BLMC Speaker Spotlight: Christopher Akerlind

Tony Award-winner Christopher Akerlind won his Tony for Best Lighting Design for The Light in the Piazza, which also earned him a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lighting Design, and he won an Obie Award for sustained excellence for his work Off-Broadway. A graduate of Boston University and the Yale School of Drama, he trained with Jennifer Tipton, and has served as head of Lighting Design and director of the design & production programs at the CalArts School of Theater.

Akerlind returns to the Broadway Lighting Master Classes to discuss: Throwing Out The Story, or, The Embrace Of The Space: An approach to creating light for theatre events, scenes, dance, and musical numbers, that puts emphasis on developing the intrinsic qualities of the given space, the set. We will investigate light's potential relationship to doors, floors, geometries, and topographies, for example, to create playable, interesting, and effective looks. Live Design chats with Akerlind about various aspects of light:

How does light relate to the physical space of the set or other theatrical environment?

Question for me is how could it not? I like to make light gestures that are in simpatico with a set’s details, framing doors, windows, trim, and tiles in a floor, etc, or finding abstract shapes that are reverberant with the space’s geometric qualities, keeping absolutely parallel or perpendicular to contours and peripheries, and placing circles and/or ovals, at the tangents of other curved shapes, or points, for instance. Making scenes work in this context grounds the performance in the intrinsic qualities of space. Then, at dramatic moments, playing a diagonal against the square, or overlapping curved shapes, has huge impact. And what does make light "interesting" in your opinion? The quality of the relationship, how sublime, poetic, expressive, etc, it is, and then, and most importantly, how it allows performance to happen without distraction. That’s the job in my estimation, building a beautiful space that exists only to frame a good story.

How do you approach a new project in terms of style, color, gear, etc?

It’s always different and begins with how the director and set designer have answered the style question. Not much use going against that. Even so, I like to be handed a space and fill it with ideas that my collaborators might not have thought of. Gear and color choices come directly from style. Epic work can demand the messiness of powerful edgeless maybe whiter sources, while elegant approaches require the finesse of the framing spot and more subtlety of color. That said all is contextual. Reducing this answer to language instantly confuses it.

How do you feel about new sources, such as LEDs?

Though I use them, I have mixed feelings about movers and the specificity of position they erase…so many ways to respond to this question. Because I’m sensuously attuned to the performance event, I’m bothered by fan noise as much as the director and sound designer. Worried that the shear presence of so much technology weighs against the efforts of the blood and guts human beings sweating it out before our eyes. I like color morphing technology, mixers, LEDs, SeaChangers, etc, as they allow one beautifully selected “light to object” relationship to exist in many colors with one shadow, rather than employing several copycat lamps from slightly different points meaning to do the same compositional work with different colors.

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