Most young LDs start out either assisting more established designers or taking whatever design jobs are available. Later on, many of them start their own businesses. It's not often that they band together to launch themselves as a design firm. Meet the members of the Luce Group, three LDs and one scenic designer, who represent a new model for designers coping with today's crossover challenges.

Frank DenDanto III was, as an undergraduate, a visual artist who fell in love with theatrical lighting. Early on, he assisted downtown LD Roma Flowers, which led to similar work. He's now resident LD at PS 122, the downtown supermarket of avant-garde performance, where he's worked with Spalding Gray, Tim Miller, Deb Margolin, and Holly Hughes. Most recently, he lit Shut Up and Love Me, starring the ever-notorious Karen Finley. He has also created installations and light sculptures that have been shown at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Art and Architecture in New York, and the Andy Warhol Museum. Chuck Cameron started out in theatre — he interned with the late LD Craig Miller — but ended up in architecture. Working with the firm Leni Schwendinger Light Projects, he lit offices for the Gartner Group, the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, and various public artworks. Moving to Focus Lighting, the firm headed by Paul Gregory, as lead designer, he worked on the New York restaurants District and Quantum 56, as well as the Miami restaurant Bongos (see “Dinner with the stars,” LD October 2000).

Traci Klainer began lighting student productions at Smith College, then came to New York, where Don Holder was the first of many Broadway LDs for whom she assisted (others include Natasha Katz, Peter Kaczorowski, and Hugh Vanstone). On her own, she's designed Off Broadway shows such as Sandra Tsing Loh's Aliens in America and Kate Clinton's Out Is In, and a Las Vegas production of Always…Patsy Cline. She has also worked on installations at the Guggenheim and Jewish Museums in New York. Lauren Helpern grew up in New York, where she often attended the theatre. Drawn to architecture, she ended up embracing set design. She assisted Loren Sherman and Robin Wagner, then began to design herself. Her theatre credits include the Broadway thriller Voices in the Dark, several versions of Blue Man Group, Off Broadway productions of Isn't It Romantic and Aliens in America, and Always…Patsy Cline in Las Vegas, the last three in collaboration with Klainer. She has also done numerous industrials, videos, and special events, as well as many graphics projects. In short, the Luce Group quartet has collectively done it all.

The hidden link in the Luce Group is the NYU Design Department, where all four designers matriculated, during the days when the faculty included Lloyd Burlingame, Oliver Smith, John Conklin, and John Gleason. Klainer overlapped at NYU with Helpern, then later with Cameron and DenDanto; the endless challenges of grad school provided them all with bonding experiences. After graduation, Klainer and DenDanto formed K-D Associates, to do non-theatre lighting. Then Cameron came onboard, and more recently, Helpern joined as well. (It was Cameron who came up with the name Luce Group.) Together, they pool their diverse backgrounds to create a team capable of handling a wide variety of design challenges. “It's a holistic approach,” says DenDanto. “It's a full-function design firm,” adds Klainer.

Since its founding Luce has designed theatrical special events for such clients as Morristown Memorial Hospital, a fundraising gala for New York Theatre Workshop, the launch party for Gotham magazine, and provided architectural lighting for Barrio, a new restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (see LD, April 2001).

Ask the Luce Group a simple question and you get a four-part, dialectical answer, which gives you an idea of how the four relate, developing and qualifying each others' ideas. The question: What sort of projects are they looking for? DenDanto: “We don't want to do parties in private homes, or bar mitzvahs.” Cameron: “But if it's an interesting project….” Helpern: “We probably won't bid on a typical industrial job.” Klainer: “But if they wanted a total environment….” Helpern: “We're really interested in a multi-disciplinary projects.” DenDanto: “We're always looking for something different. But we're here to serve the client.” Cameron: “We can provide a unified approach.”

It's certainly true that the Luce Group net has been cast in several directions. For the immediate future, projects include a couple of museum designs, as well as a fundraising event to benefit LifeStart (an organization for children with developmental disorders). Also in the works is a possible trip to Las Vegas to look for new challenges.

At any rate, even if the Luce Group is hard to define, it is definitely its own unique entity. DenDanto: “It's a collective and cooperative approach in an increasingly broadening environment.” Klainer: “It's something new and it seems to be working for us.”

The Luce Group can be contacted by phone at 212-330-7640 and by fax at 212-214-0571.