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Haley Piper Designs Record-Breaking Light Show

Graphic Courtesy of Drake Theatre Department

The Drake University Theatre Department set a record during “Songs for a New World.” Lighting designer sophomore Haley Piper used the most lights ever for a Drake performance. 

“I had joked around with the previous record-holder, but it wasn’t really my goal to break the previous record,” Piper said. “The number of fixtures was simply a byproduct of my desire to make each song have a unique look and atmosphere. It was really difficult to accommodate that many fixtures with the electrical and spatial constraints of the Studio, so I doubt my record will be beaten any time soon.”

Piper started designing in November, and the whole process took three months. The end result was a lighting design with a record-breaking 146 light fixtures. 

  “I started by listening to each song and getting a feel for the mood and other elements I wanted to define with lighting,” Piper said. “Once I had a decent idea of the ‘look’ I wanted to go for with each song, I started drafting my light plot, which shows the placement of each lighting fixture. Then, I was able to program the cues and build each look using previsualization software, while my electricians (who were on campus during J-Term) took my plot and hung each fixture accordingly.”

Piper said their design was influenced by professional lighting designers they admire, like Howell Binkley’s designs for the musicals Hamiltion and Come from Away, and from lighting designers they have worked with. 

“Theatre is, at its heart, a collaborative art form,” Piper said.

Piper also worked closely with and got ideas from Director Adam Yankowy and Technical Director John Pomeroy.

 “I worked a lot with Adam Yankowy, the director of the show, to be faithful to his vision of what the show should be,” Piper said. “He was very gracious in giving me a lot of creative freedom, but we still wanted to make sure that everything worked together. Roy, our technical director, also offered me a couple of really cool ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.”

Yankowy said that Piper handled the lighting design process smoothly and that it was always an “easy-going conversation” between them. 

“They created designs that complemented each song and every actor very well, and that is something that not all lighting designers can do,” said Sarah Aubin, who performed in the production.

Piper said that watching the cues live for the first time was “magical.”

 “There is such a beauty to the way light interacts with the people and objects in a space that the virtual simulation can’t quite match,” Piper said. 

The entire cast and crew got to experience the performance from a new perspective thanks to COVID restrictions. Because the show was streamed online, they were able to watch the production after performing it. Aubin said the lighting was not something they were able to fully notice until watching it later.

“Being on stage, it’s hard to really grasp the extent of the lighting design, but watching the show provided me with even more appreciation for Haley and their work,” Aubin said. “The end result was even better than I expected and really brought the whole show together.”

People who work with Piper have great confidence in them.

“Haley has a bright future ahead of them,” Yankowy said.

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