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Seeing the light
By Janet Seitz Carlson

His imaginary world is beset with gobos, gels and cycloramas. He dwells in the dark, watching shadows and colors. He sees the light.

As a lighting designer, these are tools and matters with which Jeff Nevins can conjure up spectacles and settings, make a subject stand out or disappear, set a mood or establish an environment.

An actor, musician and lighting designer, Nevins is both in the spotlight and behind it.

"It's a perfect outlet for me - right brain/left brain," says Nevins, 33, a lighting designer for 12 years.

Over the Moon Productions' Kevin Purcell says, "Jeff is a gifted theater artist who understands great lighting design in the theater is a combination of technical expertise and artistic sensibility, synthesized in a way that aligns with the director's vision of what the play can be."

During high school, where he was active in theater, Nevins got his first spark for lighting when he auditioned for a Ken Bradbury production in Jacksonville. He didn't earn a part but did gain an opportunity when Bradbury told him he needed help with the light board.

"I fell in love with it. It was cool, fun."

Nevins went on to study lighting design at the University of Kansas but says he gained most of his expertise through "osmosis" and trial and error. Lighting design is not limited to the theater.

The role of a lighting designer within theater is to work with the director, set designer and others to create an overall look for the show.

Outside of the theater, a lighting designer's role can be more diverse, including events from rock concerts to art installations.

Architectural lighting design focuses on the illumination of buildings and spaces with consideration for aesthetics, ergonomics and energy efficiency.

Currently, Nevins is an electronics technician for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where among his duties he handles lighting design for all the facility's productions.

He's Johnny on the Spot, so to speak, lighting for show, an exhibit or a book discussion to be taped for C-SPAN.

"There's a difference between lighting for a live audience and for the camera," Nevins explains.

"I love lighting because it is a somewhat intangible art," Nevins says.

"While a painting can live on a canvas forever, lighting is temporary and ethereal - lasting only for a moment or a night. I also love being able to design lights in such a way that they affect how an audience perceives a performance without the audience realizing that I've been influencing them. Sometimes the greatest lighting is the lighting you don't notice."

For example, Nevins recalls lighting Springfield Theatre Centre's "Jekyll and Hyde."

"Stage lighting can be subconscious, subliminal. I can treat light like another character in the show," he says. "I loved 'Jekyll and Hyde' because I got to go to such a dark place."

Nevins lighted the character differently for each personality.

Nevins' lighting designs have been seen at The Muni, productions at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, Prairie Capital Convention Center, Theatre in the Park, Union Square Park and various area residences.

He owns Springfield's American Customs Lighting, providing design lighting for landscapes, interior spaces, events, parties, weddings and concerts.

"All these designs relate back to theater," Nevins says.

Phil Funkenbusch, local theater sage and the ALPLM's director of theaters, appreciates Nevins' instincts and revels Nevins' lighting treatment of the Union Station tower at the end of "The Civil War" musical (July 2009).

"The response from the audience was just like that 'oooh-ahhhh!' at a Fourth of July fireworks display," Funkenbusch said.

"Lighting is tons of work, but I have so much fun," Nevins says. And it shows. 




- Gobo: A gobo (or GOBO, from "GOes Before Optics") is a physical template attached to a lighting source, used to control the shape of emitted light.

- Gel: A transparent colored material placed in front of a lighting fixture in the path of the beam.

- Cyclorama: (Or "cyc") A large curtain or wall positioned at the back of the stage area to form a background. Varying the lighting equipment, intensity, color and patterns used, achieves varied looks.



Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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