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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Drama

Kentuckians in Theater

Lighting Designer Lane Sparber
New York, NY

Who Lane Sparber was born and raised in Louisville, KY. One of his first experiences working on lights was high above Central Park in Louisville at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor Douglas Ramey Amphitheater. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater at Bradley University in Peoria, IL and a Master of Fine Arts degree in lighting design at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Lane has worked as a lighting designer on many community, university, and professional theatrical productions, including Selena Forever, the musical based on the late Tejano singer. He also has designed lighting for Sotheby’s Auction House, working with the New York firm Technical Artistry, and, with Rick Belzer, for a major exhibit of artifacts recovered from the shipwrecked Titanic that toured museums around the country. Currently, Lane works with the Lighting Design Group and serves as lighting designer for CNN Television in New York, where he is responsible for lighting such shows as Newsnight with Aaron Brown and Lou Dobbs’ Moneyline.

What “At CNN, with Steve Brill, I am the person directly responsible for the visual lighting look of every show that comes out of our building. Aaron Brown’s show has a new set which we just designed the lighting for. Where TV and theater differ with regard to lighting is in the focus. In TV, I do news, talk shows, and the like, not drama. In TV, you make the talent [the person on camera] look good. For example, in TV news there can be no shadows. Theater is more creative. You look at how the show moves, how the action changes, the time of day in the play.”

When/Where “Right now I’m doing news, so I work mainly evenings from 3:00 to 11:00. I can also get called in at the last minute. I usually work Monday to Friday, but right now I’m working six days a week. In theater, first you meet with the director and the set designer. You do a light plot and other paperwork at home. Then you meet with the director and run down the show. You create a paper rundown and mark it up with light cues. Then you come into the theater, usually with a crew, to hang and focus lights. In TV, a crew generally does that. Then, in theater, you’re sitting at a tech board out in the house during rehearsals, watching the lighting and checking cues. You’re generally not there after opening night. A week or two into the show, the design staff is gone—on to designing other shows.”


How “My personal growth as a lighting designer has been the opposite of most people. The conceptual was the easier part for me; turning the ideas into reality was more difficult. You have to know how to be a diplomat—how to push for what you want without being overly pushy. You have to know how to talk to a client—the director, the producer—to know what to say and when. Talent will only get you so far. But you have to make the client feel at ease, show them you have the skills to do what they want. All the technology in the world and all the gadgetry you can come up with can’t make up for a bad idea. You have to master the technology. It can’t master you.”

Why “My dad’s brother is a Broadway actor, so I got interested in theater. I acted for a while and eventually drifted out of that. I’ve always been addicted to heights, so I thought it would be fun to play with those lights up there. In theater, I love being able to create worlds with light, to move audiences to laughter or tears with lighting or lighting effects. In TV, I like the feeling that I’m doing something important. I bring the news to people.”

Getting There “Since I was 9 years old, I’ve known what I wanted to do. You’ve got to get out and try to do it and observe it. Shadow people who do what you’re interested in. A lot of times you can’t learn this stuff in a classroom—you’ve got to volunteer. I gave away so much of my time just to learn things. When you choose a career in this field, you’re making the decision to be happy over being rich. But if your satisfaction in life comes from knowing that you’ve moved people, it’s a good decision. I’m very, very lucky.”

About the photo: Sparber is seen at the lighting board and on the set of CNN’s Lou Dobbs’ Moneyline.

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