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Herrick Goldman’s Life in Light

Bryan Reesman • Inside TheaterMarch 2020 • March 9, 2020

Indecent at the Cape Cod Repertory Theatre Company, Brewster, MA, staged last fall.

From theatrical childhood aspirations through intense college studies to international journeys, Herrick Goldman has crafted a life in light. He has taught at MIT, worked around the world, and spearheaded his own company. It has been an adventurous and creative life, one that started with the initial goal of simply being onstage, and the paths he has taken beyond theater have enriched his work further and taught him valuable lessons that he has imparted to others.

Herrick Goldman

‡‡         Beginnings

Goldman’s father was an English teacher who loved opera and theater, and who exposed him to a world of art. By the time he was seven years old, the future LD was auditioning for Oliver! By high school, he was engaged in statewide chorus and drama club competitions.

“I ended up doing summer stock at Mount Holyoke College, where a company of 80 people literally built a theater in a tent every summer,” says Goldman. “The interns — me at age 16 — had to work in every department as well as act in a few shows and children’s shows. It quickly became apparent that I was not a great actor, and I had fallen in love with the electrics department that stayed up until 5 a.m. focusing and cueing for each week’s show. Mary Tarantino was our department head and LD. She is an incredible designer and teacher. After that, I was hooked.”

Indecent at the Cape Rep

While studying lighting design at SUNY Purchase, Goldman found many important mentors who helped guide him. He believes that if one is in college and does not find inspiration and life lessons everywhere, then “you just aren’t doing it correctly.”

Billy Mintzer and Brian MacDevitt were his SUNY professors, and Goldman says his design work “is grounded in their conceptual philosophy of design. The board of study at SUNY Purchase instilled a work ethic that was demanding, but serves me well to this day. Patton Campbell and Franco Collavecchia were incredible teachers of art history and design.” He also praises the staff of the Performing Arts Center there. “I was an electrician as work study, and we had hundreds of shows come through the center. Bruce Lehnus and Curtis Kasefang taught me all about electrics and the logistics of theater and running a crew.”

Indecent at the Cape Rep

During his studies at SUNY Purchase, Goldman stumbled into the volunteer ambulance corps that served the school and helped create the campus emergency response team. “Everyone in our jobs should be at least CPR certified, and having an EMT cert is an excellent thing to do,” advises Goldman. “Working on ambulances in my early years taught me a sense of self-reliance and an ability to think quickly and problem-solve under stress. I can’t overstate how valuable this is.”

A resort hotel commercial for the Cosmopolitan of Vegas with Astera tubes

‡‡         MIT

A year after graduating from SUNY Purchase, Goldman spent three years as the resident lighting designer and instructor at the MIT Theater Arts Department. The LD fondly remembers MIT as “a magical place” where he had initially been hired to design a dozen or so shows a year since they did not have an actual design track then. By the end of his first semester of work, students there wanted him to teach a seminar on lighting design, so Dean Alan Brody suggested an intro class during the following semester and an advanced one after that.

“Let me be clear, there are no dumb students at MIT, and if you say something about the physics of lensing or how color and light mix on a surface, you had best be prepared to defend it,” says Goldman. “I had students show me how the lenses and reflectors in lekos were inefficient and how they could fix it, although it would be prohibitively expensive. The best part about teaching at MIT was that I got to teach these engineers that there are no wrong answers in design as long as you can defend your choices and collaborate with a team of other designers and creatives.”

As Goldman recollects, most of the MIT students had been taught to work with their hands covering their papers to avoid prying eyes from copying their answers. “They also get very used to 2+2=4, and the answer 5 is dead wrong,” he remarks. “Suddenly, you ask them to light a moonlit scene, and it’s lit in white, because moonlight is reflected sunlight, of course. When you tell them they can dream more romantically and suddenly they think maybe moonlight can be blue, you literally get to see the creative possibilities dawn on them. That was the best part.”

‡‡         Theater, Film, Music, Events

Since the mid-1990s, Goldman has worked on a variety of productions — theater, film, music, and corporate. His resume is quite varied, such as a touring production of A Chorus Line, Alice In Wonderland with the Pittsburgh Ballet, The Last Starfighter musical in NYC, the Brooklyn Ball with Kanye West at the Brooklyn Museum, Michelle Obama’s Becoming book and speaking tour in 2019, Christie’s Auction House at Rockefeller Center, and The Who’s Tommy 15th anniversary concert on Broadway. In 2006, he founded HG Lighting Design to expand his efforts.

“As we’ve grown from HG Lighting Design into Evoke Collaborative, it has enabled us to better serve our clients with a more diverse team and larger skill sets,” says Goldman. “We also find that our friends in the industry often need backup, and we are happy to work with them and keep their clients happy. There are always challenges to running a business. Scheduling, how much marketing and PR to do, what jobs to turn down when it’s too busy. Then there are insurances and all the professional business stuff. I went to an arts school, and we’re all just learning as we go. Fortunately there are enough wonderful people in this business that you can always reach out for advice on best practices. ESTA is an excellent resource.”

Aerial acrobatics in the AntiGravity tour

Goldman has relished the unusual challenges he has faced in different circumstances. He recalls the AntiGravity aerial acrobatics show of 2007 that started at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and then toured to Brazil, specifically in Rio, Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Recife, and Salvador. “The venues were wildly different and the tech available to us was different in every location,” he says. “Sometimes it was a beautiful concert venue with 200 moving lights, and the next day 60 par cans and three followspots. Calling spots in Portuguese was fun.”

Aerial acrobatics in the AntiGravity tour (2)

Then there was the Rolex Mentor and Protege event at Hamlyn Hall in London’s Royal Opera House in 2009. “This is a gorgeous venue with a glass roof and wrought iron beams that survived the Great Fire of London,” says Goldman. “Rigging was a challenge, to say the least, so the design and approval process was in-depth. We ended up with an elegant solution of moving lights suspended on RSC Light Lock products that worked really well. We also incorporated Rosco LitePads into the scenery, which was 40 feet tall. Creating a black tie dinner for Emirates Air in the Dallas Cowboy Stadium was also an interesting challenge, with a 150-foot-tall cyc.”

Emirates Airlines event in AT&T Stadium in Dallas

‡‡         Lighting Around the World

The veteran LD has also worked on numerous shows outside of the country, and he notes that one sees “oddball things” as people in other places have learned to do things differently. He mentions a crew in Shanghai that walked barefoot on the truss with a crew head who handed out tools to each crew member as they needed them. (That’s certainly an economical approach.)

“In Manila, I was promised a skilled programmer for an old Avolites Sapphire console, and it turned out I was a faster programmer on that console, despite never having used one,” explains Goldman. “The Tagalog translator worked with the ‘programmer’ and myself to help us communicate things as simple as channel and group numbers. Designing in Kenya was amazing, but there is little theater production as we know it, so something as simple as a scrim and cyc combination had to be taught and described in simplest terms so my collaborators could understand what we were trying to achieve. That led to a wonderful Skype call with my producer setting up a sheet and clip lights in her kitchen and her children holding gel and casting shadows as I taught them lighting theory. I can’t wait to go back to Nairobi.”

Beyond theater, music, and corporate events, Goldman has been involved with many film and TV projects including Spider-Man 2, Sisters with Tina Fey, the series finale of Royal Pains, and Emmy-nominated first season of the Wonderama kids show revival in 2016. He worked on a recent commercial for The Cosmopolitan resort hotel of Las Vegas with DP Peter Konczal. These endeavors have allowed him to learn new things and cross pollinate lighting ideas between the two mediums.

“Everything comes back to communication and collaboration,” asserts Goldman. “Many times, although a gaffer may understand your capabilities and the capabilities of new technology, the DP and director may not. So they don’t realize they can ask for complex cue timing or subtle shifts. Usually they move quickly with more of a heavy handed approach. But you can’t just jump into a high level conversation. You need to let them come to you or subtly demonstrate a capability that they didn’t know was possible. Egos are a big thing on set, and you can’t make anyone look ignorant. Help them solve their challenges in a subtle and polite way. As far as relating back to theater, I’ve certainly learned to see things from a DP perspective, helping to focus the audience’s attention and really tell the story being presented on stage. While I’ve always done this, I’ve certainly learned more about a cinematographic sensibility.”

Emirates Airlines event in AT&T Stadium in Dallas

A big part of what has made Goldman successful is his ability to adapt to changing situations and needs, and this has influenced the way that he approaches lighting — although he also certainly has a style that he brings to each production.

“Every show is different, depending on the collaborative team and environment,” explains Goldman. “I always start upstage with the background or cyc and build downstage, adding front light last. I like to explore negative space and shadows. Shadows tell a story too and give depth and highlight to the stage picture. A world without contrast is boring.”

Einstein’s Dreams at the Prospect Theatre last fall.

Einstein’s Dreams is Goldman’s most recent off-Broadway show and features a two-story set that provided him with plenty of creative lighting possibilities. “It combines three of my favorite things: physics, the multiverse, and light,” he remarks. “Shadow and negative space played heavily in the design.”

Another moment from Einstein’s Dreams

Goldman’s work can be seen this season at the Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland and at Idaho Shakes in Boise. Evoke Collaborative is currently designing a Bespoke attraction for the New York Port Authority. His designs can be seen at www.evokecollaborative.com and www.hglightingdesign.com. Goldman also encourages people to support the Behind the Scenes charity aiding entertainment industry professionals in need due to injury or serious illness.

 

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