September 2019

Sara Schrager, LEEP AP
Owner/Principal Schrager Lighting Design (retired)


Q: How did you first get started in the lighting industry?
When I was attending Connecticut College, I took modern dance and ballet classes while majoring in history, but I knew that I didn’t want to become a professional dancer. While I was attending a summer dance festival, I took a stagecraft class and got hooked on lighting. First by theatrical lighting designer Tom Skelton and the following year by Jennifer Tipton. Ms. Tipton told me to move to New York City and work there. After graduating college, I did just that, starting as a stagehand at the 92nd Street Y. Later, I “electricianed” at the Public Theater on the original Off-Broadway production of A Chorus Line, where I met another theater lighting mentor, Tharon Musser. One day, while coiling cable in the theater’s basement, a colleague told me about the field of architectural lighting and that Jim Nuckolls was teaching a course on the subject at Parsons School of Design. I attended his class at Parsons, and this was before there was an MFA program. Several people from that class – including Joanne Lindsley, Craig Roeder, and Diane Berrian Viola – went on to illustrious careers in architectural lighting. All told, I’ve devoted over 30 years exclusively to the art and science of lighting, providing comfort, beauty, and sustainability to clients and projects including the Jewish Museum, the Lego Store at Walt Disney World, and the Yale Center for British Art.

Q: How did you first get involved in the IESNYC?
Jim Nuckolls encouraged all his students who were interested in careers as architectural lighting designers to join IESNY as well as IALD. I remember going to a Lumen Awards presentation as students were allowed to attend after the dinner. It was a much smaller affair back then. After working in both theatrical and architectural lighting in the late 1970’s in New York, I moved to California, to design lighting for EPCOT at Disney Imagineering. When I returned to New York in 1981, I decided to concentrate on architectural lighting. I joined the IESNYC Board during Joanne Lindsley’s presidency (1984-85, 1985-86), and I co-chaired the Lumen Awards from when she was president. The first year I was involved, the event was held at The University Club. We considered ourselves fortunate to have 100 attendees. Another year it was held during LightFair at the Javits Center. It’s great to see what a big event it has grown into over the years. As I rose through the ranks to vice president and then to president, the big issue was LightFair. The first LightFair (back then it was called Lighting World), was held in a hotel and was sponsored by IESNYC and IALD. As the show became successful, IES became involved. I’m thankful to Frank Conti who was vice president of the Section during my term and Bill Hanley was the new executive director of the IES. Regarding my career… after leaving Disney, I had an independent practice as a lighting designer, and in 1998, I became Co-Owner/Principal at Warfel Schrager Lighting Design until 2008. I established my own firm, Schrager Lighting Design that same year. After a stint as a senior application engineer at The Lighting Quotient, I reestablished my firm in 2011, where I remained till I retired.

Q: How do you see your role as member of the IESNYC?
Yikes, I’m retired now, so I’m not as active as I used to be, though it’s always a pleasure to connect with old friends at the Lumen Awards and the Past President’s Luncheon, which was held last month. It’s a great opportunity to compare notes with other presidents to see how we all can contribute to make the Section better.

Q: In your opinion, what are the best assets of the IESNYC?
For an older person like myself, the easy answer is networking. But perhaps the better answer is nurturing young talent. The Student Lighting Competition, IESNYC Scholarship, Thesis Awards, and Richard Kelley Grant are all New York City Section programs. That’s quite an array of opportunities for one Section in the Society to sponsor.