American lighting designer Jennifer Tipton once said, “I’ve often called the lighting for the stage the ‘music for the eye’, because it has the same way of making an atmosphere, making a landscape, changing fluidity from one place to another without seeming effort.”
By Frankie Kujawa
For Everyman Theatre’s Lighting Supervisor, Juan Juarez, the artistic and technical intricacies of lighting are paramount. The Oceanside, California-native chatted ahead of Everyman’s current production, “The Skin of Our Teeth” which runs through Sunday, January 2nd. Juarez discussed his passion for theatre, technical problem solving and what makes Everyman Theatre such a special place in the heart of Charm City.
Growing up in San Diego County, Juarez joined the drama club at his local high school and started out on stage as an actor. “It’s pretty funny thinking back about it now,” Juarez began. “The passion of theater was really inspiring. It’s an art form that is just so collaborative. It’s really nice to be part of something and see a product from start to finish.”
After high school, Juarez ventured across country and attended Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. “That’s where I needed to make the decision if I wanted to stay with the acting track or if I wanted to do the production track,” Juarez explained. “In high school, even though I wanted to be an actor, I loved being in the control booth. I loved touching the light board, and hitting a button and watch as something on the stage changed. Being able to affect what the audience was going to see was such an amazing feeling, and basically without someone on the lighting board, the actors are in the dark.”
To this day, Juarez still is happy with his decision to focus on production. “I loved the problem-solving aspects of being a lighting technician. It feels high-stakes. It’s never so extreme that, ‘If this light doesn’t work the show doesn’t happen,’ but sometimes it just feels that way. I love that sort of rush.” Juarez added, “I was always pretty much more of a technician than a designer because of the problem-solving aspect. I love being able to take something broken, take it apart, figure out what it’s supposed to do and why it isn’t doing that.”
After graduating college, Juarez found himself working at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia. “I was an electrician at that point, and since there were multiple shows performing concurrently, we were working with lighting designers who were very smart and designed the one plot [blueprint] that was going to work for multiple shows. Observing that flexibility and wealth of knowledge was very inspiring for me and I learned a lot.”
It was at this festival in which Juarez worked with Adam Mendelson of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) who was the master electrician. “He was a great teacher and mentor. He was the one who came back one year to see some shows, and while we were catching up said to me, “There’s a theater in Baltimore that is looking for a master electrician and I think you could do it.” This eventually led Juarez to his current home at Everyman Theatre.
“Never before did I think I would move to Baltimore,” Juarez laughed. “It wasn’t originally on my list of theater cities. But the people at Everyman were really sweet. After a few Skype interviews, as this was before Zoom, they flew me out to visit the space.”
While touring around Everyman, Juarez just loved both the space and the people. “Because it’s so collaborative, it was so nice to meet everyone and talk to them. Communication is very important in this profession. My love of problem-solving needs collaboration because there are many times you have to solve the problem as a team. Here is a place where my voice is heard and my expertise in the matter isn’t taken for granted.”
Juarez also enjoys being part of Everyman Theatre because there is much that sets it apart from other theaters. “I think we at Everyman have a wide scope of theater styles that we cover. We do classics and we do new work. Vinny’s [Everyman Theatre’s Artistic Director, Vincent M. Lancisi] big vision is making Everyman accessible to everyone. Being in the heart of Baltimore, that’s so very important. At the same time, because we have such a wide-scope of theater, we want to have all kinds of these shows.”
The spirit of Everyman Theatre is the familial aspect it brings to it’s employees. “What’s great for me is that we are a medium-sized company and organization. It feels like such a family here.” Juarez continued to explain that all the departments at Everyman work together in order to make the theater the best that it can be.
“The most challenging part of my job,” Juarez began, “is having to be so flexible. I have to be flexible for when the lighting designer can get here, especially if they’re from out of town. I have to be flexible in what works and doesn’t work.”
Juarez continued, “The best part of my job is seeing it all come together. Up until the first technical rehearsal, it’s the anticipation of ‘This is what I’m going to do, and this is what I’m working on. This is what the scene shop is doing, and this is what the actors are doing.’ And then it all comes together and it’s like, ‘This is what it’s all for. This is what all of our work was for.”
The passion for theater that Juarez found at the beginning of his journey still resonates within him today. “Still, from when I was in high school until being on stage now at Everyman – it’s the same feeling. That’s what we want to do. We want to entertain, and we want to tell our stories. And we’re just so happy we can share that with the audiences at Everyman.”