March 2019

Paul Gregory, MIES
Focus Lighting

Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
I knew I wanted to be a lighting designer when I was in high school. The architectural aspect came later, but it was always about combining my artistic, mechanical, and scientific interests, and merging those worlds into a single discipline. I did five years of summer stock, designing the lighting for eight shows per summer, making it a total of over 40 productions including Company (when it was first released from Broadway), 1776, and Promises, Promises. Designing lighting for shows once a week — a new show every Tuesday night — meant honing your skills to develop a concept, creating a light plot that supported it, and hanging, focusing, and cueing a show very quickly. You got good quickly because you had no other choice. I had just graduated from the Goodman Theater School in Chicago when I went off to my first big job as lighting designer at the Alley Theater (one of the big three regional theaters, along with Arena Stage and the Guthrie). I applied to all three; I got this interview at the Alley through my professor in Chicago and I was hired right away. I designed for two seasons there, then at Stage West in Massachusetts and the Goodman Theater in Chicago. The shift from theatre to architectural lighting came when I left the Alley. In regional theatre, the shows are wiped out after five weeks and all you have left are the pictures. You’re living out of your car and moving from theatre to theatre. Architectural lighting projects offered more permanence and bigger budgets. I started my first company, Litelab, in 1975 along with my business partner, Rick Spalding — it grew to 150 people and five offices very quickly. Litelab designed and provided control equipment for nearly every major nightclub or disco in the world including locations like Basrah, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Hanover, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Rome, Paris, and of course New York City and Hollywood. We did clubs like the Saint, Paradise Garage, Xenon, some of the effects for Studio 54, and of course, the dance floor for [the film] Saturday Night Fever, which started it all off. With such a large staff, it became about management and not about lighting design, so I sold the firm to Rick in 1984. I started Focus Lighting in 1987, which is now an architectural lighting design firm of 35 talented designers doing projects all over the world. It’s all about creativity!

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
I first got involved with the IES in 1983 while still president of Litelab. The entertainment field was changing, and I needed to broaden my knowledge of Architectural Lighting Design. Manny Feris, a long time IESNYC member, shared office space with me and he recommended I join the IES. There was very limited information available to a theatrical lighting designer in the 70’s and early 80’s as to color temperature, color rendering and even intensity in foot candles. These subjects were not mentioned in theater lighting classes and I needed them. They were only available to me thru the IES literature.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
As a lighting designer, I am project oriented and have completed a variety of projects for the IES. I was on the Research Symposium Steering Committees for the 2014 Light and Behavior Symposium in Cleveland and created two Color Rooms for adaptation experiences and gave the opening talk on “Creating an Emotion with Light.” I was also on the 2016 committee for the Light and Color Symposium held at the National Institute of Standards & Testing (NIST) outside of Washington. For the 2018 Light and Human Health Symposium in Atlanta, we designed a built a room entitled “What keeps you up at night?” which demonstrated the different light energy reaching the eye from the TV, iPad, street light, bedside lamp, etc. That room was so successful, it was repeated and improved at the 2018 annual conference in Boston.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
A wealth of knowledge based on research! The ability to create and disseminate lighting standards! The desire to organize and share that knowledge! The IESNYC also does an incredible job of recognizing the section’s high standards of design, and elevates that through programs like the Lumen Awards, which I’ve watched grow from a relatively small group in the early ‘80s to a room of hundreds today. Over the years, the program has become increasingly competitive. Focus Lighting is fortunate to have been awarded with nearly twenty Lumen awards.