Deep down, I always knew I wanted to work in theater, even back in high school. There was a Drama Club that had dissipated by the time I got to the 9th grade. Somehow I got to be the one to draw up a proposal to the Principal and found a teacher who would oversee the club. I always felt more comfortable working backstage and although it was fun, it didn’t occur to me that I could do any of it as a career choice. I fell into Theater Design in college at Wright State University, Dayton Ohio. I was an art major thinking I’d go into Architecture or Graphic Design. After taking a Theater Appreciation class my freshman year, it hit me that I love theater. I changed my major to Design/Technology. Lighting came to me during my second year working in the Directing Lab. The Lab is set up so that it was student run with a professor acting as the supervisor of the space. The moment I knew I wanted to pursue lighting was when fellow student Matthew Gunnels was directing Death and the Maiden. That production showed me how to create mood and feelings that can manipulate the audience. I loved being able to create feeling that an audience member didn’t necessarily want to feel.
Why New York? How did you make your way to the city?
After college I worked as a stagehand for concert venues in Akron and Cleveland Ohio and found some small design gigs in Cleveland and Youngstown. I worked on The Waiting Room at Dobama Theater and Peter Pan at Youngstown Playhouse. These were great opportunities and I enjoyed working on them, but they were few and far between. It eventually occurred to me that I if wanted to design more often, I needed to see what was outside of Ohio. In the meantime, I got engaged and since my fiancé was already in NY, it made sense to check the city out.
How do you negotiate artistic need and limited resources? Is there an artistic difference between how you approach an indie show versus a show with plenty of time, money etc?
Through the limitations of the production, you find your creativity. I like to know what the deal is at my first meeting with the director/producer. There’s not a lot of difference between how I approach a show that has limited funds compared to a show that can give me a crew and a lightboard operator. As long as I know what the space limitations are, how much budget are we talking and what the tech calendar is, we’re good to go. If there’s a special effect called for within the script, you will need to communicate that to the creative team and discuss it and see if there is a way to achieve it, money or no money. You can always create the mood you need with what resources are given to you.
What's exciting for you about doing an indie show? What makes you cringe?
I enjoy the community of Indie Theater. We’re all in this together and everyone’s goal is to have a great piece of theater to share with other like-minded folks. Every once in a while you’ll get a producer that’s unrealistic about their own resources, that’s the only time I cringe. It can be a challenge to explain that I will not be able to isolate an area of the stage when there are only 6 lights available for the whole show. I will look to other creative means, like a flashlight or Christmas lights. We all need to be a flexible creative team when it comes to understanding and accepting one’s budget.
What could the indie community do to make things easier for lighting designers all around? What could producers/directors/other designers do to make your job easier on a specific production?
I’m going to just say it – This would be great if a show could do at least the scenario below:
Once we get into the space:
2-4hrs Electrics / Sound Load In
2-4hrs Scenery Finish Build/Load In
2-4hrs Electrics Focus
2-4hrs Cueing time / Sound Check
I know – time is hard. Giving the production team a couple of hours on stage for key needs would be great and make tech go so much faster and less stressful.
If you are producing a show where you’re in a festival and time is not an option, the producer needs to get a designer that they trust to ‘just do it’. Talk about the cues before you go into that 1-2hr tech/dress. Let the designer just bang out the cues and if you have time to run the show, fix cues and tweak at that time, there is no need for a cue to cue if you’ve done your homework –that goes for the designer and the director.
Please understand that regardless of whether a show is at a festival or at a rented venue, all of us designers will do the best we can with the time allotted.
Talk to me about Play Lab NYC:
Playlab NYC is a little theater company founded by me and my husband Kevin P. Hale about five years ago. Our motto is ‘Taking fun way too seriously’. This past year was our busiest. We had a reading of E. E. Cummings’ Santa Claus: A Morality, and Totally Crackers at Bad Theater Fest. Blizzard ’67 was a highlight for us at FringeNYC this summer as well as Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment over at St. Anne’s Warehouse with Great Small Works Toy Theater. I’m really looking forward to see what this year will bring! For more info visit www.playlabnyc.org.
Tell me about something you achieved in 2013 that makes you feel really good:
Blizzard ’67 – Playlab NYC produced this show at FringeNYC this past summer. I was the lighting designer and costume coordinator. I’m so proud of the actors, the director, the writer, the whole show. We all did so much work to make it authentic and I truly believe this was the best production so far from Playlab NYC. Every element about the show was chosen with thoughtfulness and care. With the costumes, the gentlemen needed to look lived in from the 60s. The challenging part was not making them look like they stepped out of Mad Men. Lighting was simple and thankfully the Robert Moss was given a gel pallet that was forgiving for all moods and needs. One of the ‘specials’ we were allotted and everyone seemed on board with was a CC special. Thank goodness, because the men carpool to and from work and that CC light was essential for our ‘car’. The script called for a minimal set design, and both Kevin (the director) and I agreed that’s all it needed, a few chair and a couple coat stands – done. I love this show with all my heart and I hope to see further life from it.
What's coming up in 2014?
Playlab NYC - Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath as a part of FRIGID 2014
Ariel Rivka Dance, Trainor Dance and Texture Contemporary Ballet at Alvin Ailey
I’ll have more, and my company will have more on our plate as the year progresses, we always do.
http://www.playlabnyc.org/Playlab_NYC/Home.html & http://jenniferlinnwilcoxlighting.wordpress.com/