Original article by Andy Brown, Kalamazoo College.
Normally, Potts’ lighting design course, conducted each fall, would use a light lab filled with hundreds of lights and pieces of lighting equipment to guide his students. This term, though, required some quick thinking for their three projects when classes were moved online.
“We couldn’t bring the students to the light lab, so we were going to bring the light lab to the students,” Potts said.
It took four weeks and many assistants to pack all the materials, yet he sent 15 kits containing items including seven lightbulbs, several feet of wiring, dimmers and a professional mannequin head. You can watch a video of Potts and student workers assembling the materials through YouTube. FedEx delivered one kit to Texas and five throughout the Midwest. He personally delivered the other nine to students living locally.
“Lighting design is very unique,” Potts said. “It’s an ephemeral art form. It’s there and when the light changes, it’s gone. That’s a challenging thing to learn in isolation.” However, it’s beneficial for students to study lighting regardless of their major and where they’re doing it from, especially in the liberal arts.
“Lighting is always about problem solving,” Potts said. “I can’t think of a better thing to engage in than doing live event production or lighting design. I always end up doing something I’ve never tried before. Sometimes you ask, ‘What are the tools you have in your tool box?’ You then try some things and see what works.”
In the first project, students find an image of a painting and reproduce it at the size of a postcard. The second project involves taking 30 to 60 seconds of music without lyrics and making a video that includes light cues to that music. Finally, students use their lights to help them re-create a scene from a play through a lighting plot, similar to an architectural blueprint. In all these projects, the intensity, color, angle and distribution of light are important.
“It’s been fun,” Potts said. “I do know that by receiving these lighting kits, the students will be able to do everything we do here. They won’t have access to the hundreds of lights we have, but they will all be able to show all the things a light does.”
Potts, a professional lighting designer and consultant, has worked in international lighting and production design; national tour designs for opera and dance; and regional designs for opera, modern dance, ballet, drama and corporate events. He also earned his third Best in Lighting Design Wilde Award from EncoreMichigan.com in 2019 for his work in a 2018 Farmers Alley Theatre production of Bridges of Madison County in Kalamazoo.
“I absolutely love light,” he said. “How lucky am I to do something I love to do? Most of my students aren’t going to be professional lighting designers. But I feel when you learn a lot about light, it teaches you to be a keen, critical observer. And being a great observer of things around you, that’s a great life skill.”