Finding the Gift #3: Light as a Toy

It does not take long for someone like me to second-guess a blog series. About two posts, apparently. This, my third post in an auto-biographical series exploring my personal and professional journey in light, comes with the same doubt as each of the previous. Why would anyone want to read about my life? But perhaps that is not the point – I am not writing this because I think others will find it interesting or entertaining. I am writing this series because it helps me understand myself. And then, perhaps, I can better help someone else with light.

I spent a good deal of time playing with light before I ever considered it to be a calling or profession. Looking back, I have come to think of light as one of my favorite toys of my teens and early twenties. Toys, by definition, are tools for having fun.

And growing up, I had a lot of fun with light.

As the fourth of five children, I had three older siblings to look up to and to learn from. That meant that I was often into things a little different than my peers. While my friends were listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna, I was borrowing Love & Rockets and the Talking Heads from my siblings. While friends were wearing scrunchies and parachute pants, I was pining for Doc Martens and anything black.

So I can blame- or thank- my older siblings for getting me involved in theater at a very young age. All five us did our time onstage in costumes my mother sewed, but my older brother delved into the technical side of theater and I followed along shortly thereafter. 

I peaked as an “actor” (and I use quotation marks very deliberately) in middle school, which left my high school years open to wearing black and hanging out with the tech crew. I became a lighting geek, setting up stage lights, running miles of extension cords, and sitting in the back with a cool-looking big electronic light board at my service. For hours, days, and weeks at a time, I played with light.

When summer rolled around, I sang and danced as a member of the chorus in the community theater, then stayed after rehearsal to help with lights. Eventually I would skip the performance angle and just do tech. I was falling in love with the control of light, with the power over an event that lighting gave. I could start or stop a scene with the flick of switch. I could make people believe it was summertime or winter, noon or midnight. I was, in effect, learning how light and human emotions are tightly linked, and learning how to manipulate that link.

Nowhere is the emotional power of light more raw than while dancing. Even in middle school, I spent as much time on the gymnasium’s stage punching buttons as I did on the gym floor dancing. I could make people jump just a little bit higher with the tap of my finger. What power, for someone with so little real agency!

I carried both hobbies into my college years, playing with light as toy as a DJ for college frat parties while renting lights to stage shows in between. I was a bit of an entrepreneur even then, starting my own sound/light/DJ business with my friends, hustling an insane amount of gear around town at 2:00am in my parents’ minivan. I got good at setting up and tearing down quickly. I learned a little about business by making mistakes, spending too much on new lighting toys. 

So while I played with light as a toy for a decade of pseudo-adolescence, I was inadvertently learning how to shape space with light, how to amplify emotions. I was learning the nuts and bolts of lighting control and systems and experimenting with business ownership. I was developing skills while I was playing- and that is what some researchers think play is all about.

I still have some of those same toys, twenty-five years later, but they don’t get much use anymore. Somewhere along the way, I started using light as a tool.

Read more of my Finding the Gift posts HERE.

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