Rules Empathy Circus Lighting Design Sara Gosses Jess AlFord

Circus News

Breaking Rules and Everyday Empathy: Circus Lighting Design with Sara Gosses and Jesse AlFord

While writing this series I’ve realized something that I’m a little abashed to admit: when I think of a designer’s job, I first think of the physical skill sets they must have and the technology they need to understand to build clothing, construct props, splice audio tracks, harness electrical currents. In my awe of these abilities, I overlook the art. Every one of my interviewees has set me straight. Take your clothing apart, carry a sound with you, shine a flashlight around, they say. PLAY they say! These professions are no less playful than the clowns on stage. (Whose work is no less technical than a designer, if we really want to banter about it!) Once again, lighting designers Sara Gosses and Jesse AlFord reminded me how playful designing for circus is, and if you’re looking to learn more about lighting design or start a career in it, the first thing to do is get curious and play.
Before I properly introduce my interviewees, let’s cover the basics. “A lighting designer,” according to AlFord, “creates the lighting plan and vision for a production.” Including “where the lights hang, where they point, and what color they are.” AlFord described a spectrum. On one end: “You’re a one-person band hanging the lights yourself with extension cords out of your garage, and you’re sitting there on the ground running the lights for the show.” On the other end: “It can be a very hands-off artistic endeavor. You make a technical lighting plot and send it off to other people. They figure out the timing and the nuance of how the light moves through the production.” He quipped, “You come in, and just say, More blue! That should be faster!” Production budget and the venue’s union status often determines placement on this spectrum. I was fascinated when ...
To access exclusive PRO content …
Become a CircusTalkPro member today!
Get access to the essential resource for the multidisciplinary performing arts industry.
Get PRO

Madeline Hoak

Madeline Hoak is an artist and academic who creates with, through and about circus. She is an Associate Editor for CircusTalk, Adjunct Professor of Aerial Arts at Pace University, a member of the American Circus Alliance's EDI committee, and the Editor and Curatorial Director of TELEPHONE, an international arts game. Madeline has performed, coached, produced, and choreographed at elite regional and international venues. Her background in dance and physical theater are infiltrated into her coaching and creation style. She is passionate about providing her students holistic circus education that includes physical, historical, theoretical resources. Madeline initiated the Aerial Acrobatics program at her alma mater, Muhlenberg College, where she taught from 2012-2017. She is also a regular contributor to Cirkus Syd's Circus Thinkers international reading group. Her circus research has been supported by Pace, NYU, and Concordia University. Recent publications include "Teaching the Mind-Body: Integrating Knowledges through Circus Arts'' (with Alisan Funk, Dan Berkley), a chapter in Art as an Agent for Social Change, "expanding in(finite) between," a multimedia essay in Circus Thinkers: Reflections, 2020, and "Digital Dance & TELEPHONE: A Unique Spectator Experience." Madeline has presented academic papers at numerous conferences including Circus and it’s Others (UC Davis), the Popular Culture Association, Gallatin (NYU), and McGill University. Madeline earned an MA from Gallatin, New York University’s School of Independent Study, where she designed a Circus Studies curriculum with a focus on spectatorship. madelinehoak.com