Chatting with Concert Master Classes speaker and renowned lighting designer Peter Morse
Peter Morse has designed lighting and directed staging for the performance environment (concert stage, theater, video, feature film) for the past thirty five years, for performers from Barbra Streisand to Christina Aguilera. He will be presenting "Concert Lighting Design: The Upper Echelons," alongside Butch Allen on December 11 during the first-ever Concert Master Classes.
LD: How did you get started in the business?
I actually started as a singer/songwriter, having cut my first album when I was 15, which was a fairly awful folk album, but that record and subsequent releases enabled me to perform in various folk clubs and concerts while in high school and college then later tour as part of a well known folk group, The New Christy Minstrels. Yep, dating myself, for sure!!
Later, while living in LA and working as a studio session singer and songwriter, I began work for a college concert booking agency out of Minneapolis, representing them on tour with the various artists they had booked. It was at this time I was introduced to Mac Davis as one of their clients. I toured with Mac, and he later hired me as his full-time tour manager. He went on to become quite successful—NBC TV variety show, many hit records, and eventually a contract with the MGM in Vegas.
With his growing popularity, he evolved from a single artist on stage to having a five-piece band. At that time, he asked me to find him a “lighting guy” that he would pay $500 per week! Well, I immediately replied that I could “do his lights.” He asked me why I hadn’t mentioned this before. I replied simply that he had never before asked for, nor needed, anything more than a single followspot for his performances. I became his tour manager/lighting director, despite the fact I had never before touched nor dealt with any stage lighting fixture other than the occasional Strong Trouperette spotlight, as required on his early riders. I began to design/direct his touring shows and eventually his rather large Las Vegas production shows.
I definitely learned the lighting trade by “touch and feel.” Following my work with Mac, I continued designing for Dolly Parton; Loretta Lynn, for whom I was also creative director for her Las Vegas shows, Glen Campbell, and other country artists.
Soon after, my work with Kim Carnes on her tour led to my being hired as lighting designer for Madonna. The doors then opened to a wider range of artists and projects. This was at a time when a fair knowledge of music, a sense for color, a sponge-like curiosity, and a mixture of hard work and good luck were all that one needed to advance in this field.
My formal education had been pre-med studies with a minor in music. However, my “school” for lighting was the actual stage, the lights above it, the music and dance upon it, the crews that managed it.
By the way, I did continue to sing and record for several years. However, the love for lighting and the evolution of the technology permanently lured me behind the scenes.
LD: Who has inspired you?
I have several lighting designers whom I’ve revered and looked up to, and to whom I’ve been grateful:
Bob Kiernan, whose initial production design for Mac Davis was my introduction to larger/theatrically motivated lighting design and direction.
John Rook, truly one of the pioneers of television lighting, with whom I worked on several projects and whose advice still rings in my ears. He created such beauty with, what is by today’s standards, rather conventional/dated equipment.
Bill Klages, also a television pioneer who helped bridge the transition from conventional lighting to the early days of automated fixtures being utilized for TV.
Bob Dickinson, the current “king” of televised lighting and with whom I’ve had several wonderful working experiences. He’s generous and openly welcomes fellow designers into his rarified creative territory.
Willie Williams, who once told me he is a “minimalist.” I admire his designs and creativity, and I can now truly call myself—by comparison—a minimalist!!
LD: What do you most look forward to at the classes?
I look most forward to sharing with the attendees the energy and excitement I feel with the challenge of new designs. I also look forward to the sharing of “road stories” with fellow designers.
LD: What do you plan to discuss in your session?
I hope to discuss the basics of how I approach a new design with both the artist and management—also how I interface with the set designer and show director on each project—recognizing how each project views its priorities differently.
LD: Any other sessions/designers you're looking forward to hearing?
Butch Allen—I have always enjoyed working with him and am continually entertained by his blunt honesty and self-deprecating sense of humor and his smoothing over the relatively unrealistic technical demands of some of my ideas. Michael Brokaw—can’t wait to hear who his other clients are besides me!
LD: What's next for you?
Just finished designing/programming Usher’s OMG world tour, and AR Rahman’s Jai Ho world tour. I have several projects in the “discussion” stage right now, and I’m also working on long-range project with SeaWorld.
For more information, and to register, visit our Concert Master Classes microsite.