When I was first starting out in technical theatre back in high school, I was convinced that I wanted to stage manage. The theatre department wasn't particularly well staffed, so as the only real technical person, I ended up lighting, sound designing, and stage managing most of the shows all under the auspices of "stage management." I applied to NYU as a stage manager, and luckily all freshmen in the Technical Production Track take classes in all of the design and management aspects. Once I saw the actual elements of each specialty broken down, I realized that a lot of what I found so appealing in the work I did in high school was actually closer to lighting then stage management and I switched my focus. I started designing student shows while at NYU, and as soon as I sat down with a director and design team and had a more theoretical conversation about what design could bring to a piece, I knew that I was going to stick with lights.
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?
I think that artistically, I approach every design the same way. The early stages are about having conversations and finding a cohesive design vision. It's important for me to design as though I have no limitations so I can figure out the overarching ideas before I start to limit myself and think about how to practically make each idea happen with limited resources. Once I've figured out the elements that are most important to me and ways to possibly achieve them, I find it grounding to have a design meeting and as a team prioritize which ideas are most constructive for the project as a whole. Especially with smaller shows, it's important to keep all of the lines of communication open so when it comes to the often-too-fast load-in and tech everyone is on the same page. We all have too many projects and too little time, so finding the elements of each project that are really exciting and allow the team to come together is helpful. Inevitably, communication varies project by project, so having strong opinions and being able to defend why they support the piece helps when things get down to the wire.
What's exciting for you about doing an indie show? What makes you cringe?
The most exciting thing about an indie show is the people. Because it's so hard to make a living doing only indie theatre, each show becomes a labor of love. You end up with a room full of extremely dedicated people who are excited to come together and see what they can create. This can also make me cringe. Because it is a labor of love, some people end up pouring their whole selves into a project and taking on too much. It's easy to fall into having no money and thus hiring too few people. Recognizing that a production manager and a stage manager aren't and shouldn't be the same thing allows each individual to concentrate on bringing their all to the project. When each person has too many jobs you don't get to take full advantage of their strengths. The lead artist of a project should not have to be concerned with all of the fund-raising and management of a project. Which is not to say that they shouldn't be aware of financial limitations, but when one person tries to take on every role the whole production suffers.
What could the indie community do to make things easier for lighting designers all around? What could scene or sound or costume designers do to make your job easier on a specific production?
This may sound trite, but the most important thing is open lines of communication. Sending images and making a phone call. Knowing how shiny a fabric will be or the gloss of a floor makes a huge difference to lighting choices, as do color choices. While it would be great to have more money, more time, more resources, having a team that is on the same page is more productive than an extra $100.
Tell me about something you achieved in 2013 that makes you feel really good:
I worked on Kristine Haruna Lee's Plum de Force at the Bushwick Starr this September. Though we had almost no budget, the Starr gave us a residency so we had a month of rehearsing and lighting over rehearsal in the space. We also had an incredibly cohesive and talented design team so the production came together smoothly. The Starr also has a fair amount of practical lighting equipment, so not having an extensive budget wasn't a hindrance on the equipment I wanted.
What's coming up in 2014?
I'm designing and assisting on a few cool projects. I'll be moving with Fences from Long Wharf Theater to the McCarter in Princeton this January as the assistant lighting designer, designing a small production of The Misanthrope in Queens, and traveling to Seattle in March with MGPP's and lose the name of action.