Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony Nominee Kevin Adams
Broadway credits include The Good Body (National Tour), Take Me Out, Sexaholix (HBO and national Tour), Hedda Gabbler, A Class Act, An Almost Holy Picture. Off-Broadway includes Mr. Marlade, Spatter Pattern, And God Created Great Whales (scenery and lighting), The Mineola Twins (Lucille Lortel Award), The Persians, Stupid Kids, new work by Anna Deveare Smith, Eric Bogosian, Neil Simon, Richard Greenberg ,and Charles Mee Jr. Opera: The Mines of Sulfur (NYCO, Glimmerglass), Washington Opera, Bard Summerscape, Tanglewood, Canadian Opera Co., Kennedy Center, Houston Grand Opera. Concerts: City Center Encores, Audra McDonald (Joe's Pub, Town Hall, Lincoln Center, American Songbook), Patti LuPone, Sandra Bernhard, The Indigo Girls, Magnetic Fields (69 Love Songs, Lincoln Center American Songbook). Other: seven companies of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Westbeth, Jane Street, Chicago, Boston, L.A., Edinburgh Festival and London's West End), Steppenwolf Theatre, Williamstown, Atlanta Ballet, Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing (film). Obie for Sustained Excellence.
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Broadway Bullet Interview: Tony-Nominated Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams
Broadway Bullet: I'm sitting here with Kevin Adams, just shortly before the Tony Awards. And I have to say -- I don't want to wish any bad mojo on him -- but I'm very excited because I think he's a lock to get the award. I will just be dumbfounded if he doesn't take the award. But, in addition to doing the lighting design for Spring Awakening, he's also done shows such as: Passing Strange, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and a lot more. He's here to talk about his unique style, and everything he does. How are you doing?
Kevin Adams: Hi, Michael. I'm well, thank you.
BB: So, to get it out of the way, the inevitable: how are you feeling about the Tony Awards?
KA: I'm feeling great, and I can't wait for it to be over. I can't wait to be on the other side of it all. It's neat, but we opened five months ago -- five and a half months ago -- it's just going on and on and. I'm ready to move onto a new place in my life.
BB: Now, one of your big things in your lighting design, is it's not just invisible -- it's just not up in the rafters, it's on the set, it's on the stage. How did you come about that theory, because I understand it's not just Spring Awakening, you do this in other works, too.
KA: It's been a very long path for me to use this stuff. I actually trained to be a set designer, and I never had any interest in lighting. And I wasn't a trained lighting designer, or -- I just never really had any interest in it. I graduated, I got a degree in theatre design, from California Institute of the Arts, in the mid-eighties and I moved into Los Angeles because I thought I wanted to be a production designer in film and music videos, what I was really into at the time. And I was designing live performance -- I always really liked live performance, and really wanted to work in live performance -- but there weren't that many options in Los Angeles at the time. But I started going to galleries and museums with all my artist friends from Cal Arts, and I started seeing that Los Angeles has a huge amount of light and space work, in their museums, in their permanent collections, and also, they bring in work to show. And I started seeing work by all these artists, who use illuminative objects to frame space, and to make sculptural things, and to light space. And I had never really -- It just made me really see and appreciate light, and things that light, in a whole new way. It made me see those for the first time. And so I started lighting my sets with those things that I was seeing in galleries. And my little set design career was just chugging along so slowly in Los Angeles, at the time, and immediately, all these really interesting artists picked up on this lighting I was doing. There were a lot of performance artists in Los Angeles -- all over the country -- in the late-eighties and early-nineties, but several, like John Fleck and Rachel Rosenthal, and these really interesting performance artists called me up, and said: "I want you to light my work,; you're lighting is really cool." And I was lighting Sandra Bernhardt concerts, and the actor's gang, and the lighting thing just took off. And I really just taught myself, like the nuts and bolts of it, and I got a TCG fellowship (for designers) to, sort, of help me learn more about the regular stuff. But a lot of it was based on using all these things I was finding in hardware stores that I had seen these artists use, likeL fluorescent tubes and light bulbs, light bulbs, light bulbs, and all this stuff. So, I've been working with those things since about '88 or '89, and that's when I started lighting my little sets.
BB: And then how did you start moving from doing this kind of lighting installations in Los Angeles to designing theatre in New York?
KA: Well, I was living in Los Angeles, I lived in Hollywood for a long time, working. I was an artist, and I did all kinds of things. But I was working in live theatre, and I started working regionally in La Jolla Playhouse. I did a show with Michael Mayer [director of Spring Awakening] at the La Jolla Playhouse; Michael Grief brought me there. I had done a few shows at Trinity Rep, I'd actually done a few shows at the Public. I'd done a show at CSC [Classic Stage Company], and I had this TCG Fellowship. So I was spending more and more time in New York, which was never really a place I thought I would live, or could live, or wanted to live. And then, I'd go back to Los Angeles, which was such a horrifying place in the early/mid-nineties. Everytime I went back to LA, it was like: "What am I doing here?" Then I'd go to New York and I'd be like: "This just feels right." Oh my God, we were going to go through one more OJ trial, and I'd been through the riots in LA, and the other OJ trials, and the Rodney King, and the earthquakes, and half my friends died, and half moved here [to New York]. It just seemed like the right thing to do. (laughter) So, I moved here in '96 and I really just devoted myself to lighting. And I wasn't young, God, I was in my mid-thirties, I think. Looking back on it now, it was a very frightening thing to do. I just, like, showed up, got an agent, joined the union, and just showed up, and hit the ground running. And the city was so responsive to me, and so nurturing, and so kind -- all the things that were kind of lacking in the Los Angeles theatre scene, at the time. (laughter)
BB: As I mentioned you've done, aside from Spring Awakening: Passing Strange, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which are both kind of more, rock, or contemporary musicals. Do you seek out these shows, or do they seek you out?
KA: I think it's both. I've always enjoyed rock theatre, or concert theatre, and I just like rock 'n' roll. But I remember, in the late sixties, my parents were in the tape of the month club with 8-track tapes, and we got the original recording of Hair. And we used to play it in my mother's T-Bird. I would -- I just thought that this thing is so cool, this thing, Hair. And I just learned -- I didn't know what the words meant --but I learned every word of every one of those songs, and just sang them over and over again. Then I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, the movie, like, two nights in a row, in the early-seventies, and I wore that album out. And I just have always responded to rock theatre, and I love working in it. But It's kind of both, like, all roads kind of led to me with Passing Strange, andespecially with Hedwig, like, there were five different leads, where it just, sort of, led to me.
BB: But then you've also done more traditional stuff, like Take me Out.
KA: Yeah, if I had to do rock 'n' roll everyday, I would go crazy. I love doing opera one day, then a little performance art one day, and then -- If I had to do Broadway musicals everyday, I would go out of my mind, that's just not what I do. But I like doing all kinds of things. I also like not working. (laughter) But I like doing different-sized things everyday, all the time
BB: Is there an increased interest in your design work since the Tony nomination?
KA: Yeah, people have -- the last yearm I've really gotten into a groove of what I do, and people have really gotten into a groove of what I do, and have really supported, financially, what I want to make: you know, these big things. But, yeah, I think what's neat about these shows, Passing Strange, and Spring Awakening, is that there's so much of my long path in these shows, and that people are responding to them is very gratifying, because they're really responding to, I think, like, this thing I've done as an artist. There are other shows that I've done that people have responded to, that were nicely lit, and they were neat shows, and there was a lot me in them, but it just wasn't as much of this long path I've gone through in that show. This, Spring Awakening and Passing Strange, there's just a lot of me in those shows -- A very personal journey is in those. (laughter) "Blah, blah, blah."
BB: Especially, actors a lot of the time, they can only do one show, and they're in it for a long time, and designers, you know, get to do lots and lots of things. Consequentl,y actors, a lot of the time have to be pickier in their criteria. They want the director, and the script, you know, certain things. Are you picky?
KA: Yes, I am.
BB: Do you look -- do certain elements have to fall into place, or do you just grab everything?
KA: No, no. There's people I like to work with, and there are people I don't like to work with.
BB: Tell us who you don't like to work with. I'm sure it's somebody popular (laughter)
KA: I can't -- boy I just can't think of anyone right now. (laughter) So -- I like to do all kinds of weird projects. I like quirky, I like work that expresses a quirky voice. That's why I like doing solo shows. I've done a ton of solo shows, like: Eve Ensler, and [Eric] Bogosian, Anna Deveare Smith -- I like that sort of unique, cookey voice, or outsider voice that they have. And I like supporting that voice, and that works a little more political than other work, which I find interesting. But, I like doing all kinds of things.
BB: -- Except a great innovative show down in The Village, where they've got five dollars to build the set, and do the lights.
KA: Oh totally, I mean, I'm not very good about choosing things that will further my career. I really like -- my goal from really early on -- because I knew freelancing would be up and down, and that if you try to attach your identity to that, or your happiness to that, you'd drive yourself insane --My goal was very simple from the beginning, and I don't know how I landed in this, but it was like: I only wanted to work on projects that were interesting, with people who were interesting. And that was it. And if that paid a dollar, and was nowhere, that's fine; that was the goal. So, that's led me to all kinds of places. But It's never about --I actually did one of those jobs that pay a lot, and I was just so miserable. And, I try not to do that.
BB: So, what's next on your plate?
KA: Oh, I'm doing some gardening, some very important gardening, this summer. And I'm doing some shows, I'm doing two shows at the Westport County Playhouse: Billy Porter hasput together this really interesting Sondheim revue, with an all-Black cast, and with these new arrangements of these songs, and you listen to these arrangements and these voices, and it's like: "Oh my God, why has no one ever done this before?" It's a really, really beautiful project. I think I'm doing this British import, called The 39 Steps, which is coming to Broadway next year. I'm doing that. I'm just -- I don't know what's going to be up: things -- pptions, things, putting it all together.
BB: What would be your biggest advice that you would give to any aspiring technicians, who are listening, and are wanting to be in your Tony nominated place in a few years?
KA: Oh, anyone who's in theatre, is that -- I just think we forget that we're freelancers, you know, and freelance is always going to be up and down, I don't care who you are. There could be long cycles of up and down, but there's always up and there's always down. And you have to find a way to live outside of that, put your identity outside of that -- otherwise you will just drive yourself crazy. And it's great to have hobbies outside of that, and interests outside of that, but if you attach who you are, or your self-worth, or all those things to that cycle, then you're -- it's just doomed.
KA: I have a Hedwig story.
KA: I don't know if it's so interesting -- When we were Off-Off Broadway, the show used to end with John [Cameron Mitchell, who played "Hedwig"] singing, "You Light Up My Life" in German, and it was really cool because he sang it so beautifully, and it was in German and in English. And then, a year later, when we went to the Jane Street Theatre, we could not get the rights to that song, and we were panicked. like: "Well how do we -- that's the end of our show, what are we gonna do? We have no end to the show! We've gotta get the rights." So, Larry Kramer stepped in and was going to get us that song for a very fair price, that we could afford, but in the meantime, Stephen Trask [composer of Hedwig] had written this song. And, so, one day, he called us all to Midtown, and we sat in this tiny little room, and he pulled out his acoustic guitar, and he played "Midnight Radio" for us. And we were like: "Okay, well, I guess we should just, sort of try that. So we ended up not getting the rights for "You Light Up My Life", and we stuck with "Midnight Radio" instead. And we've had exciting things like that happen, that were cool and fun to be a part of. (laughter) It's been a fun ride.
BB: Well, thanks so much for stopping by Broadway Bullet.
KA: My pleasure, take care.
For more information on Spring Awakening visit www.springawakening.com, and for more information about this Tony nominee as well as all other nominees, visit www.tonyawards.com.
From This Author Michael Gilboe