Corey Verdusco is a lighting designer who works in many different entertainment avenues, including theatre. I had a chance to talk with him about his approach to lighting for community theatre.
What is your background in lighting and theatre?
I started with theatre lighting when I was in middle school. I went all through high school doing lighting. It was actually because of that, that I followed this profession. All through high school I thought I was going to be an architect. Then my senior year, when I was finalizing college schools, I realized I could do this for a career. I’ve done some professional Off-Broadway and Regional. And then now community theatre.
I have a BFA in design and technology from Otterbien University. I focused on stage management and lighting design through my undergrad. For my grad degree from Lindenwood University, I focused on production management and artistic management of theatre non-profits.
Your current day job is doing lighting for a production company, correct?
I own my own production/design company. I work with a variety of production companies designing lights and helping manage shows. Those shows can be anything from larger church productions to corporate conferences and entertainment concerts like touring acts. We kind of run the whole gamut.
How did you get started doing lighting for community theatre?
I kind of happened in to it. I did a little bit of community theatre when I was in my undergraduate program outside of Columbus, OH. But then I spent a lot of time working on professional work. It was just actually with Peter and the Starcatcher at O’Fallon Theatre Works that I started getting involved with community theatre. I was recommended to O’Fallon Theatre Works by Gateway Productions Services. I work a lot with Gateway on other projects.
When they asked you if you were interested in Peter and the Starcatcher, was it something like “Hey, yeah I want to get back into theatre?” Or was it just “Ok I’ll do it?”
It was “Hey, yeah I want to get back into theatre.” I’ve always said that my day job and working corporate theatre was the means so that I could do local theatre because that’s more where my heart is. Theatre and dance is what I grew up on and what I love. But it tends not to pay the bills. You have those moments when it’s like, “Yeah, I should look for something and connect with people.” Then you get busy at work and you forget about it. The opportunity fell in my lap and I’ve thankfully been able to run with it. I really enjoy my time working in theatre.
In your new experiences, what has been the biggest reward and what is the biggest challenge that you have experienced working with community theatre?
I know easily the biggest reward is being part of the theatre community. I love working with like minded people that have the same goal and are eager about the arts. So being back in that community and connecting with people like that has really been the biggest reward for me.
Budgets are always a challenge. When working corporate it’s a lot easier to get more money. We’ll spend on a one day show what an entire theatre production will have for two weeks. But it’s not a crippling challenge to me. The nice thing about theatre is we find innovative ways to make things work. And when you have time crunches or when you have limitations, that’s when the innovation comes out. Not when you have all the money you can do whatever you want. While budgets are a challenge, the stretch of my imagination, my innovation, is a reward to me. You don’t always get that in corporate.
What are some of the differences between doing your day job and what you’re doing working with community theatre, church programs, and concerts?
The personalities you work with are extremely different. When we’re doing corporate work, we’re working with business professionals. They don’t understand what we do. In their mind, you come in and press a button and it works. They don’t get all the 50 steps it took to get to pressing that one button. That can be a challenge for them and a big difference. When you work with people that get the industry, they understand that a lot more.
Time is a big difference as well. Some shows are a day, some shows are a week. Because of the limitations on time, I don’t always get a chance to do as much development and story work for lighting. The lighting becomes far more practical and less of a storytelling instrument. Whereas with theatre, we really take the time to understand the meaning behind the lighting. I like to have that art and story behind it, that it’s not just utility lighting. It’s artful, it has meaning behind it, and moves the story forward. That’s always been important to me in lighting, which has its own challenges when you have children’s theatre and different things like that. Every project is gonna have its unique specifications. For me, it’s learning how to adapt within those and still let the artist in me have an outlet.
What is your personal process in designing lighting for a play or musical? Where do you start and how do you see the collaboration to get to the end?
For me, I always prefer collaboration starting as soon as possible. There’s been times when I come in later and I feel like I’m playing catch up. The first step is always understanding what you’re lighting. So it’s reading the script, knowing the music. It’s important to me not to bring in previous productions. I have people that will be like, “Here’s the video of Broadway or here’s pictures of that.” I don’t want to see that because I want it to be a unique experience. I want it to be tied to people that are in the show and how that shows in the director’s vision versus another director’s vision, because that’s a different show. Along those lines also, I’ve done shows before that I’ve lit multiple times. But I’ve never re-used the cues. It’s always a fresh process to me, which is what gives me excitement out of it and makes it unique and less mundane.
After reviewing the script, it’s talking with the design team, the directors, and really discussing the influences behind each production. What is the director’s mindset behind it? What are they trying to accentuate out of the story? Every story is gonna have different points that hit somebody a different way. The collaboration to me really comes through the director and what are they focused on in the production.
From there, there’s some research for colors. Less research than I used to do. I’d like to think that that comes out of experience and not laziness. But it might be a mixture of both. In that research it’s a lot of, I like to pull from either every day color schemes, things you find in nature. When I design concerts, a lot of my color combinations come from fish. I also like to pull from artists and abstract paintings. I like more of the older paintings. Some of the modern stuff too. I was doing a church concert. One song was based on lions and lambs. So I did a lot of looking up paintings of lions to get color combinations. It just helps to spur ideas.
There’s obviously a practical aspect to the design of seeing how the actors use the space. Attending multiple rehearsals. Talking with stage managers. Talking to the directors. And finding out what positions are important. Then there’s the theatres I work at and the productions I do are always bringing in lighting. We’re hardly ever using an existing light plot. So it’s coming up with the best positions.
I use a lot of my dance experience in theatre. I come up with some more abstract lighting positions than your standard theatre plot usually. That’s just kind of been my style. I’ve pulled a lot of different things from a combination of all the areas I’ve worked in; theatre, dance, and concerts. Then it’s focusing and sitting down and writing the cues. My process is usually to sit down, write cues based on all the notes and possibly videos of rehearsals that I have. Then I review it with the directors and then go in to tech where we see it with actors in positions. And then ideally in to dress rehearsals where we continue to refine. The goal is always have it cued and ready for tech rehearsals so we can step through everything and then dress rehearsals where we can really refine and get to the most polished thing that we can. I can tell you on closing nights, I could still watch a show and say “Well, I’d probably tweak that a little bit.” But that’s kind of the fun of live theatre. It’s ever changing. An actor might do it this way tonight and that way tomorrow night. The light may be two seconds off this night. To me, that’s the excitement of live theatre. That’s what makes it a living organism instead of just watching a movie.
What is your dream project? What would you most like to design or work on?
The one that’s been up there lately that’s been tossed out that sounds like a lot of fun to work on is Matilda. Especially in a community theatre realm where tech supplies can be limited and lighting can be limited, there’s a lot of innovation that can come from that. I’d like to work on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. But that’s not a real complicated show. I just enjoy the show. I find challenges in every project and stretch myself, over exert myself sometimes. I can’t say there’s one project that sticks out. But there’s shows that I enjoy that I’d love to have the chance to work on a team with.
I’d like to work on more dance again. I haven’t done that in a while. I’ve just always loved it for whatever reason. I think it’s the combination of the music and the expression. I’ve done a lot of concerts and I enjoy some of the adrenaline that goes behind that. Dance is the inbetween theatre and concerts in my mind. I think it’s kind of where it falls for me. I have a lot of fun with it because, for me shadows are really important to lighting. I think I’ve seen in the past, whether it’s director choices or other designer choices, where shadows aren’t utilized enough. Shadows are what gives us form. Dance doesn’t shy away from shadow. They want the shadows. They want to see the form, the sharp lines. And so that’s really resonated with me because that’s what I enjoy as well.
What’s the most interesting space or lighting job that you’ve done?
I did a show on a train. I was part of the design team and management team for the first year of The Polar Express here in St. Louis. That was fun creating that environment on a train.
I like in the round. It offers interesting challenges. I think the audience gets a more immersive experience. It’s always a challenge for lighting because I now have to light you all the way around.
For more information about Corey Verdusco, or if you wish to contact him about design, you can visit the website for his company, Golden Road Entertainment, at http://www.goldenroad-ent.com