A featured speaker once again at the Broadway Lighting Master Classes —last year attendees marveled at his lighting for Spring Awakening and this year they will be positively agog at his work on Passing Strange—Kevin Adams is a self-taught lighting designer who was greatly influenced by the work of visual artists. “I started out to be a set designer and studied at Cal Arts,” he says. Then Adams discovered the work of light artists such as Dan Flavin, and decided to bring that kind of “light” into the theatre. In fact at the BLMC, his session is entitled: The Fine Arts’ Influence On A Lighting Designer, in which he will show some of the work that he found inspiring.
Adams will also illustrate how his own work has evolved, from what he calls the early light-bulb shows—And God Created Great Whales; John Leguizamo's Sexaholix; and Brutal Imagination—to the more recent, more energy-efficient pop-rock musical troika—Passing Strange, Next to Nowhere, and Spring Awakening, for which Adams won the Tony Award for best lighting in 2007.
“Part of my thing is that I like the work of abstract artists; it isn’t a literal use of light like in Vermeer or Caravaggio,” he says. “And since I didn’t take any courses in lighting design, I opened myself up to opportunities and followed a funny path to become a lighting designer. You might not always be what you think you are,” he adds.
In addition to the odd collection of lighting fixtures he uses—it’s an anything goes design aesthetic, from hanging A lamps to flickering fluorescent tubes—Adams does not have a set process. “I start at a different place each time, and then proceed by sheer intuition,” he explains. “I don’t think there are any kooky theatre artists anymore, they seem to be too safe and conservative, but I don’t think you need to be buttoned-up. I think young people need to see that other options can be arty and successful.”
Future projects for Adams include lighting a revival of Howard Korder’s Boy’s Life directed by Neil Labute for Second Stage, the transfer of The 39 Steps from The Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre to the Cort Theater, and the national tour of Spring Awakening. Winner of a 2002 OBIE Award for sustained excellence in lighting design Off Broadway, Adams has now become quite a phenomenon on Broadway as well. His lighting for Spring Awakening was described as “an arresting mix of hanging bulbs, shafts of light, and arrays of neon tubing in the set and around the theatre.” Just wait until you see what he has created for Passing Strange.