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Theatre alumna’s MODE Studios recognized for supporting live events during pandemic

MODE Studios founder, CEO and executive producer Colleen Bonniol was awarded the 2020 Live Design Pandemic Pivot Prize.

Live Design, a digital resource for live event production technology, awarded the Pandemic Pivot Prize to three individuals for their actions in managing a business or aiding the industry during the pandemic.

Bonniol, who received a College of Arts and Architecture Alumni Award in 2019, was recognized for challenging her team to create a new virtual event platform and for creating more employment opportunities in the live events industry.

“I’m really honored to have received the Live Design Pandemic Pivot award this year,” Bonniol said. “It was super meaningful to me.”

Bonniol graduated from Penn State in 1987 with a B.A. in theatre. During her time at Penn State, she said she gained respect for stage management and realized the importance of theatre history.

“I learned at Penn State that it was possible to take theatre, everything that I was learning in theatre and apply it to anything,” Bonniol said.

After a decade of working in the entertainment industry and gaining experience in theatre, rock and roll and film, Bonniol started Monarch Designs in 1997 along with three animators, one of which she later married. What started out as a group of young adults pitching for TV shows, became a lighting design company, then became the versatile MODE Studios five years later.

“MODE Studios was an opportunity for me to combine all of that experience into one place,” Bonniol said.

A Seattle-based hybrid experience agency, MODE specializes in blending creative technology for entertainment, brand activation, interactive architecture and themed environments. Some of their clients include Panasonic, Marvel Studios, General Motors and Blue Man Group.

“We are storytellers,” Bonniol said. “We blend technology and stories to entertain, educate and delight audiences.”

As a woman in the film industry with experience in corporate and television, Bonniol makes a priority hiring women and people of color. This past year she said she has leaned into helping and building communities.

“The only way that we can change the culture of business is by making small steps forward, and everybody has to embrace that,” Bonniol said. “I’m actively trying to do things differently.”

MODE began to lose business in February 2020 due to the pandemic, which brought new challenges the company needed to overcome. Bonniol and her team were able to react quickly because of the experience gained through creating hybrid, virtual experiences and a familiarity with platforms like Zoom.

“We pivoted in 2020 to online events because that’s what we know how to do,” Bonniol said.

The goal for MODE this year is to build their online community platform, Virtual Venues, and release it as a product, according to Bonniol. Since April 2020 the company has worked on building communities for several clients including a custom platform for Panasonic to use at the virtual 2021 Consumer Electronics Show.

While virtual events are still stressful, Bonniol said the joyful energy that surges through her during a live event sadly doesn’t happen online. When the event is over, everyone just shuts their cameras off.

“There’s no outlet for the camaraderie that you have with live events,” Bonniol said. “I miss the human connection the most.”

In addition to the Live Design award, MODE also recently received the Advocate of the Year Award and Excellence in Growth Award from Women’s Business Enterprise Council Pacific.

Bonniol said the awards were a nice surprise.

“I am really kind of blown away by the recognition this year,” Bonniol said.

Story written by: Mackenzie Daly