Winner of the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for his lighting of Disney’s The Lion King, Don Holder is one of the most prolific LDs on the scene today. Dance, opera, theatre: he does it all. Recent Broadway credits range from the revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center Theatre and a recent revival of Cyrano de Bergerac to a revival of Les Liaisons Dangerous opening on May 1. At the BLMC he will focus on the theme of lighting though storytelling. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux caught up with Holder who tells a little of his own story in this exclusive livedesignonline.com Q & A:
LD: You say that light plays an important role in storytelling: can you give one or two short examples from your recent shows? Maybe one design example and one technical? Just a little preview of what you'll be discussing during the session?
Don Holder: The recent Broadway revivals of Cyrano de Bergerac and South Pacific were both conceived with the idea of a central scenic ‘muscle’ or fully rendered environment out of which the rest of the show would evolve. In the case of Cyrano, it was the world of the Parisian Playhouse. In the case of South Pacific, it was a vast sunlit and moonlit beach backed by an ever-changing skyscape. Both scenic designs provided a mechanism for the production to move fluidly from scene to scene without adversely affecting the rhythm of the piece. Both relied heavily on the lighting to complete each stage picture, and to finish the storytelling from a visual point of view. Using these productions (and perhaps one or two others) as examples, I will discuss in detail how I approached the idea of storytelling through light from both a design and technical perspective.
LD: What do you hope the attendees at the BLMC will take away from your session?
DH: I hope they will come away with a deeper appreciation for the power and poetry of light and how it can be manipulated to accomplish specific design objectives.
LD: How many shows do you design in a typical season?
DH: Looking at the last few years, I average about 12-15 new productions. This number is sometimes higher, since it seems that many projects often have multiple productions at two or more regional theatres (Radio Golf and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers last season, for example).
LD: How do you juggle them all?
DH: Juggling all of these projects can sometimes be difficult. It’s important to prioritize your workdays, and be realistic about deadlines and schedules. It’s also essential that you're able to delegate and distribute your workload as much as possible.
LD: How do you rely on associates and assistants?
DH: I produce all my own light plots and drafting by hand, and My assistants/associates translate that information into the completed digital (Vectorworks and Lightwright) files. My associates have the design and technical ability to serve as my substitute during the production period (focus and work calls, tech rehearsals, previews) if I’m unable to be there. Philosophically, I rely on my assistants to manage all the peripherals of the design process so I can devote my full and undivided attention to the work on stage.
LD: How do you move so seamlessly from theatre to opera and even a little dance?
DH: I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to design lighting in a multiple of disciplines over the course of my career. My early years touring with dance companies and my training as a musician has served me well in my work as a lighting designer. And quite frankly, I feel there are many more similarities than differences between lighting design for opera, theater, and dance.
LD: Other than Spiderman, what are your upcoming big projects? DH: In terms of theater projects, Spiderman is certainly the most ambitious and all consuming. I’m also currently at work on the architectural lighting design for the new Nokia Theatre at Xanadu in the Meadowlands, and a new musical (Der Schuh Des Manitu), based on a popular German film for Stage Entertainment in Berlin. I’m also working on a new version of The Lion King National Tour, opening in Columbus, OH in early September.