floor plan
Design credit Steve Tonar

When studying a work of art, at the Weisman or any art museum, individuals inspect every element that completes the piece, whether it be color, subject, or the use of space, to interpret the artist’s intention. Lighting is a particularly significant element.

The idea of brightening certain areas of a space to highlight their importance is prevalent in painting as well as other art forms, including fashion and theatre. The Weisman Art Museum is working with the University Theatre Arts and Dance lighting department  to create a one-of-a-kind, Andy Warhol-inspired fashion show, Likeness: a Design Showcase.

To better understand their process, I interviewed Steve Tonar, a senior majoring in Theater Arts and Dance on the Design and Technology track with an emphasis in Lighting. He’s been working with the head of the department, Bill Healey, since the second semester of his sophomore year.

Steve found his calling behind the curtain before college, though. During his freshman year in high school, Steve was a part of the pit orchestra. Sophomore year, Steve grew bored with the orchestra and decided to work on lighting for a professional performance and soon landed a job in the field.

Today, Steve works on planning out the lighting design layout for the 2016 Design Showcase “Likeness.”

I asked Steve about the differences in planning for a play in comparison to an event like the Design Showcase. He explained that analyzing the script of a play provides an idea of how the stage should be set. Lighting intensifies the mood, creates strong feelings, and psychologically affects the audience. For the Design Showcase, the lighting department wants to bring energy to the space, using colors that compliment the garments.

Frank Gehry's design of the Weisman has affected the normal process of stage lighting. Steve commented that the large windows bring in natural lighting, and the stainless steel paneling on the side of the building reflects more light into the space. The Design Showcase takes place in the Shepherd Room this year so the white walls will block some of the light from the sun and allow colored lights to bounce.

“Sun will always win over in lighting,” Steve joked.

Generally, Steve works with dimmer, conventional lighting for theatrical productions. However, for this special occasion, Steve and the team were inspired by the colors of Andy Warhol. The apparel designers featured in the Showcase were asked to create garments that reflected their identity, channeling Andy Warhol, who experimented with cultural identity in the exhibit Cowboys and Indians (on view now at WAM). The team is working to create slashes of color to give the light texture and create visual interest.

While creating a unique, Warhol-inspired design may be challenging, Steve stated that the hardest part of the entire process is installation. The lighting department has an array of equipment, but because the event is off-site, the team needs to know exactly what equipment they will need when setting up before leaving their home base building.

Steve measured the rooms of the Weisman where the Showcase will take place, and he created a computer model ground plan. The accurate measurements allow the team to remember all of the equipment they need. The numbers on the plan represent pods where the team can place equipment. The team must consider the placing and set-up in order “not to blind the audience,” says Steve. The team will set up Monday and Tuesday, before the event takes place on Wednesday.

Like any work of art, the Design Showcase takes time, effort, and creativity, (from a variety of artists in this case). The lighting department is working hard to create unique visual effects for the show to compliment the designs. I’m de-“lighted” to be working with them on this project and am excited for this coming Wednesday.