Six questions with Xavier Pierce
Lighting designer and owner of Xavier Pierce Design in New York.
1. How did you get into this field?
I was a dancer for about eight years, since I was 7 years old with Florene Litthcut Nichols Inner City Children’s Touring Dance Company in Miami. She had a son who was 10 years older than I was, who started apprenticing with the Miami IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 477, while he was practicing dancing. He took me around on local lighting jobs to hang and focus lights. That was my first encounter, so to speak. During my first year of high school I had a really hard time adjusting and one of the teachers threatened to kick me out of an artistic program. A senior student who did lighting and technical theatre was leaving and nobody knew how to run the console or the lighting. So I told myself, if I learned the console and learned how to set up lighting, it would be hard for her to kick me out. I remember doing my first design; it was in a black box theatre. The florescent lights went out and I slowly brought up the R26 backlight – the look, the moment, the feeling was perfect. It was so intense that the hairs stood up on my skin. Here I was communicating an emotion only with my heart and a push of a handle. From that point on I never looked back.
2. What do you think is the next big thing in the lighting industry?
On the tech side, I think bigger, brighter LEDs across a wider range of standard fixtures. I can see an LED ellipsoidal. On the design side, I think there is going to be a wave of talented lighting designers (some are out there already) who are also experienced in video design, and who can put out a great product in the time it would take one lighting designer and one video designer to do it.
3. What is your favorite fixture?
If you asked me six months ago, I would have said the VL3000 Spot from Vari-Lite. It’s bright, it’s durable and moves very well. My favorite now is the VL2500 Spot. It has a great punch, size and cost. I had to change 18 VL3000 Spot lights to VL2500 fixtures and I was really concerned, because the show had been on tour for two years. But I had little reprogramming to do and in the end I was amazed.
4. What has been your favorite design/project?
I have two favorite projects. The first one is Drumline LIVE!, an international and national tour celebrating the rich history and style of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Marching Band (HBCU). I obtained my undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University, part of HBCU. This show just brings back so many colorful memories of good music and outlandish theatricality. Putting 40 marching band members from across the country on one stage is thrilling and electrifying. The second project is the grand opening of the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. The creative team came up with a show that reflected the cultural diversity of South Miami-Dade. We used the theme of Hurricane Andrew that ravaged South-Miami Dade as an emotional backdrop to the show. The team was on the phone for hours, for two and a half months cultivating what the show was going to look and feel like. We were always searching for the truth of human suffering, asking ourselves, “How can someone rebuild from nothing?” It was terribly emotional. I was a teenager living in Miami when Hurricane Andrew hit. It was an amazing experience working with talented artists and I was incredibly blessed to be a part of it.
5. What was the biggest unforeseen obstacle that you’ve faced in one of your designs, and how did you overcome it?
While I was working on the grand opening of the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, we had challenges coming up with the design concept. You could not tell where video started and where lighting ended. It was difficult trying to create a seamless fluid visual picture, with two minds. The solution was to work together with the video designer and to discuss during tech. The video designer put up an image and I layered in the lighting, making sure he agrees. We wanted to integrate both elements to see the difference between the lighting and the video. Video adds so much more to the composition, it’s like Chef Emeril Lagasse‘s famous tag line, “Let’s kick it up a notch.”
6. Complete this thought: A show without light is like…the world without the Sun: dead, desolate, cold, unbearable; without growth and understanding.