Painting with Light: Why light designing is vital to a show

“The VIsit” JAPHY WEIDEMAN DESIGN -  Photos: Sarah Krulwich and J. Weideman

“The VIsit” JAPHY WEIDEMAN DESIGN - Photos: Sarah Krulwich and J. Weideman

John Schwab

  • Student Columnist

After acting in my community theatre for almost 10 years, I had always been interested in everything done behind the scenes and what it takes to make a show happen. I had been involved in the scenic design, been a prop master, ran sound, performed a stage manager role, and other odd responsibilities (not all for one show, of course).

I always found an interest in the stage lighting, though I’ve never really been in the spotlight. My acting credits have been mostly ensemble roles. My big motivation and inspiration to be a light designer didn’t strike until I started hearing of a Broadway musical underway titled “Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812.” I first listened to the cast album and loved it almost instantly. I had the opportunity to watch some extended clips from the Broadway production, and let me tell you, I couldn’t get over the lights.

They played such an intriguing role, it was almost like it was its own character. It created evocative, conveying feelings that paired beautifully with the actors’ performance. And I thought “That’s it. That’s what I want to convey with a show.”

My goal as a lighting designer is to evoke feelings and emotion the audience might not expect to feel from watching a live show. The first show I designed was for my community theatre, when they were performing Margaret Edson’s’ “Wit.” It was a show our director had wanted to do for several years, had the opportunity to do it, and put the noob of lights (me) in charge.

With this show being a drama, I had the opportunity to play around with a lot of different colors, angles, and some other effects. I was pretty proud of my end result. My director had loved what I had done, as well as the audience members. I achieved my goal of bringing out the emotions the audience didn’t think they would show, which was also credited to the fantastic performance of the actors.

I still love to act in shows, and I still love to stage manage, props, sound, being a Jack of all trades, if you will. But there is a lot of reward with being a lighting designer. After all, they’re the reason the audience can see what’s going on, and why the actors aren’t falling off the stage or in the orchestra pit.

So, if you’re interested in aspects of light designing, I highly recommend getting in touch with your community theatre. My local theatre’s Associate Artistic Director was gracious enough to spend time giving me classes based on lighting design. I find joy in being able to find something I love doing, and showing people some fantastic work from that talent.