A CRITIC REMINISCES
Paul Black is a sculptor. Light just happens to be his medium. From electricity, stage lamps and colored gels, he creates worlds. He creates fantasy.
He creates life.
When I was a boy, making my first forays into theater, lighting design largely involved flicking a switch and hoping the lights went on. Today, it is a world almost as complicated as building a nuclear reactor.
Computers, light boards, stage lamps that electronically follow the action, breathtaking visual effects using a kaleidoscope of colors only God could imagine – there is nothing a modern lighting designer cannot achieve.
Paul defines that description. It was he, more than anyone else, who brought Valley theater into the 21st century in terms of lighting design. I’m not talking about the touring companies, or the companies that imported Broadway lighting designers, I’m talking about the mom and pop theaters who started here, played here and, today, form the core of our theatrical experience.
He took light and reinvented it as a malleable form. In his hands it became molten plastic that curled its way around the actors, pooled at their feet, built towers of luminescence that lured them into the spotlight. Shadows became a life form. Color became a palatable emotion. It was artistry.
It remains artistry. Though he now works at many theaters across the country, Paul still finds time for Phoenix. In 2014, he lit Good People for Actors Theatre. Good People is no Les Miserables. There are no moments for splashy effects. It is a play where the smallest of gestures is loaded with nuance. Paul illuminated them carefully, letting nothing slip by the audience. Yet his lights did not call attention to themselves. Only one who appreciated subtlety would have noticed.
That is not to say that when the requirements of the play and the mood visualized by the director allow, he can’t take the breath away. Actors Theatre was doing one of Shakespeare’s Henry plays. Director Matthew Wiener elected not to create the massive sets normally seen. He chose to use Paul.
At the opening of the play, members of the clergy skulked their way around the stage, scheming, criticizing, rationalizing, boding no good for the future. Paul created columns of light and dark. The actors moved among them, now illuminated, now in deepest shadow. Overreaching all were mysterious beams and arches, recesses and soaring ceilings, none of it real, all of it magic.
Later, soldiers gathered around a campfire. Around them a vast, unfriendly night loomed, only the fire offered refuge. It crackled, spit, flared, without actual flame but hot to the eye, somehow managing to bring the faces of the actors into acute focus. It was a miraculous bit of stagecraft.
That’s Paul in a nutshell. Whether dazzling the senses or gently lighting the crevices of skin and canvas, his lighting serves the play. He brings the audience in so that the words, direction and performances can enchant, appall or do whatever the script requires.
Stand in front of one the great sculpture groupings for a time. Study it. Notice how it is not just hammer and chisel that give it life, but also the way light plays in the bends and folds of the marble.
That is Paul Black and his designs. He puts the belief into the make-believe. — Kyle Lawson
PAUL IN HIS OWN WORDS
“I have been making my living as a professional lighting designer for more than 20 years. Using light to help tell a story and move an audience has always been a labor of love. I find great joy in the collaborative process that is theater.
“I have worked with wonderful professionals all over the country including The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Theater Aspen, Music Theatre of Santa Barbara, American Stage and Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Florida, Carousel Dinner Theater in Ohio and the Maine State Music Theatre. Some of my most memorable shows have been at the Fulton Opera in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, including Miss Saigon, West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, The 39 Steps, and Oklahoma.
“I am a full-time resident of Phoenix AZ where I have been the resident Lighting Designer for Actors Theater of Phoenix for almost 20 years. Actors Theater is the company I call home and where I have done the most work.
I spent 14 summer seasons with Music Theatre of Wichita working as both a designer and the Production Manager. I am the co-founder of P2 Design, a corporate event design/production company. I have guest lectured at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Cornell College, Scottsdale Community College and Viterbo University.
“Also in Arizona I have designed for Arizona Theatre Company, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Broadway Theatre, Childsplay and the Phoenix Opera Co. Recently I have been doing more set designs for Arizona Broadway Theatre. I have always done some sets but usually more in the corporate arena. I am enjoying expanding into this theatrical realm.”
AND THE WINNER IS …
Paul has won 18 ariZoni Awards for lighting, one for set design and has been nominated for two Barrymore Awards and one Carbonell Award.
A PORTFOLIO OF MAGIC
Instead of trying to recap Paul’s extensive career, I am going to show you photographs. I am apologizing in advance to the photographers, I don’t have their names – but their photographs are as mesmerizing as Paul’s lighting designs.
“Angels in America.” “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.” Actors Theatre.
“Baltimore Waltz.” Actors Theatre.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Actors Theatre.
“The Merchant of Venice.” Southwest Shakespeare Company.
“The Tempest.” Southwest Shakespeare Company.
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” Actors Theatre.
“Spinning Into Butter.” Actors Theatre.
“Hedda Gabler.” Actors Theatre.
“The Pillowman.” Actors Theatre.
“Les Miserables.” Fulton Theatre.
“The King and I.” Walnut Street Theatre.
“In The Heights.” Walnut Street Theatre.
“Dracula.” Fulton Theatre.
“Peter Pan.” Walnut Street Theatre.
”Our Town.” Palm Beach DramaWorks.
PAUL’S WORK FOR PHOENIX OPERA
Paul working at Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, Pa.