos. And that’s fine. Depends on which one you go to. But for me, I like to go to a restaurant where I can sit down and enjoy it. And for that, there’s no better place than Guisados.
Out of the projects you have worked on, what is one of your favorites?
Well, one of them for sure is the Audrey Irmas Pavilion designed by Shohei Shigematsu at OMA New York, because I have always liked the founder of the firm, Rem Koolhaas. A day before the groundbreaking, Rem had a signing event for his new book, so I went and purchased it. I stood in line like a groupie. After he signed it, I remember walking away and telling him I’d see him tomorrow. He gave me this look like I was crazy. (Ericka is very amused reliving the memory)
If you could have worked on any project in the world at any time, what would it have been?
Hmmm….my college thesis was on a museum, and I’ve never gotten to do one.
Well, not yet…
Yeah, yeah. You’re right! The future is boundless. As I’ve said, I just love visual art, and I remember researching things like the specific lighting requirements and the number of skylight openings you’re allowed to use in a museum because too much light can ruin a painting depending on the era and materials used on it. It would be cool to do a museum.
If you had a chance to sit down and have coffee with any architect or artist alive or gone, who would it be?
It would have to be Zaha Hadid, because she’s still to this day one of the most celebrated woman architects. I would just be so interested to know what it was like when she started in this industry and all the obstacles she had to go through to reach that level of success. I can just only imagine, especially when I compare it to what I have witnessed in today’s landscape. When I went to architecture school there were only three women in a class of twenty-five. We’d have a construction class where the assignment was to mix concrete, and we’d get stupid critiques from male students asking us if we were mixing food or aggregate. And to this day, you still don’t see a lot of women on a construction site. There’s a quote from Zaha Hadid that I continue to draw inspiration from. “Your success will not be determined by your gender or your ethnicity but only by the scope of your dreams.” I believe in this firmly.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over your career so far?
To try and never lose confidence in yourself. To always stretch yourself and believe that anything’s possible despite what other people may say to put you down, you know?
If you had one piece of advice for someone that is starting out in architecture or theatre design, what would you tell them?
Be exposed to anything and everything that has to do with this industry, especially technology and new techniques. The younger you start while your brain is still pliable and can absorb things faster the better it is. Just soak in as much as you can; so when it’s time for you to produce, you’ll be prepared. I would also say you need to be creative or at least believe that you are. Any profession that centers around design can be hard on your confidence.
Do you think our industry, in its own little way, can make the world a better place?
We change the world every time we create spaces where people can gather. It’s in those spaces where people go to be entertained and find a bit of happiness by escaping the problems of the real world. Those spaces also help people who are suffering from loneliness. We saw that with the pandemic. A lot of people were very lonely, and it was a blessing any time you could get together with someone else to see a show or visit a gallery. There is a unique energy in a room that only other people can provide. I do believe the closer we are to one another, physically or emotionally, the happier we are.
Okay. Last question. What makes you happy these days?
It’s the little things after COVID, like being able to see my friends and my coworkers as it was in the good ol’ days, you know? Just being able to have those shared moments with people you’re close to like your friends. And many of my coworkers are my friends. I think that’s what makes us different, you know? Even Michael says “my friend” when referring to me. It always makes me smile.