When Chris Ackerland was going on stage to do his presentation to the BLMC, it was joked that his lecture will be on the topic of "Lighting Designer As A Human Being." That term got me thinking, and I realized that a feel for what sort of people work in the Broadway Design industry is one of the most valuable things that I had a chance to learn at the Master Classes. Some of the designers who spoke managed to give very academic lectures. Some, however, went off on personal and socially descriptive tangents. I feel that the most open speakers this year were Chris Ackerland, Brian MacDevitt, and Kevin Adams
Chris seemed to have a very organic approach to his design ethic. He spoke about several shows on which he worked recently: Light in the Piazza, Talk Radio, and 110 in the Shade. In all of these projects, the collaborative relationships in the pre-production and tech periods of the show seemed to be very important to him. Chris seemed like a very easygoing person for whom the relationships and communication between everyone on the production and creative team is very important. He acknowledges his good shows (Piazza) and some bad shows (In My Life) freely. He seems to have a great attention to detail and be mostly concerned about the overall cohesive look of the production. I came out thinking that Chris is someone who I would like to work with or assist.
Brian MacDevitt began the lecture about visual inspiration for lighting design by telling us a little bit about his personal history. He said that he was not very academically oriented in high school and had to undergo many obstacles in order to get his bachelor‘s degree at Purchase College, where he came back to teach. I got the feeling that, because it had been so difficult for him to get into school, he developed a great attachment to the academic process of theatre. Thus in terms of design--and the images which he showed, which were all brilliant examples of lighting depicted in art--Brian‘s approach to doing a show is also very academic. By that, I mean that he would go out, find the appropriate piece of research that resembled his conceptual idea, and then go about recreating it. This is an approach which is very challenging and meticulous, but the one question that I did not get to ask him is whether he would ever use an image that does not have lighting in it as a piece of research, not for its, informative value but purely as an evocative tool--something to communicate the general mood that is the goal of the design.
Kevin Adams, who came in to speak about his design for Spring Awakening, our show for the Lighting Master Classes this year, came off as the most impressive personality to me. He was the first Broadway designer whom I have heard speaking who presented himself as a visual artist primarily. Kevin began his lecture by talking about how installation artist such as Bruce Nauman and Dan Flavin--who worked with fluorescent light and neon tubes to create their pieces in the late sixties and seventies--served as an inspiration to him in his switch to becoming a lighting designer and abandoning his set design career born at Cal Arts. Kevin says that he approaches a show in primarily visual means and that he considers his job to be mainly creating beautiful images that work to advance the plot as well as aesthetic of the show. He makes bold choices in cueing (the movement of conventionals is just as drastic as that of intelligent lights), timing (his bumps don‘t just come at the ending and beginning of songs), color choices, and most of all, his use of practicals. Kevin showed us a lot of his portfolio and spoke to the fact that he is known for his implementation of lighting fixtures such as light bulbs, fluorescent tubes, neon, LEDs, and practical fixtures in elegant and sculptural installation like combinations. These installations serve the lighting rig, the set design, and the dramatic action all in one. Collaboration is important to him, as well, since he has the scenic designer lay out his fixture installations in projects such as Spring Awakening or the back wall of Passing Strange.
All in all, this year‘s class has been a great experience. I feel that I have acquired a lot of technical and theoretical knowledge about design, but I also feel that I have gotten to know some of the people in the illusive design community of Broadway. It was great to see these designers as people and think about how their personalities are reflected in the look of the shows that I have seen them collaborate on. Broadway or not, in terms of arts and aesthetics, it is still just as much about who you are as it is about whom and what you know.
Vadim Ledvin, student