1. You’ve designed eight world tours for Toby Keith, are the creative director for Selena Gomez, and have worked with Alice Cooper, Don Henley, Carrie Underwood, Jason Mraz, Melissa Etheridge, Hillary Duff, and Barry Manilow. You also took home a Redden Award last year for your work on Star Wars: In Concert. How did you get into this business, and what led you to concert design?
I have Steve Cohen to thank for that. In 1987, I saw Billy Joel. That was it for me. I was hooked. The energy, the creativity, and the dynamics of lighting completely locked my interest. Despite my parents’ misgivings, I majored in theatre at Webster University and then took a job in Nashville working for Vari-Lite. I have the distinction of being the last trained VL1 tech. Thanks to the interest of a brilliant designer named Valerie Groth, I got my shot at the design chair in short order. She started using me to program for her and eventually started transitioning off the road and trusting me with her clients.
2. What is the most challenging project you have ever worked on and why?
The most challenging show I ever did was when Barry Manilow moved me into the director role for his Las Vegas show at the Hilton in 2005. For years, all I ever had to do was worry about lights. Suddenly, I had scenic movements, show order, set changes, lights, lasers, and I was in the direct line of sight for everyone when something went wrong. On the other hand, the energy of being involved with the whole creative process was a huge opportunity for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.
3. How do you juggle the “art” and “technology” of design?
This is an area I struggle with and the very argument that has led to the development of the concert design emphasis at Webster University. I was having a discussion last year at LDI with Neil Austin, and we were comparing notes about our various environments in which we design. What became clear is that the technology, while beneficial and exciting, is absolutely nothing without a sensibility and artistic expression behind the tool. It is like a painter. You can give the newest, greatest brush and paint to anyone, and they’ll put a result on canvas, but when you put that brush, or the rundown brush that’s been used for 20 years, in the hands of someone who understands the method and motivation of art, then you get an entirely different result. So to me, lighting concerts, theatre, or ballet each requires different sensibilities to the work, but the process and art is the same. Thus, the best designers are artists who use technology as part of a bigger picture, rather than gear for gear’s sake.
4. Speaking of gear, what gadgets, software, paperwork, apps, etc do you find the most useful?
Again, thanks to Steve Cohen, I live in Autodesk 3ds Max. It has become my sketch pad, my rendering, everything. The ability to create such an accurate 3D space, the quality of the lighting tools, and the rendering output of the program all give me the tools to express the concepts of a design and also have pinpoint accuracy. Also, because it is an Autodesk product, it is easy to move to AutoCAD and produce draftings.
5. You taught Concert Lighting 101 at LDI? What was your goal for that session?
My hope in doing this session was to give college students and young designers something I never had available to me: the chance to dig in with a working designer and ask all the questions rolling around in my brain. When I was in college, there were so many things I didn’t have a grasp on. I wondered how they did “that,” or simply the ins and outs of touring. This is the chance for a dedicated period of time to talk about concert lighting, rather than trying to glean information from someone in a two-minute conversation on the LDI show floor.