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The Lighting Trainer Takes Leave

Nook Schoenfeld • Editor's NoteMay 2020 • May 6, 2020

As I sat down to write this month’s Editor’s Note, I got a sudden email that drove every thought from my brain instantly. My old friend the Lighting Trainer had made his exit for the big gig in the sky. Steve Irwin and I have been friends for over 25 years. We had shared gigs, classrooms and quality time together ever since we were young programmers.

Steve passed away on April 26, leaving behind his beloved fiancée, son, grandson and a legion of stunned followers. Facebook was flooded with condolences. Why, you may ask? Because he taught the world about lighting. (For more about Steve’s passing, go to

I met Steve online through The Light Network in the mid-1990s. It was the place we all went to meet friends, learn tricks and better ourselves as lighting brethren. I used to build Vectorworks symbols for him. In return, he “lent” me symbols he and his brother had from WYSIWYG. A few years later, I relocated to Atlanta, and he went on to teach me ESP Vision. We became friends and he would come to my shows, sometimes towing his son along.

Steve Irwin

‡‡         Music, Lighting and Teaching

Steve was one of three brothers, all of who ended up as lighting designers. His older brother, Michael, had him out tech’ing shows while he was still in high school. (Steve was the last of the brothers to pass). He grew his client base and was kept busy with his craft. He loved to talk about his past work. Just last week, he was still telling me stories of his years lighting Art Garfunkel and his love for music of all kinds.

But what made Steve special was his penchant for teaching. He was giving back to the community before he had even made his bones as a designer. He lived to answer questions. I remember times when some newbie would ask a programming question online and a few brash programmers would chirp in with snide comments. There was no such thing as a stupid question for Steve. He would call me on the phone. “You want to field this one, or should I take it?” There’s no pride in withholding knowledge from your brethren. One must remember that, in the 90’s, the Google machine was not quick to point out answers. You could ask Steve a question online, and if he did not know the answer, he would start calling around until he found someone that could answer it. Then he’d be back online to announce/debate what he had learned.

Despite the fact that Steve was constantly programming shows, he had this idea to teach console programming, back when the Hog 2 ruled the world. He would gather eight consoles, eight PCs loaded with WYSIWYG, and drive to a city to train programmers. Friends were enlisted to help teach full classes with hands-on experience. He recently bought an old Hog to run some cheap lights in his living room. He found it relaxed him to just write cues.

‡‡         An Empire of Know-How

Steve Irwin built an empire. He personally taught console operation to over a thousand people during his career. His website has amassed some 20,000 links in it from every moving light manual to console operation video. His quest for searching out learning links and passing that knowledge on to others was insatiable. He had 150,000 followers in 22 various Facebook groups. His “Everything Stage Lighting” group has 61,000 members. Steve swore to me he had personally vetted 90 percent of them personally, and they were indeed in the events business.

Although his physical health had taken him away from the gigs he loved so much, he didn’t quit. He sorted through some pain issues and resumed his teaching from home. His family was that legion of followers he had collected and revered.

Steve was a friend to all. He always took your call, even if you were an orphan calling from a Guatemalan church about some ellipsoidals. He made time. The fact that he found his true love at a later stage in life was something he never tired of mentioning to me, every call.

Lord knows he could talk your ear off if you let him, but I will miss those calls now. Our biz was better off because of this gentleman. His legacy will live on.

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