The Playgoer: Texas Update: Lighting Design still Legal!

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Texas Update: Lighting Design still Legal!

A day of valiant lobbying by the Texas theatre & dance community, the United Scenic Designers, and the International Association of Lighting Designers seems to have finally convinced the Texas State legislature of their error in not including stage lighting among their allowed categories in a new bill addressing "lighting design services." So the bill has, for now, thankfully stalled.

For a recap see earlier. Since then all I've been able to find out some websurfing (barely any published stories so far) and asking around is that this comically inept legislation seems to have begun as some kind of "consumer protection" measure primarily meant to serve property owners with elaborate lighting fixtures in their houses, businesses and estates. Some say the bill meant to protect them from improper installation subject not just to natural disasters but--you guessed it--con-man lighting designers! One privately circulated email I read reported on a conversation with a state senator's office where the staffer argued for the need to allow legal redress against the menace of "crooks passing themselves off as lighting designers." Who knew! I'm sure many Broadway producers feel the same way...

(One source claims this hitherto unknown problem was brought to the attention of a legislator by one angry rich Texan who got swindled for a lawn party gig or something.)

Anyway, after the house passed the original version of the bill unanimously the Senate now acknowledges their omission of stage lighting from the protected/licensed categories and is revoking the relevant amendment and going back to committee. Or something like that. (Forgive me for not being up on my Texas legislature rules of procedure.)

But dare we infer something from this purportedly involunary omission? UT Dance professor Danielle Georgiou--blogging on the local NPR (KERA) website--gets to the big point:

[T]he underlying context of this bill could be construed as meaning that lighting design is not a valid craft. The current verbiage talks about lighting for structures, which includes what many lighting designers have formed their careers around. One main question raised from this legislation is: why has lighting design not even been taken into consideration in a bill that dictates the qualifications of a lighting designer? Part of the problems stems from the fact that the legislation was drafted without any input from lighting designers themselves.
Reminds me of the time I took part in a tour of a major regional theatre through the backstage tech shops and one visitor expressed surprise that actors didn't just bring their own costumes from home. (You know, like in many community theaters still, I'm sure.) I don't think people are confused about this on Broadway. But in much of the country, I bet audiences would be surprised to know how much professional labor goes into seemingly basic things like lighting, set construction, props and even makeup.

So it was a funny day in Texas, I guess, that seems to have passed. But don't underestimate the seriousness of the 24-hour shock it sent through the community--a sign of how plausible such anti-arts legislation has become in this country. Just read the blogger-practioners who have been following the story most passionately. And then there's my friend Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director of Dallas Theater Center, who wrote me: "All of my lighting designer friends and colleagues called me to either ask if they could still work at DTC - or to give me grief about the perceived hostility of TX to lighting designers!" Adding:
I absolutely love working in Texas and have already made many close friends and am working with great colleagues here. But last month I had out of town artists calling to ask me if they would need a passport to get into Texas from the rest of the country, after our Governor threatened that Texas might secede from the union. Then yesterday I had lighting designers calling asking why they were being outlawed from working. Making me wonder: what next?
Yes, surely Texas doesn't get all its revenue from oil? A big state means big arts income!

DTC's Production Director Jeff Gifford had a more understanding take:
I did (humorously) explain to several of our regular lighting designers that the State of Texas has determined that it is indeed Lighting Designers that have caused most of the problems we are having in our country today (economy, housing, auto industry, etc.) and that we just don’t want “their kind” in our fair State further messing things up.
The message I myself take away from this is: concealed weapons? Go ahead! Put up some fresnels? Not without a license, partner!


Anonymous said...

Texas legislators, fans of poor theatre. Who knew? I'm with them ;)

Tom Loughlin said...

You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about Texas' attitude towards the rest of America, thanks to the crack team of journalists at The Onion: