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The Illuminating Mike Kittel

Mike Kittel

As Park Square Theatre’s Resident Lighting Designer, Mike Kittel doesn’t design the lighting for just a single, but for all, Park Square productions. That’s a lot of pressure on one person, but it’s also part of the excitement of his profession, which he loves.

Kittel was clearly harried upon his arrival for our meeting, busy preparing for technical rehearsals of The Liar on the Proscenium Stage and attending regular rehearsals of The Realistic Joneses, currently on the Boss Thrust Stage until October 16. When he finally sat down, Kittel reminded me of a light on a dimmer switch. His mind still seemingly miles away and not yet warmed up to our conversation, his eyes shone just a bit brighter, with the intensity gradually building as he talked more and more about the lighting design for The Realistic Joneses and his own theatre background.

Kittel is usually involved in production meetings with the director and the other designers for a show two to three months before it starts, although his contemplation on the lighting design likely began well beyond those few months as ideas would crop up once he’d read the script. These meetings are key towards understanding what actual plan to create to light the actors and space effectively, helping to support the emotions, images and even interpretation of the production. Lighting is finally plotted out about 1-1/2 weeks before the technical rehearsal, and refinements in light placement, cues, colors, intensity and anything else are made during that rehearsal.

A challenge with The Realistic Joneses is that the action takes place in just a 20-by-20 feet space with a low ceiling. Within that limited space, Kittel had to design lighting to convey both indoor and outdoor settings, such as a starry night in a backyard, the interior of a supermarket and nighttime in front of a garage with a motion detector going on and off. Kittel came up with a creative “drop lighting” solution for some of the desired effects.  I shall reveal no more so as not to spoil your viewing experience.

According to Kittel, the easiest lighting for him to execute for The Realistic Joneses was the simulation of motion detectors.  The most difficult lighting involved creating super-realistic exterior effects, such as sunshine.

Although The Realistic Joneses takes place in realistic settings, that did not require Kittel to consistently implement full realism in his lighting plan, particularly during transitions. He made good use of color, light angles, patterns or shafts of light to enhance the audience experience.

“Lighting is very musical to me–the way it moves around space and surrounds you,” Kittel said.  “It’s powerful; it can enhance or destroy. Good lighting usually should go unnoticed. Bad lighting can ruin everyone’s work.”

Kittel was not originally a lighting designer.  In high school and college, he was an actor. He accidentally fell into his current profession after taking a lighting class in college.

“The next year, that professor made me light A Christmas Carol because all the other students had graduated,” Kittel recalled. “A Christmas Carol is fantastical, magical; so it terrified me.  I had never done it before.”

With his professor’s help, Kittel did it and, in the process, fell in love with lighting. He now designs 20 to 26 shows per year. He enjoys how it all happens so fast and how “every show is like a math problem with an unlimited amount of correct answers.”

Before Kittel rushed back to his work, I made him step into the light to take his picture.  Still disheveled but now sporting a bright smile, he obliged before disappearing in the speed of light.

Ting Ting Cheng

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