Book Marks: What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas

What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas is a loving treatment of theater design through the ages; it traces the origins of modern lighting as the craft moves from the hands of “competent technicians” to those who will lay the foundation of a new approach that demands artistry beyond illumination. Written by Michael Chybowski, the book includes an amazing Genealogy of American Lighting Designers. A clear connection emerges from mentor to a multitude of rising designers who have shaped the commercial world and academic landscape.

Chybowski begins his look at lighting design with three of the most influential designers of the 20th century…Abe Feder, Jean Rosenthal, and Peggy Clark. The author goes on to lay out the family tree of lighting pioneers, the developments, and the influence they have had upon generations of lighting artists. With the addition of Tharon Musser and Ken Billington, these five designers will lay the groundwork for the profession of modern lighting design. What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas is chock full of information about approach, innovation, passion, and the creation of a process that is widely different with each designer.

The book is interwoven with commentary from dozens of storied lighting designers including (Jennifer Tipton, Don Holder, Ken Billington, John Gleason, Clifton Taylor, Pat Collins). Chybowski has captured the voices of the last seventy years of design. This book lays out the connective tissue that binds us all to our profession and we witness the rise of lighting as a legitimate art form.

What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas Is broken into twelve chapters which lay the groundwork to answer the ultimate question: What Is lighting design?

1 Introduction

2 Some Early History

3 Lighting Reforms

4 More Recent History

5 Adolphe Appia & The New Stagecraft

6 The Spotlight Era

7 The Fundamental Properties of Light

8 Control

9 Space

10 Time

11 Dramatic Intention

12 What Is Lighting Design?

The author concludes by suggesting the reader has “By now probably formed your own opinions about what lighting design is.” The question is, can design be more than a game of numbers, the ever expanding equipment list, productions growing in complexity, the need for many assistants to keep up, and the shift from traditional theatrical lighting to creating something on stage more akin to cinema.

As usual Jean Rosenthal summed it up best “lighting design (is) the imposing of quality on the scarcely visible air through which objects and people are seen.”

What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas is a compelling must read. It is a book filled with stories of possibilities…not rules.


About the author: Michael Chybowski is a freelance lighting designer and an Associate Professor of Lighting Design at the University of Connecticut. His work in the fields of theatre, opera, dance, performance art, and film has been seen throughout the United States and around the world. Long-term collaborations include work with the artist Laurie Anderson, the choreographer Mark Morris, and many theatres on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally within the United States, Europe, and Asia. Published by Focal Press, his book is designed as a main course text for history of lighting design university courses and a supplementary text for an introduction to Lighting Design, Stagecraft, and Scenography courses. It will also be of interest to directors, choreographers, and working lighting designers who wish to explore the history and meaning of their craft.  Michael has received an American Theatre Wing Design Award, an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence, two Lucille Lortel Awards for his work in New York, and a Drama Desk nomination for his work on the original production of Wit, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play at the Union Square Theatre in New York. Michael also designed the subsequent US National Tour and its London West End productions.

Catch an interview with Michael Chybowski on Light Talk: "The Fourth Paradigm - A Conversation with Michael Chybowski" and attend a book signing at The Drama Book Shop in NYC at 7:30pm on Tuesday, February 20. RSVP at


What Is Lighting Design? A Genealogy Of People And Ideas

ISBN 9781032117751

340 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations

Published February 12, 2024 by Focal Press

Available on Amazon and

Reviewed for Live Design by Steve Woods

Available on Amazon and Routledge