Improvising Light

Posted on May 3, 2021

Anticipation accounts for 90-perecent of his job as a lighting designer, says Peter L Spadaro III. Good thing too, considering this Nyack, NY based LD’s improvisational approach to design.

Working for a diverse range of clients like Stick Figure and Matisyahu, Spadaro busks virtually every show, but that’s just the tip of his creative iceberg. Not content simply to adjust cues to flow with his client’s music, he will also do things like tweak fixture positions before the start of a show to better harmonize his rig with prevailing weather conditions, the mood of the crowd, or a subtle feature of the venue itself.

Of course, being spontaneous is not the same as being unplanned. Immersed as he is in the work of his clients, Spadaro arrives at each show with a deep understanding of the essence of the music that will be performed on a given night. His impromptu changes are made to ensure that his lighting not only fits the music, but also the moment, resulting in a more immersive experience for audiences.

You improvise your lightshows correct?
“Yes, I improvise my entire show. I like to “play” the lights. I usually have set looks for each song night to night, but there are a ton of variables within a show; different house lights, song selection in a set, crowd energy, the mood of the weather it its outdoors — these all come into play. Sometimes I need to make a change from my original plan based on some of these factors.

What is the advantage of changing up your lighting plan like that at the last moment?
“The advantage is that I can feel and manipulate the entire mood of the show depending on what’s going on, not only on stage but in the audience, at front of house, and in the surrounding environment.”

When you do make such a change how do you keep it from distorting the design you had already planned?
“Whatever artist I am lighting is trusting me to make the right moves. I always remain true to the artist’s vision with my lighting. This is on my mind at all times. But I also keep my overall style and vision in mind as well.’

You’ve also adjusted an intended design to accommodate a stage that was configured a little differently than you had planned. How do you do that successfully?
“I always am up for a challenge. In my opinion one of the biggest challenges in what we do as touring LDs involves having to adjust to a different venue every single day. Each venue is different. This creates a different set of challenges every day. I always keep my vision in mind and keep a level head. There is always a solution.”

What is the biggest danger when you improvise?
“The biggest danger comes not during the composed part of the song but when the band starts to jam and it goes through numerous changes, transitions, build ups and peaks. Anticipation is 90% of my job, so anything can go wrong if I don’t anticipate a peak or hit, because then it won’t look right.”

“Mood manipulation. Every show is different. Energy is a huge part of each show. If the crowd is low energy then that affects the band. I try my best to use my lighting to bring a low energy crowd to life. Plus, I absolutely love what I do.”