I never assisted Tharon, and I only spoke to her a few times, but she was the magnet that drew me to New York in the 1980s to study at NYU. I wanted to be Tharon. Her work on A Chorus Line, and then Dreamgirls (which I saw, over and over again), inspired me, and I wanted to be able to see the stage like she did. Although I did not work directly with her, I was taught and influenced by many who did. I actually named my cat after her back in the 1980s. I’m grateful for her example and am thinking about her, and those close to her, as we remember her contribution to our craft.
—Heather McAvoy, theatre consultant
I was deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Tharon Musser. I bought Rosco in 1958 and first met her in the Music Box Theatre where she was preparing The Rivalry, perfectly lit with 65 instruments. I remember that because I felt that Abe Feder had gone berserk not long afterward when he used 330 lights on Camelot.
Century Lighting and Kleigl were importing Cinemoid plastic color filters from England, and they were popular on Broadway. We had introduced our Roscolene plastic line in 1955 to go with our long-established gelatine colors, but they were gaining acceptance slowly. Tharon was very helpful, reaching for our swatchbook first as she designed in the late 50s and the 60s. She mixed in her Cinemoid favorites, as well, but her plots were well-populated with Roscolene numbers.
In the late 60s and early 70s, we recognized the potential opportunity the film industry offered for our filters. We began a program to develop a line for film lighting which culminated in our first Academy Award in 1974. Tharon was always interested in film lighting and related the principles to stage lighting. While in tech rehearsals for The Prisoner of Second Avenue, for example in 1971, she called and said, “There are TVs on in the apartments. I’ve got to boost the Kelvin of the quartz lamps.” She wanted to talk about our Cinegel filters, not Roscolux or Roscolene. In 1973, when she was designing A Little Night Music, when it was time to “Send in the Clowns,” she said to me, “I have to make a Swedish winter afternoon. I should use Booster Blue.” We had developed a series of Booster Blues for Hawaii 5-0, which was shooting in Hawaii and needed to boost the Kelvin of their fill lights. Once again, Tharon had been crossing the lines and peeking into our other swatchbooks because her interest was lighting and filters.
At one point in the 80s, we decided to put out a marketing piece for young people involved in educational theatre. To make it an inspirational introduction, we spoke to Gil Hemsley, Tharon, Jennifer Tipton, Richard Pilbrow, and others and opened with a series of quotes. Tharon said, “The important thing to remember is that there are no rules in lighting with color. The design has to look right to you—it has to reflect your taste… My advice about color is this: Don’t sweat it! It’s the easiest, cheapest thing to change. If the color doesn’t look right on stage, just change it.”
We at Rosco use that quote constantly because it just says it all. But it took Tharon to boil it down to that. She had the ability to get to the point, to reduce things to their essence and to deal with what was important and move on. We were fortunate to have known her.
—Stan Miller, Rosco
In 1975, I demonstrated the first Strand Multi-Q to Tharon for the touring shows of A Chorus Line. The prototype console had two single-handle cross-faders. Tharon asked how she could do a split cross-fade with a single handle, which I somewhat foolishly tried to convince her wasn't necessary. Chuck Levy and Wally Russell pulled me aside and suggested that it wasn't the best idea to tell Tharon how to light a show. Two weeks later, a split cross-fader was added to the console.
As a result of the phenomenal success of Tharon's lighting on A Chorus Line, Multi-Qs were on almost every show on Broadway within a year. To a great degree, Tharon was responsible for the acceptance of computerized lighting throughout the industry. Thank you, Tharon, for a lot of great lighting advice over the years.
—Dave Cunningham, Entertec Research