2014 Best Lighting Design Nominee Interview: P.J. Strachman for Bad Habit Productions' "Translations"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Renee Cullivan

Photo by Renee Cullivan

P.J. Strachman created stunning pictures of light and color on the stage for Bad Habit Production's Translations. From a sunny Irish day to a chilling summer moon, the lighting told a brilliant story of untouched masterpiece to complement the play's dialogue and action. In this Interview, P.J. tells about the opportunities in Boston theatres, the beauty of Translations, and "What if you had a million dollars?"

P.J., thank you so much for joining us for an Interview.  Can you please introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  What is your theatre background, where are you from, what do you do?

I'm a Boston-based lighting designer, with a degree from Boston University in the combined studies of lighting design, playwriting, and dramaturgy. I grew up in New Orleans, and originally got involved in theatre through acting in elementary school, switching to lighting in high school.

What motifs or images stood out to you after reading Translations?  How did you incorporate these into your lighting design? 

The sense of the alien invading the homefront, the British who couldn't speak Irish coming in to tell the Irish how to do things differently, was the dominant theme that stood out for me. There was a sense of “our world” and “the usurping foreigners” - even renaming our towns and landmarks! – that lent itself to creating a welcoming warmth into the cozy interior set, which slowly became darker and colder as the British dominance became a foregone conclusion.

What scripts, stories, or projects inspire or compel you to design?  Basically, how do you choose your projects?

Honestly, I choose my project more by how I think the company fits with my aesthetics and professional values. I'm more interested in whether each show will be something I'm proud of than liking each script on its own merits. The only through-line is that I'm looking for scripts that have meat to them, something that leaves me thinking even after I've seen an entire tech week of it.

What is the most misunderstood element of lighting design? 

Flashy and exciting is not the same as good. (More importantly, the reverse is also true.)

Have you tried other technical elements?  What inspired you to pursue lighting design?

As a co-producer for Blue Spruce Theatre, I have dabbled in other technical elements, when the need arose, but I have been a lighting designer since the age of 14. I expected it to be a high school hobby, but found that I wanted to keep doing it, and so went to BU.

What kind of music do you listen to?  Does music ever inspire you as a designer?  How?

I personally listen to every type of music – all the genres that there are stations for, and then as much world music with interesting instruments as I can find. Music unrelated to a show I'm working on does not usually inspire me, but I have found inspiration when hearing sound designers' work that they have done specifically for the show we are working on together.

What excites you most about working in the Boston theatre scene? 

I love that it is intimate enough that I know and have worked with many of the designers, directors, and actors in the city. I also love that designers here are not limited to working in either AEA or non-AEA houses, as both types of process are unique and interesting in different ways.

If I gave you a million dollars (I’m not), what would you do with it? 

That depends – do I have to spend it just on theatre? If not, I would split it up between my favorite charities – GLAD, SPCA, etc – and my favorite theatre companies. If I have to spend it just on theatre, then I would split it among my favorite theatres, buy myself a little new equipment, and set up some sort of trust so that fringe companies can apply for grants.

What other awards or honors have you won for your lighting design? 

I won an award for Best Lighting from broadwayworld.com for Blue Spruce Theatre's Once on This Island, and a Hubby Award for Best Design for Whistler in the Dark's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth. I have also been honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for my work with Stonehill College.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

This summer I will be designing FUDGE's production of Merrily We Roll Along. In addition, I am cowriting a piece with Jesse Strachman and Dan Rodriguez of Blue Spruce Theatre.