Benjamin Doehr ’15 spent his summer lighting up Frank N. Furter, Magenta, Brad, and Janet.

Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Justin Thomas is a professional lighting and scenic designer. This summer, he was contracted by the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. to design the lighting for their production of The Rocky Horror Show, and invited Doehr to participate through a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP).

An economics and chemistry double major with a concentration in policy studies, Doehr may seem an odd choice for a theatre design project.  He’s not.  Doehr has been working in technical theatre since he was in the ninth grade.

Thomas says, “Ben came to Grinnell with a lot of lighting experience, and this project gave Ben the opportunity to experience the production process at one of the country’s strongest regional theatres. Ben has been involved in every bit of the process from script analysis, visual and contextual research, conceptual framework, turning the conceptual ideas into architectural implementation drawings, hanging and focusing the lighting instruments, and programming the light board. He also wrote about 20% of the light looks.”

Doehr says, “There’s that classic trope, ‘An actor without tech is naked in the dark and no one can hear him on stage.’ Part of our job is to help make their world.”

“My favorite part is the 110 hours plus we worked during tech week,” says Doehr. “It’s when we put the actors together with all the design elements to see what works and what doesn’t. It gives you the chance to say, ‘how do we make this look good? How do we sculpt it? How do we shape it? How do we make this more evocative — or more provocative, as the show is Rocky Horror.”

The Rocky Horror Show had some interesting challenges, says Doehr. The minimal set, inspired by works by Christo, relied heavily on lighting for mood.  It was two stories high, wrapped in white plastic, and contained a large second story platform.   Doehr and Thomas spent a great deal of time planning and then reinventing how to get light underneath the platform while also toning the walls so they could reflect the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter’s laboratory without pulling focus away from the action on stage.

Doehr plans to present to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) at their conference in March.

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