Never underestimate the lasting impact of the teenage years. Growing up about 20 minutes from midtown New York City in Eastchester, NY, Jeff Croiter's theatrical path was set (though he was not yet aware of it) when he met LD Kenneth Posner through his parents' theatrical efforts. Croiter's mother was actively involved in community theatre, and his father helped out with set construction and lighting. Croiter claims, however, that for his part he "was just hanging around seeing what they were doing." Sports and music consumed far more of his time than local theatrical events: "I played guitar and wanted to be a rock star--a rock star, mind you, not a musician."
On Posner's far-sighted suggestion, however, Croiter spent the summer between junior and senior years interning at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. There he discovered "I just loved what I was doing," particularly how lighting design melded the technical and the artistic. Officially hooked, he graduated from high school ready to plunge into waters theatrical. He immersed himself in the theatre program at Purchase College, State University of New York, from which he graduated in 1993.
"Going into Purchase, I had a good technical knowledge of lighting. In addition to my experience as an intern I had worked on some professional shows as well. I knew two things: I enjoyed working in the theatre, and I wanted to learn the artistic side as well." Laughing, he characterizes his pre-university ability: "Let me put it this way, I was able to put lights up and turn them on."
Right out of college, Croiter underwent something of an initiation by fire. Awarded the Gilbert V. Hemsley Jr. Internship in Lighting, Croiter worked at New York City Opera where "they are on such a crazy schedule. Every night they do a different show, and they have a huge turnaround every day."
The internship provided him with the opportunity to work with Jeff Davis, whom he had previously met during his summer in the Berkshires, as well as designers Mark Stanley and Jennifer Tipton. "It was an invaluable experience. Besides just watching how those designers worked, I learned how to work with an IA crew without the pressure of being the head designer, and to operate very quickly because you just don't have a lot of time in a situation like that." The other none-too-insignificant benefit of the internship: Croiter could afford to move into Manhattan.
Since that move, the 27-year-old designer has worked consistently and impressively in New York theatre, dance, and opera. This past season saw him designing two high-profile theatrical pieces: the Vineyard Theatre's The Eros Trilogy staring Betty Buckley, and directed by David Warren; and the Constance Congdon play Lips, presented by Primary Stages and directed by Greg Leaming. He's also a staple of the Off Off Broadway and downtown theatre and dance scene, having worked at HERE, NYC's downtown multi-arts center; The Kitchen (lighting, among others, Dennis O'Connor's dance piece Unfinished Business); and 78th Street Theatre Lab (where he lit Mac Wellman's The Lesser Magoo). Dance-wise he has toured Russia and France with Jennifer Muller and lit O'Connor's work in Lisbon. This past May saw Croiter lighting two operas at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse on NYC's Upper East Side.
And his collaboration with Posner continues. As associate designer, Croiter transferred Posner's design of the Tony Award-winning Side Man from the Roundabout to Broadway's John Golden. It was a trans-America endeavor and double-Posner duty for Croiter. He oversaw the Side Man transfer from a hotel room in LA where he was lighting the New York-to-LA transfer production of another Tony winner, The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Posner had designed the Broadway production; the LA production meant a co-design credit for the young LD.
Croiter's adaptive style of lighting allows him to move from more abstract pieces (such as much of his dance work) to realistic dramas, like this past spring's Off Off Broadway comedy MACS (A Macaroni Requiem). At times stark and striking and at others, colorful and playful, Croiter's lighting sculpts and defines the space. He strives to "change the physicality of the space through lighting--to make the space change completely if that's what the piece calls for."
As an up-and-coming designer, he has developed a clear-headed pragmatism. "It's all about the play and making the audience feel something. While I have my own conceptual ideas, it's the director's vision that drives the show. I actually don't like it if a director doesn't give me any feedback or I don't get any notes. I like working with other people's ideas."
As for future plans, the ever-busy Croiter wants more of the same: work. He plans on branching out into regional theatre, dance, and opera productions, besides his NYC work.
The future for Croiter, it would seem, is now. He is currently working on four "giant" out-of-town shows: Big River for American Stage Festival in Milford, NH, Spunk at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, Company at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center in Nyack, NY, and As Thousands Cheer for Adirondack Theatre Festival in Lake George. And then? "I'm relaxing," he announces. "In August I am going somewhere, anywhere, and doing nothing."
A good idea since, scheduled to design three--count 'em, three--shows in Cincinnati (theatre), Delaware (opera), and Toronto (dance), he's already well booked for fall.