In the arts, light is crucial. In paintings, light can provide depth. In music, dance, and theatre, light can set the mood. In keeping with the theme of UNC Greensboro’s recently launched fundraising initiative “Light the Way, the Campaign for Earned Achievement,” we asked Assistant Professor of Lighting Design Maranda DeBusk about how she designs light for the theatre.
Q: What is the function of Lighting Design in a theatrical production?
MD: If you think of a production like a 3D wooden puzzle, you have the script which is the outline, and you have the pieces, which are the acting, set, and costumes. The director helps to put all those pieces in order. Lighting helps pull it all together by creating an atmosphere and takes the audience members on an emotional journey by directing their focus, pulling them in, forcing them out —fading, snapping, or swirling. Lighting is the element that connects us subconsciously to a story and makes a production whole.
Q: How did you get into Lighting Design?
MD: Lighting Design is at the nexus of the creative and the technical. As a child, I was very imaginative. I loved playing pretend and making up stories, which all but streamlines you into being a theatre maker. But I also loved math and problem solving, which didn’t always line up with what I saw in the portrayal of artist types. Lighting Design gave me a space to both paint with light and to work with a computer to problem solve, and do it all in the service of storytelling. Once I figured that out, there was no turning back.
Q: Do you have a favorite show—either one you’ve done or that you want to do— in which lighting is the big design element?
MD: This is a tough question. Lighting is often as big or as small of an element as the story needs it to be. It’s hyper flexible, and that’s part of the charm. I’m more often drawn to shows for their content and the excitement of how I can facilitate that narrative by using lighting than I am by the potential for lighting to stand out as an individual element. That being said, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 is high on my bucket list. Not for any lighting reasons in particular. I’ve just not done it yet, and I’m a Dolly fan.
Q: What brought you to UNCG/CVPA?
MD: The opportunity to engage with a community in a substantial way. Prior to coming to UNCG, I had taught on an interim basis at a few different schools, but primarily I was working as a freelance designer. And the trick with freelancing, particularly as a lighting designer, is that you’re often in a space only for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s a very solitary job even as you bounce from theatre to theatre and from group to group. What you’re doing has a big impact on the show at hand, but you don’t get to see the lasting impact on the community before you fly off to your next adventure. When the pandemic shuttered theatres and freelancing paused for a beat, I was able to do some reflecting, and it really made me see that what I wanted, what I was missing, from this art form and this career that I love was the opportunity for real human connection. When this job opened up, it seemed like just the right fit: a place that is engaged in the community; has a strong heart-forward, people-centered mission; and where I can help show emerging artists the value in these engaged practices as they launch their careers.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of CVPA/UNCG?
MD: The people. The students are phenomenal—so full of life and energy and excitement to go do great work. The faculty and staff are so kind and dedicated. Everyone is just lovely.
Q: What are your goals while here?
MD: I’m really excited to see what I can bring to the lighting curriculum in the School of Theatre. I’d love to bring some of my experience in projection and media design into the classroom. I’ve also got a background in community performance and theatre for social justice, and I’d love to keep bringing that work into the minds of emerging designers. We can easily fall into the trap that the crafting of work is in the hands of the playwrights and the performers, but designers have valuable insight into the devising of new work. I’d love to help emerging designers find that creative voice in their processes.
Q: What would you say is the most pressing need in your area of the School of Theatre?
MD: In the realm of lighting, I would say equipment. My favorite thing to talk about regarding Lighting Design and theatre in general is the art of it. But at the end of the day, it’s important that we have tools to create that art. Lighting technology develops at an incredible speed and keeping up with industry standards is tough. Doing the best we can to keep that in mind is important in preparing students for their careers.