Live Design: You are certainly known for using many different sources in your lighting designs. How do you make choices about sources?
Kevin Adams: How do you make anything? You just have a million decisions that lead to making something. Often I will go through a period of exploring a unit through a few shows, and then I get tired, and I’ll try something new. I’m often in the middle of exploring something, and I will try to bring it to a show; that might be one part of it. Another part is the sensibility of the show and the demands of the show; that’s where I start.
In some productions, I am allowing the instruments to be seen as an object; that is more of a sculptural use of lighting devices—whether it is a device found at a hardware store or rented from a shop. I had an assortment of fluorescent light bulbs in shows I did a few years ago, and the sources, and the object itself, could be seen by the audience. You can mix incandescent, LEDs, fluorescent, and you can use only one or mix them all up; you have all those options and that is really exciting. A lot of the pop musicals I did went back and forth between ETC Source Fours and LEDs, and fluorescent bulbs and tubes; I went back and forth between different sources to create different lighting landscapes.
LD: What are qualities you like about tungsten as a source, and do you feel it is replaceable?
Adams: It is a little scary to think of losing tungsten now because there isn't a great option right now to replace it. There is some interesting new stuff but it isn't a replacement yet. At the moment, I would be really sad if Source Fours went away. If I was doing Hedda Gabler, it would be concerning to not have tungsten as a source because the new stuff isn't ready to stand on its own yet, certainly. It is all a little crude still. You don't want to lose the warmth, the dimming, and the color that you can put in front of a Source Four. You can't get those qualities out of other things right now. Eventually there will be better and better new instruments, and some incredible new theatre artists will come along and are going to show people a new way of seeing this stuff. It will be a pretty cool new world. I wonder what younger people think about this; what does a 22-year old designer think about it, someone who hasn't been designing like me with a Source Four for 20 years?
LD: That is an interesting idea that younger designers exposure to all these newer sources will result in a shift in their approach.
Adams: Eventually, I feel the way that we live our lives and the kind of pieces that are written and the way we see older works will all sync up with the newer instruments. Right now, it is a little hard to see that. A lot of us grew up knowing a different thing, and the alternatives in these energy-efficient units are still crude to us. A younger person, who doesn't know what they are missing, won't see it the same way. They will just think, "Wow, I can do this." I think there is going to be that next designer who shows us all that, and we say, "That is cool. Look at how they see that. How they are using that?" Ultimately young people will show us the way; they will be less worried about it.
LD: Any final thoughts about working with tungsten and/or alternative sources?
Adams: You know my biggest obstacle in Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, and Passing Strange was not the quality of light from the fluorescent but the inability to do the things I used to do. When cueing scenes, there was a kind of popiness to the way the lights came on and off, but the payoff was that there was this really interesting contemporary object to look at that makes light and the quality of light it makes is also a more contemporary light that you don't normally see in theatre.
I don’t feel limited by what things can or can't do. What they can't do sets new paths, and you end up in places you weren't trying to get to but that you arrive at, and that is really exciting. A new kind of source that can't do all the things that a tungsten Source Four can do makes you see in a new way. Stories change and the way they are told will change and the tools we use to light those stories will change and that is very exciting.