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Lights Fantastic: Faculty Member Designs Winter Display

Posted: December 21, 2010
Lighting design created by Shannon Schweitzer, assistant professor of theater, is featured in “Olmsted Nights Winter Lights," a walk-through holiday display at Delaware Park running Wednesdays through Sundays (except holidays) through January 16!

When he was an undergraduate, Schweitzer took an introduction to theater course to satisfy an arts requirement. “A friend asked me to help him hang lights for a play,” Schweitzer said. As he worked on that production, Schweitzer found his life’s passion. You can see that passion for yourself in Delaware Park over the holidays.

Mutual friends connected Schweitzer with the Olmsted Parks board. “About the only direction they gave me,” Schweitzer said, “was not to include candy canes and reindeer.”

Schweitzer approached the lighting design for the park as if it were a dance performance or a musical. “I wanted to think about the snow,” he said, “and how I could use bold, vivid colors in different and dramatic angles of light.”

He studied lighting in college and graduate school, but his real training came in New York City where he worked with some of the best lighting designers in the world. “I learned from people like Donald Holder, who won a Tony Award for his lighting design in the Lion King,” said Schweitzer. “The most famous designer I worked with was Jennifer Tipton. She’s even had gel colors named for her.” In 2008, Tipton was named a MacArthur Fellow (the “genius award”) in recognition of her work.

Schweitzer, who considers the stage his canvas and lights his brushes, started the Olmsted Parks project by taking hundreds of photographs. After he loaded them on his computer, he created a 3-D model of the space he was to light. “Then I did lighting inside that model to see what worked and what didn’t,” he said.

The result is an experience that feels like walking through a rainbow. “I used about 500 strands of holiday lights, the kind you’d use at home,” said Schweitzer. Those strands accentuate effects he created with 100 super-powered LED floodlights, each of which has about 500 small LED lights.

Along the walk from Jewett Parkway to Parkside Lodge in Delaware Park, visitors step through puddles of bright, changing color. The open space in front of the lodge is also illuminated. “I’ve done about 80 different theater designs,” he said, “so this was something completely different for me.”
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