Interview by Kerri Heffernan
For most of the 1980’s Vicky Bowlin was the fullback for Florida State University. She was a confident, tactical striker, frequently adding into the line. Vicky had the ability to keep opposing teams on their toes with her speed and kicking. She celebrated a number of national championships and was a regular on the ITT select side teams. Outside of rugby, Vic was a young, hard working graphic designer. As the years went by, it was fun to follow her career in the design world.
A few years ago I was in Orlando with my family and called her. She invited us to her ‘office’ at Universal Studios and gave us a tour of the back lot (which is her work space). Vicky oversees the design and production of some of the biggest live events at Universal. Her office is a giant warehouse full of props from movies or park events. Scores of designers sit at large computers conceptualizing Mardi Gras floats, Christmas parades and haunted houses. It was fantastic. It seemed to me to be one of those careers you fantasize about having. I was thinking to myself, ‘how did my fullback become the artistic director of all ‘this?’
What does your work entail?
I am the Director of Scenic Development in Art and Design, which is a division of Entertainment at Universal Orlando. I have a staff of 15 as well as 35 freelancers. We are responsible for conceptualizing, designing, fabricating, installing and striking all elements from Scenery, Props, and Set Dressing. My division (Entertainment) is responsible for all of the live events that go into the theme parks. Events such as: Halloween Horror Nights, Christmas, Parades, Grand Openings. Basically, any live event that would have an actor or host associated with it - we would handle.
Is it stressful? Live Entertainment is always changing. You have a hard open date that cannot fluctuate. When you have last minute changes – it always brings out the adrenaline.
The reward always comes when I take friends and family to an event and I get to see it through their eyes. Priceless.
How did you get into this line of work?
It was a moment of good luck and having played rugby. I went to Florida State University in commercial design. After graduating, I worked in advertising as a graphic designer. A job brought me to Orlando working in a design studio. The studio moved to Boston and I went looking for a new job in Orlando. I was lucky enough to get a job doing storyboards and working on video shoots – which is where I realized I did not want to stay in print media. At that time, the TV and film industry was just getting started in Orlando (this was roughly 1988) and a movie called Earnest Saves Christmas came to town. I knew I didn’t have a film background, but I felt I did not have anything to lose and went to find the production office and offer my services. They were really nice and went ahead and set me up to meet the production designer, Ian Thomas. He too was a lovely man, and realized pretty quickly I had no experience on a film set. Not just by my resume but worse by the fact that I was in a 3 piece business suit appropriate for interviewing at a corporate job, not a film shoot. He began by explaining that working in an art department on a film is tough, hard, dirty work. He had an English accent and of course he has an English name ‘Ian’, so I asked him if he had played rugby. He responded “Why yes – I was a flyhalf.” I responded, “Ian, I am playing rugby now. I am a wing forward, so please, do not let the 3 piece suit fool you. I am not afraid to work hard, get dirty and lift heavy things.” Three days later he called and hired me. I never went back to advertising and my career took me from Ernest Saves Christmas to working for multiple TV productions. I worked for some time at Nickelodeon Studios and helped set up studios here in Orlando. When Nickelodeon pulled up stakes 7 years later my career brought me over to Universal. My boss TJ Mannarino and most of my employees all come from the TV and film industry. We were work friends when I was at Nickelodeon and doing TV productions. It’s not surprising that we all landed at Universal. Like rugby the work demands a level of trust in your teammates. I love what I do and am surrounded by the best talent in the business.
My career was also supported by a rugby teammate, Clare Sup. I was at a rugby tournament when Clare showed up looking to pick up some games. I was coaching the South Florida women’s team and we were short players. So Clare picked up with us for the tournament.
Clare was, and still is, a fantastic designer and at that time she had a studio in Orlando. She needed help and brought me in to do some work with her. She and I became good friends and she was instrumental in supporting my career here in Orlando.
How did rugby prepare you for the work you do?
Rugby taught me teamwork. It also gave me confidence and fine-tuned my adaptability. Adaptability is a skill you learn in rugby, which I found to be an essential life skill. I find I am able to adapt to most any situation or work environment. I can evolve or shift my thinking quickly to the situation or problem at hand and I have developed an ability to work under constant pressure. These skills were first honed through rugby. Rugby developed my abilities to work and play under pressure -to deliver - and rugby gave me the confidence to bring this mindset into my professional life. Working in live entertainment is always stressful and always changing. If I had not played rugby I doubt I would not have been able to thrive in this career choice.
I don’t get that involved in rugby now. I will watch it occasionally but I enjoy connecting with old teammates and finding that love and joy we had when we were young is still there. That bond rugby develops is the same in 2021 as it was in 1977. You love your teammates and learn how to run through walls for each other. Which is good because sometimes at Universal I really do have to run through walls, seriously.