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Finally In The Crosshairs or He Likes it When I Turn the Lights Off

No one likes a critic.  Especially when they write nasty things about your show for all the world to see.  In the entertainment industry, a bad review can break a show faster than Nutella can break a diet.  (Seriously guys, I can eat that shit with a spoon.)

In my corner of the world, however, reviewers aren’t such bad guys.  Three or four of them tend to cover the majority of our shows here at the Egg, and over the years we’ve become familiar with them.  Even without knowing them personally, you can always tell a reviewer by their location at the back of the house with a laptop on their lap.  Beyond that, each of them has their own style.  One of them will write furiously for the first 10 minutes or so, watch for the most of the rest of the show, and make a break for the lobby shortly before the end of the set.  Another will not only remain through the end of the show, but he will continue to sit in his seat for the next 30-45 minutes while we strike, finishing his thoughts before he leaves.  My favorite reviewer sits in the seat right next to my light board and will chat with me before the show starts.  There’s even a little tit-for-tat between us: I let him copy down my set lists for his own references and he leaves that bit I said about how the FOH (front of house) audio engineer is an epic ass weasel off the record.   Most of them are just nice guys who love music and have found a way to make money by seeing shows for free.

Besides, I don’t have any beef with the reviewers because I’ve never been bitten by one.  With a few (mostly well deserved) exceptions, the guys who write about our shows generally only have good things to say about the shows in our spaces.  While they may not always be 100% complimentary, I’ve never heard of them absolutely filleting us.  Besides, they never talk about lighting in the reviews.  Ever.  Not even a little.  I’m pretty sure the only way they’d mention lighting in a review is if I fucked up big; lighting-fixture-falling-on-someone’s-head-and-killing-them levels of fucking up.  So the reviewers don’t really bother me because I’m rarely in their crosshairs.

Until a few days ago.

It was the John Ritter show.  Just a man alone on the stage with his guitar.  It was a good show, though, I confess, with the endless string of shows (many of them solo acoustic guitar) I had to read the review to remind myself which one he was.  But, unlike many of the shows we get that don’t really connect with me, I truly enjoyed this show.  And apparently, so did the reviewer.  But what made this review unusual is that it actually mentioned the lighting.

Let me repeat.

The review actually mentioned the lighting.

I won’t make you read the whole review, (it’s here if you happen to be a Ritter fan,) but here’s the part in discussion:

Taking advantage of his quiet, often finger-picked accompaniment, Ritter lowered the volume of his quiet vocals even further than on record, often crossing into speak-singing. He counted on being riveting and pulled it off, rooting the show in a quiet place and sometimes shifting the dynamics to allow the exuberance of “Good Man” or the anthemic melody of “Open Doors” to burst forth. “Change of Time” was more aching than its studio incarnation (weighed down, the latter is, with ponderous backing) and both “Wings” and “Southern Pacific” proved heartbreaking. When Ritter called for the house lights to be turned off completely during one song (and kept there for another), it suited his quiet storm just fine.

(Written by Jeremy D. Goodwin of the Metroland.  Bolding was added for emphasis.)

Okay, first things first, he didn’t call for the house lights to be turned off.  The house lights (which are the ones over the audience) were already off.  He called for the stage lights to be turned off.  So if we’re going to talk about lighting, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same fucking thing.

But more importantly, let’s take a second look at what he had to say about my lighting.  He liked it when I turned the lights off.

Let me repeat.

He liked it when I turned the lights off.

Nothing about how I tried to make the lighting echo the mood of the song.  Nothing about how I added drama to his face while making sure that the audience could still read his expressions.  Nothing about how I played with intensity and combination of colors to ensure that even his most raucous songs were still warm and intimate.  No, he liked the way I turned everything off and we all sat in the dark.

Fuck me.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Jeff October 24, 2011, 10:25 am

    Nah. Some of the best lighting is when you don’t notice it. It affects you on a visceral level and is completely unnoticed on a cerebral level…

    You put it so well! Especially for the more intimate acoustic shows, my goal is for the audience to sense that something is different but not be able to put their finger on it.

  • Fred Flintrock October 25, 2011, 12:52 pm

    A famous LD once told me “‘channel 1 thru 100 at zero’ is usually a pretty good cue.”

  • Lauren October 25, 2011, 4:00 pm

    I totally second Jeff. Sure, it sucks to get praise backwards, but with lighting–an art that almost always props up another art i.e. music, dance, theater, whatever–receiving no mention (or only a mention when it’s turned off) is the compliment you want. Because, if the audience or a reviewer were to notice the fantastic lighting, its probably because they were bored with main act, which would ultimately equate to a thumbs down on the show as a whole.

  • Sara October 28, 2011, 8:37 am

    I like everyone else’s remarks. I don’t usually notice the lighting because it just flows so effortlessly, which is what makes it awesome. 🙂

  • gerard September 1, 2012, 5:57 am

    One show I did had awards for each section (Cast, tech, admin, band) every night. Lighting got the award, on the last night, for…. the final blackout……..

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