BWW Interview: Unmasking Shane Carrigan as Darius in Off-Broadway's iLUMINATE
iLuminate, the widely popular show based on the unique fusion of technology and dance, continues a limited engagement at New World Stages through January 8th. The show features dancers in glow-in-the-dark suits performing dynamic dance routines and mind-bending illusions on a darkened stage.
Dancer and actor Shane Carrigan returns to play Darius, the menacing antagonist of the show. Carrigan made his Off-Broadway debut with iLuminate in 2014. Since that time he's performed in the international version of the show and the recent summer production at Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York City.
I had the opportunity to speak with Shane after seeing a performance. Hear what he has to say about the show, from bonding with the cast, creating a character through movement alone, and dancing in the dark.
Congratulations on your continued success with iLuminate. I loved the show.
Thank you so much. It's a thrilling show to do. It really never gets old, as there's always something new and refreshing to add to the character. Our creator, Miral Kotb, gives us a little bit of license to adapt it in a way to make it our own. The technology and magic of the show makes the possibilities kind of limitless. So we're constantly inspired to keep evolving and making things fresh.
It must be difficult to show the emotions of your character through the glow-in-the-dark costumes.
That's the biggest challenge. Most dance performances are experienced when you can watch the subtleties and nuances of a dancer's body. You can also see emotions in the face. In our story telling there is nothing spoken, and you don't get to see the body or facial expressions. It's just an unchanging face in the light suit. We have to tell the story in a different way. You can't just open your mouth to look shocked, you sort of have to jump back and raise your hands. If you want to show sadness it has to happen dramatically through the movement. But you also don't want to pantomime or overdo it as it may come off looking corny. It's a very nuanced balance of learning how to communicate with just the body.
What's it like to be a part of this ensemble piece?
Our show requires a great amount of trust. It helps that we are really close friends. I don't think I've ever had a closer family than this cast. We work together, we hang out together, and we travel together. It's a very strong bond. I think what helps that bond is that all of the dancers have different styles. There's ballet, hip-hop, contemporary, popping and locking, and some pretty fierce jazz dancers in our company.
I imagine it's fun to play the evil guy. I mean, doesn't everyone love the villain?
Yes. It's intense and very fun. It's kind of a dichotomy actually. Personally I'm a gentle and good-natured guy. I was never a bad boy. So jumping into this evil character and being able to immerse myself in the role is amazing.
You sure fooled me. That was quite an intense and menacing performance.
Well, I jump right in. I'm pretty much a method actor and playing this role has helped broaden my acting range. I've done almost one thousand shows as Darius and I'm still learning more about this evil character. Everyone else in the show gets to play these fun-loving characters but I have to stay focused on being the bad guy.
When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?
I started dancing when I was eight. I saw The Backstreet Boys on television and told my mom I wanted to dance like that. There were no hip-hop classes where I lived so my mom approached the owner of a local dance studio. She asked her if she would consider adding a boys' hip-hop class if she could get some boys together. So that's how it began for me.
How wonderful. Thanks, Mom!
Yes, it was great. I started teaching dance when I was ten years old and was given a set of five classes per week. I think I had a real knack for understanding rhythm and understanding leadership. I'm equally passionate about teaching as I am of dancing.
Tell me what it's like to dance in those costumes.
It is probably one of the hardest things I can ever think of a performer having to do. My suit weighs about twenty pounds. We wear three layers of unitards, a backpack, and a helmet. Plus, the entire suit is covered with wires and computers that emit a lot of heat. Dancing full out in that weighted suit is physically very tough. I think we sweat off about seven pounds per show.
The other obstacle is being in the dark. People always ask how we see on the stage. The answer is that we don't. We really have to feel each other and be so specific with traffic patterns. We don't just choreograph the dancing; we have to choreograph everything that is going on in the dark. And having a helmet on cuts off your peripheral vision. That's another layer of trust that we have to have with each other. We have to know that what's going on in the dark is just as important as when your suit is lit up.
I noticed on your social media pages that you have a 2nd degree black belt in karate. I bet that comes in handy.
I believe that it's helped me out in a lot of my dancing. I took karate for eleven years and what it's given me the most is patience. Martial arts also gave me flexibility and a self-awareness of my body. Of course, there's a huge fight scene at the end of the show and knowing karate is very helpful for that.
How do children react to iLuminate?
That's one of the best parts of being in this show. The kids are always so amazed and the look of awe in their faces is priceless. Since the show is such hard work for us, it really lifts our spirits to engage with the children after the performance. They tell us things like they want to be a robot when they grow up or comment that my Mohawk is really cool. Sometimes they'll come up to us with ideas of things we should do in the show, which is pretty adorable.
I'm sure this show has quite a fan base.
Absolutely. There was one kid that saw the show and went home and taped all of these glow sticks to his body. He made up this dance in the dark, filmed it and posted it on YouTube. He said, "Look, I'm like iLuminate."
I loved that the cast finally revealed themselves in the finale. After dancing for ninety minutes without being recognized, it must be a great feeling to take off your mask.
Since the show is all about magic we try to preserve that magic throughout the production. We make it seem like a cartoon or that you're in a fantasy world. Sometimes people have trouble even believing that humans are doing what they're seeing. Especially because of all the animals, illusions, lifts, and tricks. You forget that it's just people on the stage. We try to keep a disconnect with the audience to help them forget that we're humans.
Once the story has been told and they feel they've gotten the full dose of magic from the show-we take our masks off. At that point we get this new layer of connection with the audience that helps them admire the person behind the mask who has done the work.
What is that moment like for you?
I enjoy the fact that the show doesn't advertise me as a person. The story is upheld on it's own without publicizing the people in the cast. When we reveal our faces I think they're surprised to see the type of person under the mask. It could be a person of any race, any age, or any gender. Sometimes we have a girl who will play a guy's character and vice versa. For me, I get to make a very personal connection at that moment.
Is the audience surprised at your reveal?
After all the menace I inflict, I'm not sure what they expect. Then I take off my mask and there's this blue-eyed, blonde, golden boy who doesn't look evil at all.
Thank you, Shane. Good luck with the rest of the run.
You're welcome, Bob. Thank you for coming to see the show.
Cover photo of Shane Carrigan by Ashley Allen.