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A Conversation with Lighting Designer Joey Sadler of Light + Dark

Toronto-based lighting designer and Light + Dark founder Joey Sadler has conceived and crafted stage lighting designs for some of Canada’s most notable artists and bands, including Serena Ryder, The Sheepdogs, Wintersleep, Shad, Jill Barber, and most recently, Alessia Cara. Highlights from his career thus far include co-designing the lighting for Shawn Mendes’ Live at The Greek Theatre performance, Alessia Cara’s performances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as well as events like the Royal Horse Show and House of Vans in Toronto.

I had the opportunity to chat with Joey in Singapore amidst his current tour with Alessia Cara and talk about his experiences as an in-demand lighting designer.

CM: How did you get into the lighting industry?

JS: I was always interested in lighting since I was a kid. When I was 10, I went to a jazz festival in Moncton, where I grew up. That is the first time I saw a lighting console. I remember feeling amazed while staring at it. In high school, I took a theatre arts class which changed the direction of my life. I wanted to deal with light rather than be on stage. I then went on to study Theatre Production at Ryerson University and had the opportunity to take courses on lighting. These were my roots before really getting into the industry.

CM: Describe your preparation process when designing for a concert.

JS: I begin by listening to the artist’s music. I want to immerse myself in their music and become intimately familiar with their songs. I start with the philosophy that lighting is the next instrument beyond those played by the musicians. Lighting is an art form that plays a creative role in developing the feel and passion of the music being performed. People react emotionally to lighting and it adds to the production value of a show. I keep all of these at the forefront when designing for a show.

The process itself may differ from artist to artist. Some give me free reign to design the lighting for each song, transition, and the overall show; other artists have specific ideas about what they want for a song and we collaborate throughout the process. I have to know if there are any cues in the transitions and mid-song. Having a basic understanding of the association between sound and colour is essential. For example, warm songs are typically amber, yellow, red and combinations of these colours. For a cold song; blue, lavender, teal, and combinations. In all cases, I have to always be true to what the artist wants for their show.

CM: Who are your greatest influences?

JS: A lighting designer by the name of Sooner Routhier for The Weeknd among many others. Also, Es Devlin, in terms of stage design and automation innovations. I have also been influenced by the lighting designs on shows by Arcade Fire, Pink Floyd, Phish, and Radiohead.

CM: Tell us about the lighting and production design firm Light + Dark that you founded.

JS: Light + Dark is a collective that officially formed in May 2018, although we’ve been working together unofficially for years. My role is to serve as Creative Director. We specialize in lighting and production design. We design backdrops, set pieces, video walls, risers, stage layouts, and lighting.

CM: Beyond concerts, you have also designed lights for a variety of TV shows and auto Shows. How do you approach these different events and venues?

JS: Every event requires a lighting designer to draw upon a unique skill set. TV shows require a different approach than concerts because you are not dealing with the flow from one song to another on a set list. Even within TV shows, it may differ depending on whether it is a game show, sitcom, or reality show, so understanding the type of lighting required based on the context is crucial. I have also provided the lighting for auto shows in convention halls, and the room itself plays a role in how you design the lighting. I feel there is more creativity when designing for concerts as compared with auto shows, trade shows, and TV.

One more thing - even the type of bulb used can be determined by the nature of the music or type of event. I used tungsten bulbs, which is a non-LED type of incandescent bulb, when I toured with Hey Rosetta!, though I tend to use LEDs if I am working on an electronic music show.

CM: How have technological innovations impacted your practice in recent years?

JS: There are so many innovations with LED fixtures always happening and you have to keep up with these changes. Knowing how to design impactful LED video walls is now standard. Automation has evolved. Having a set piece over the band and moving parts to articulate different shapes is where we are at. Es Devlin’s stage design on Beyonce’s show is cutting edge and shows what is possible.

CM: What do you enjoy most about serving the role of lighting designer?

JS: As a lighting designer, you are creating an atmosphere; creating a moment for the audience. Sometimes the lights add to the crescendo in a song. When I was working with Hey Rosetta!, the lighting created applause in the first big cue of their show. It felt amazing to contribute to the music visually.

CM: What advice do you have for those who want to develop a career as a lighting designer?

JS: You don’t earn the title of lighting designer walking out of school. Go out, find a small band, and tour with them for a year. Get as much experience as you can. Be prepared for long work days. You often work eight hours or more all for the one- to one-and-a-half-hour show. There is load in, set up, and sound check, so you have to understand the huge amount of work that goes into a single show. Go and see shows. Network and expose yourself for more opportunities. Find a mentor. Find someone to look up to and who inspires you.

Follow Light + Dark on Instagram, @light.and.dark.creative and visit www.lightanddark.ca.

Jeff Gunn is the author of the Hidden Sounds: Discover Your Own Method on Guitar, guitarist/musical director for Emmanuel Jal, and the composer of his upcoming solo effort Sonic Tales, expected in 2019. Follow @jeffgunn1 on Instagram and Twitter.

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Jeff Gunn is a Juno Award-nominated guitarist, songwriter, and producer whose debut album is 2017's All the Roads We Take. He is a regular guitar tips contributor for Canadian Musician Magazine