December 2020

Brett Andersen
Partner and Principal
Focus Lighting

Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
My first exposure to the amazing power of light happened while I was a freshman in college, majoring in theatrical design. At the last minute, I was asked to fill in as a follow-spot operator for the musical Dreamgirls. Only problem was – I’d never run a follow-spot before. When I got to the theater my buddy gave me a quick lesson, but honestly, I was pretty terrible at it. However, the Stage Manager patiently guided me through the rehearsal cues, and soon I started to get the hang of it. He wanted me to practice what he kept calling “my big cue” which would come during the second act – a tricky sequence of following the lead actress, and then on cue, tightening my spot down to light only her head, and then slowly widening back out to cover her whole body. After a few shaky tries, he seemed satisfied. I was terrified.

That night during the performance when the time for “my big cue” came, the actress appeared on stage in a full-length black dress. I trained my spotlight on her and just as we had practiced, the Stage Manager called for me to tighten my spot down to just her head. What no one told me was that at that same moment, every light in the theater would fade to black. My spot was the only light on stage. PANIC! For what seemed like an eternity I worked to keep that itty-bitty spot focused on her head. And then as she reached the crescendo of her song, I got the cue again. But as I slowly increased the size of my spotlight, the actress began to twirl, and suddenly I realized that during those moments of near-darkness, she had shed her black dress to reveal a stunning, sequin gown, which was now reflecting the light from my follow-spot into every corner of the theater. At that moment, the entire audience burst into an emotional applause, and the Stage Manager turned and said, “Spot One, that applause is for you”. Needless to say - I was hooked!

Fast forward to 1996 – after receiving my master’s degree in theatrical lighting design from Carnegie Mellon University, I moved to New York City fully expecting to enter the crazy world of New York City theater design. A couple days after I arrived, I got a call from Cindy Limauro, my lighting professor from CMU. She had a friend named Paul who needed someone to draft up some lighting plans for a new casino in Connecticut. It wasn’t theater, but heck it was a gig, and it was only going to be a few weeks. Looking back now, nearly 25 years later, it’s amazing to think how much that “drafting gig” completely transformed the trajectory of my career.

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
Honestly, it took a lot longer than it should have. My first exposure to the IESNYC was the same as most young lighting professionals – I attended my first Lumen Awards, held back then in the amazing Puck Building in SoHo. It was my first big industry event and I remember being just blown away. But I really didn’t understand or appreciate who the IESNYC was, nor what they did for the lighting community. I remember a few years later seeing people receive their 5, 15, 25-year pins and I thought “I’ve already missed out on like 5 years, I guess I better become a member now.” Once I did, I found myself exposed to more and more aspects of lighting – through educational events, project presentations, and the monthly issue of LD+A. In hindsight, I really wish I had signed up after that very first Lumen Awards.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
I’m continually amazed by the members who can somehow balance their personal and professional responsibilities — with what seems like an enormous amount of time given in service to the IESNYC. Admittedly, this is not a skill I’ve mastered. However, I still try to find meaningful ways to give back to the section when I can. For example, when Colin Conroy (Chair of the Sponsorship Committee) and Mike Barr (President of the IESNYC) asked me and my colleague Christine Hope to be the spokespeople for the 2021 Stay Illuminated Sponsorship Campaign, I was thrilled to lend my voice to that effort (by the way, if you’d like to become a sponsor – just click here to see how!). And hopefully, through our regular presentation of Focus Lighting’s work, talks I give on topics I’m passionate about, and through our firm’s work to expand and improve lighting education and awareness - I can share my experiences and provide a bit of inspiration to some of the younger designers just joining our profession, eager to work their way up, just like I did.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
That’s easy! It’s volunteers. Without their dedication and commitment, the IESNYC would not be able to provide the New York lighting community with the educational opportunities, lighting awareness initiatives, nor the recognition of excellence that it does today. All of us members owe these volunteers a debt of gratitude for their service. Next time you meet someone who worked to set up a talk, or served on a committee, or helped check people in at the Lumen Awards, take a moment to say “thank you” for their service to the IESNYC!