My path as a lighting designer began in a large lecture hall during an Introduction to Theatre class consisting of one hundred students. It was a general education requirement that I needed to fulfill toward my psychology degree. One day, the instructor introduced a young, enthusiastic professor and told us she would be talking about stage design, with an emphasis on lighting. During the lecture, I began to see new possibilities in an art form that I knew nothing about, but to which I felt strangely connected. This professor spoke about a different kind of canvas than one using a pen, pencil, or paintbrush; the canvas of a stage. That day led to over twenty-five years of theatre study with a passionate emphasis on lighting design.
After that lecture, I made my way to the university's theatre department. I began working at any and all available assignments, increasingly in the lighting area. I discovered that theatre required hard work and came with many rewards. My persistence in acquiring lighting skills and training paid off when, after a number of classes and many hours logged in the theatre, I was rewarded with my first lighting design on American Buffalo by David Mamet.
As I delved into theatre work, I soon realized I had not left psychology behind, I had simply re-focused and used my interest in psychology to work in the new and complex world of storytelling through performing arts. As Carl Jung said, “The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purpose within him,” I truly felt that theatre design allowed me to connect with others, with artists and audiences alike, in deeper understandings of human nature. This early design is where the collision of psychology and light emerged as my lighting concept for American Buffalo created a visual component to the psychological complexity of the characters and their relationships. The methods and processes of how psychology and design intersect has informed each design I have done since, and the education I received in theatre created a powerful foundation from which I work each day.
As a lighting designer starting with a script, a psychological analysis of the characters in the play comes first for me. Based on studying the characters' way of thinking, I create a concept which leads to the development of a vocabulary using the properties of light. My work is strongly connected to creating a visual and complete environment in which the characters of the play live. Conceptualizing the script leads me to visually construct the words and intentions of the playwright, working within the structure set by the director, applying the psychology of the characters, and adding my artistry to the storytelling.
As an artist, within the performing arts, I believe that my work should always be conversant, connected to the vision of the playwright, and partnering with concepts the director brings to the stage creation. The abstractness of light can bring great clarity to a moment on stage. Controlling light in its form, color, intensity, and movement can heighten the experience of the audience.
Another strong thread through all of my work is the idea of collaboration. I strive to work in unison with fellow designers. It is with great care that I was mentored through the art of collaboration, as I had the great fortune of starting my professional career at Music Theatre North, where I was mentored by Craig North. He was a man of great passion that spilled over into every task he took on as our leader. What he brought to the forefront was humanity; each show he directed was started from a place of human connection and thoughtful attention to how we could bring that humanity to the hearts of our audiences. My time spent working for Mr. North added key elements in my foundation as an artist: humanity and collaboration. All members of a company working together on a show by allowing every artist the validation they deserve is the only way to truly create great performance art.
As I begin each artistic endeavor I consider the playwright's intentions. I listen with a keen ear to what the director is both bringing and asking of the team. I collaborate with my fellow designers using each facet of my creative thoughts and design expertise. I respect the contributions of the artisans with me each day in the theatre and I listen for the heartbeat of the audience. It is my hope that if I do each of these things well, I will leave a small piece of humanity with each person.
After 400 designs, I still have a favorite moment during the process, which is when I watch a performer connect, the stage manager is with them calling the cues perfectly, and the designers and staff have all completed their work as rehearsed. It is in that moment I feel goose bumps and know that I have contributed to a true theatrical achievement.
I have had the great fortune to work alongside so many talented and generous artists along my artistic journey. To each of those artists who touched my work and my training I am grateful. I treasure each day that I have the privilege to sit in a theatre with other artists and strive toward excellence. Some days we fall short, but many days we achieve; however, every day we create and we interact and we work toward the telling of a story. It is the stories that connect us all and it is my great pleasure to illuminate every one.