Who are the influences in your life? Parents? Siblings? Teachers? Historical figures? Bosses? Colleagues? Editors? (Hey, we can dream.) In the world of entertainment technology, aspiring designers, programmers, and technicians have many sources from which to draw inspiration, from pioneering designers in the field of lighting, staging, and projection, to cutting-edge contemporaries, to instructors at the top schools, to even directors and performers.
Not long ago, the editors of Live Design got to wondering who were the most influential people in the world of visual design for live events, and we thought it would make a most fitting story for the first issue. So we selected our own choices, queried our advisory board, and then opened it up to readers. The alphabetical list below is, as all lists must be, a highly selective — and no doubt incomplete — compendium of individuals whose work has had a major influence on the way shows are designed today. We've listed 10 visionaries (plus one quirky nomination); we're sure you'll have your own picks, so please send those to David Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Laurie Anderson
Title: Performance Artist
Why She's Influential: Perhaps the most successful and prolific artist of the downtown New York performance art scene of the 80s, Anderson's highly visual (and, for its time, highly technical) shows combine great storytelling with surprisingly accessible music. Her masterwork remains the 1983 production of United States Parts I-IV, which featured groundbreaking projection/system design in an eight-hour production.
What Others Say: “Laurie Anderson was mixing performance and visuals when many of today's great show designers were still in short trousers,” says veteran designer Willie Williams (U2, We Will Rock You). “At a time when such presentations were a great deal more difficult and expensive to create, Anderson pioneered a simple, sophisticated visual language which still informs much of what we see today. The equipment may have improved, but Laurie Anderson's ideas remain timeless.”
Name: Jake Berry
Title: Production Manager
Why He's Influential: You know that vaguely annoying blue-collar comedy catch phrase “Git ‘r done?” That's Berry. The Rolling Stones, Cher, U2 — no matter what ridiculously over the top production the talent and the design team throw at him, he makes it work on the road. He's the enabler to a generation of concert designers jonesing to make the next show bigger, brighter, louder. They don't call him Mr. Showbiz for nothing.
What Others Say: “It seems like I am always hearing his name when people are talking about giant shows that work,” says George Masek of Vari-Lite. “People always talk about the designers and the art, but Jake and people like him are the ones who always seem to reign it all in and make sure it happens each night. It doesn't matter how amazing it is, if it isn't up and ready by 8pm each night. There is a real science to making sure all the art can work.”
Name: Marc Brickman
Title: Lighting Designer
Why He's Influential: It's only appropriate that such a colorful industry figure should have so much Pink and Blue in his bag of tricks. By that we mean Pink Floyd and Blue Man Group, two highly visual performance groups who have sort of book-ended Brickman's career thus far. Though he'd designed previously for such rock acts as Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, and others, it was his work on Pink Floyd's The Wall, the seminal concert version of the band's concept album in 1980 (on which he worked with production designer Mark Fisher, who's also on this list) that gave Brickman both his biggest challenge and perhaps his biggest accomplishment. In the last several years, Brickman's been plying his trade with the Blue Men (p. 46), raising their performance art hijinks to rock-god theatrics.
What Others Say: “Marc Brickman was an innovator with the emerging technologies of robotic lighting,” says reader Peter Robins, a technical planning manager based in Australia. “He was the first major designer to integrate lighting and visual playback on a grand scale.”
Name: Mark Fisher
Title: Production Designer
Why He's Influential: Are you kidding? The man revolutionized the concert stage. The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, U2, Tina Turner — Fisher has single-handedly built the bridge between rock shows and theatrical architecture. Lately, he's even tried his hand at theatre design, working on Cirque du Soleil's Kà, the various incarnations of We Will Rock You, and the sorely missed Barbarella.
What Others Say: “In the collision of art, commerce, and logistics which is the live entertainment industry, Mark has taken a stand for the outrageous notion that the leading premise of show design should be aesthetics rather than convenience,” says Willie Williams, a frequent collaborator. “Armed only with the confidence of his experience, savage humor, and a jaw-dropping ability to draw, he has regularly battled armies of nay-sayers to produce genre-defining shows that can make grown production managers feel the need for a little lie down, yet somehow always turn out to be perfectly tourable.”
Name: Jules Fisher
Title: Lighting Designer
Why He's Influential: We have only to look at the past 10 years of Broadway Lighting Master Classes to know why Fisher's on this list; those seminars have taught countless generations of aspiring designers what it means to be a lighting professional on the Broadway stage. Of course, his work is no doubt much more influential, spanning five decades in theatre, film, and architecture, and earning countless accolades, the latest of which being a Tony Award for Assassins, which he designed with longtime partner Peggy Eisenhauer, herself an influence on today's young theatre LDs.
What Others Say: “Jules Fisher is not only a designer with the highest standards, but he is an inventor,” says LD Mike Baldassari. “Jules has a never-ending curiosity to find the absolute perfect solution to every design challenge, to find the precise bit of technology, to craft into a bold, innovative design. Every lighting design Jules has created has something special, unique, and beautiful about it. Jules' influence on expanding what is available for a designer to use from the proverbial toolbox — and finding new, creative ways to use it — will be apparent for generations of designers to come.”
Name: Guy Laliberté
Title: Founder/CEO, Cirque du Soleil
Why He's Influential: It's Guy's world. We just live in it. In the first touring incarnations of Cirque du Soleil, he conquered the circus world. Then, with Mystère, O, Zumanity, and now Kà, he's taken over Las Vegas. And by extension, the troupe's blend of artistry, technology, and whimsy have influenced nearly all forms of live entertainment, from small touring shows to large-scale events.
What Others Say: “Even from the inside looking out, the influence Cirque has had on almost all aspects of recent live performance has been amazing,” says Cirque du Soleil's lighting director Jeanette Farmer. “From concerts (Cher, Dixie Chicks) to spectacle theatre (Le Rêve, Celine Dion) to cruise ship shows to corporate events and more, you see the inspiration that Cirque has provided. I do not know of a modern genre of entertainment that has had a bigger impact from an inspiration standpoint.”
Name: Richard Pilbrow
Title: Lighting Designer/Theatre Consultant
Why He's Influential: Producer, lighting (and, don't forget, projection) designer, theatre consultant, and published author — they don't make them like Richard anymore. From producing musicals with Hal Prince on the West End to designing on Broadway to running one of the world's largest theatre consultancies, Pilbrow's influence has been felt everywhere. But it's his books on lighting, Stage Lighting (1970) and the updated version, Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life (1997) where his influence will be felt for generations to come.
What Others Say: “Richard is a huge, enthusiastic agent, and supporter of innovative thinking in theatre, in all aspects of his career,” says LD Dawn Chiang, a longtime collaborator with Pilbrow. “His work in theatre spans many disciplines, many people, and many worlds. He is generous of spirit, constantly innovative, and fresh in his thoughts about theatre, design, and technology.”
Name: Tharon Musser
Title: Lighting Designer
Why She's Influential: The story of how Musser became the first lighting designer to use a computerized lighting board on Broadway for A Chorus Line is industry legend. And while that monumental event certainly changed the way shows are designed, she was also a pretty darned good lighting designer. Three of her numerous collaborations with Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, and Follies) earned her Tony Awards and virtually defined lighting for Broadway in the 70s.
What Others Say: “She certainly revolutionized the art form with the introduction of the first computer light board on Broadway,” says lighting designer/instructor Cindy Limauro. “Beyond that, her body of design work speaks for itself.”
Name: Josef Svoboda
Why He's Influential: Everyone's talking about the rise of projection in live events, but Svoboda was doing it back in the day. And by “the day,” we mean over 50 years ago, not the last decade. His work in his native Czechoslovakia with the National Theatre was groundbreaking with its blending of scenery, projection, and architecture. He became internationally known in 1958, when he and director Alfred Radok created two multimedia productions, Polyekran and Laterna Magika for the Brussels World's Fair.
What Others Say: “Svoboda was a real pioneer in projection design,” says Cindy Limauro. “When I was an undergraduate student, we were all amazed at the kind of theatre and design that was coming out of Prague.”
Name: Jean Rosenthal
Title: Lighting Designer
Why She's Influential: There was no lighting designer before Jean Rosenthal. Well, there was no lighting design credit, anyway, not until she received a lighting design credit for her work on Rosalinda on Broadway in 1942. She was one of the first to espouse that what she was doing onstage was art and not electricity, a fact that was underscored by her exceptional work on such shows as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof. She also wrote one of the first books on lighting, The Magic of Light.
What Others Say: “Jean Rosenthal was one of the first people to be included as a member of the creative team, recognized and credited with ‘lighting by’ at a time when the scene designer or electrician usually handled the lighting, and illumination was their only goal,” says reader Alison Brummer. “Technically, she added deeply colored back and side light to the designer's palette — the base of rock-n-roll lighting. Her approach and organization of dance lighting remains in the DNA of most all dance lighting design today.”
Lastly, we leave you with an unorthodox nomination from George Masek that we feel is worth including here: “When you talk about the influences in live design, I have to think of the many nameless, faceless engineers that work for all the companies that make high-tech solutions for designers. These are typically people who left higher paying jobs in the defense or manufacturing industries to work in an area they love. So many of the developments we have seen in recent years come from people whose names the artists who use them don't even know. They strive to make what was once inconceivable seem commonplace.”