Lighting design is an under-appreciated art form as far as the general public is concerned. The casual viewer will care more about the acting and the story versus the lighting. Four-time Tony Awards winner and acclaimed lighting designer Kevin Adams believes otherwise. Learn Kevin’s journey into theatre and find out, as he asks himself, if he’ll ever be as good as his last success. Joining David Jensen and Cecily Chambers on today’s podcast is Kevin Adams, one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Adams discusses his success and personal struggles while establishing his own unique approach to lighting. Tune in and discover the importance of just getting started and enjoying every day as it comes.
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Amber Mylar: Lighting The Theater World With Kevin Adams
In this episode, we have acclaimed lighting designer, Kevin Adams. Kevin’s work has been seen on the Broadway stage, in Hollywood movies, and operas across the country. Mr. Adams has been recognized with many awards, including four Tonys. At the same time, he sometimes questions, “How did he get here?” Some folks call it imposter syndrome. Some folks get overwhelmed by their own success. From a young age, Kevin made many designs throughout his bedroom but never imagined himself creating space with light. Join us for a conversation with the highly talented Kevin Adams and his journey as an artist.
I wanted to ask you about your childhood and how it relates to outsiderness and creativity. I represent artists. Sometimes I come across artists where their creativity was encouraged and supported by their families and their communities. More times than not, I find that a lot of artists, and especially some of the more “out of the box” thinking artists grew up with a sense of outsiderness from their community. They had to go in and dig into their creativity because they felt this outsiderness, and enhance their creativity. With such a creative guy like you, we’d love to know a little bit more about how you grew up. Was that crazy creativity something that you’ve always had or was it fostered by the people around you?
I grew up in Texas in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My father was a high school football coach. I was the only son of a high school football coach. As a football coach in Texas, you move every couple of years. You moved from a smaller town to a larger town. You work your way up into larger towns. We were moving all the time. I did not play sports. I was a sissy. I was gay. I didn’t know what that was. I had friends but I was always new and my parents were always gone. My father was always working. My mom was teaching. I was alone a lot.
I had my friend, the TV, that I spend a lot and continue to spend a lot of time with. I occupied myself with making things. I don’t think anyone showed me how to do that. There were just materials around. I remember when I was young, we had football games every Friday night. This is the late ‘60s. I would go get the crepe paper tied around the goalposts. I would go collect all that stuff and the little popcorn holders that looked like they were a little circus-themed. I must have been in second grade and during Friday nights, I could stay up as late as I wanted to. In my room, I took all these little circus popcorn holders, and I made this little circus. I cut them and probably, all I had was tearing and cutting. I don’t think I had tape or glue.
I remember my mother came in the next morning and she was like, “Who did this?” She was puzzled how that could come about and who made this and how. I felt like I was a Martian in their world like I came from another place. Being an only child and being gay, you feel like you’re trying to stay under the radar, hiding and keeping yourself occupied. I did a lot of seasonal decorating. If I had known there was such a thing as window design, that’s what I was grooming myself for without knowing that was a thing. I did a lot of seasonal decorating on bookshelves. I still do this with objects, textures and textiles. I would change that every six weeks or so, but I didn’t know that was a thing.
From those creative acts, how did you ultimately end up focusing on lighting versus set design versus being an actor or being a producer or a director?
When I was seven or so, the movie Oliver! came out. All these girls perched. I looked like that boy who was the lead of that movie. They always fuss over me like, “You’re so cute.” I was like, “Girls like this actor. I’m going to act.” For years, I just wanted to be in shows. In high school, I was in shows. I had this high school teacher who gently guided me over to set design, which I immediately took because that’s what I was doing in my room anyway.
I became a dedicated set designer. I studied set design as an undergrad at the University of Texas in Austin. I then went to Cal Arts and got my Master’s in Set Design and Production Design. I never studied lighting at all. I moved into Hollywood and then I just fell into lighting by accident for various reasons. I fell into it and just taught myself how to do it.
Was that inspired by artists like Donald Judd? You looked at a particular group of artists like Donald Judd, and that’s where you were inspired.
All my friends were artists so I was also going to museums and galleries with them, but those museums in LA in the ‘80s and ‘90s had all of that work by Judd, Flavin and Turrell in their permanent collections. They would show that work often. Also, the work of Christian Boltanski. I saw that and I was like, “You can design a space around the thing that turns on and off and can make light. When it’s off, if it’s visible, it can be like a part of that space. You can quickly make new spaces or new atmospheres or new places.” You’ve got to think of a light-emitting device present in this space, but it also is a thing to look at. I started lighting my own little sets. These are shows I was getting paid nothing or $100 for. I said, “I want to design the set.” They were like, “Great,” because it was another no-fee for them and they didn’t have to find someone.[bctt tweet=”If you want to get into an industry, you don’t really need a clear vision. Just start.” username=””]
You had total creative control in those situations.
I could design a set around these lighting devices that I found at the hardware store. I used to go to this Hollywood hardware store all the time and look for things that made light, and things that I could attach to them to hang them. Immediately, the phone started ringing with all these interesting solo artists, performance artists, directors. I’ve done one or two shows for these people who I knew of and whose work I knew very well, but I didn’t know these people. They’d say, “I saw that show you lit. That’s how I see my work. Will you come to light my show?” I’d say, “That’s not what I do. I’m a trained set designer and picture maker for the stage but with lighting, I just did that theme and I don’t know how to do it.” All of them were so generous. They said, “Come light my show. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work, it’s no big deal. It’s fine but I think you can do it.”
That’s interesting because what you were doing was creating space with light. You took your training and your experience of creating and designing stages or backgrounds for stages, and then extended that into the light. When you talk about some of the artists that you first started working with within LA who invites you to do that, I know you worked with Rachel Rosenthal, for example. You lit the original production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch which then went to lighting the movie, and then lighting the Broadway production, etc. Can you talk a little bit about that journey and how that evolved, and some of those artists you’re working with that inspired you?
Rachel Rosenthal called me one day. I was like, “Rachel Rosenthal’s calling.” It was a huge performance art scene in the country in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. She was one of the main performances artists in Los Angeles. She said, “Come light this piece.” I lit five different pieces with her over 5 or 6 years. I stage-managed. I did all kinds of jobs in those shows. All those shows I did in LA are with her, I was learning how to light and how to use the equipment. Each show got larger and larger. I was learning all kinds of basic lighting things.
There wasn’t much theater in LA at that time. This is from ‘89 to ‘96 or so. I’d go to New York more often and in the deli, I’d hear two people talking about a live show they saw. I would then go outside and there are two people talking about a show they’re in and you’d walk to the middle of the block, and there are two more people talking about a show they are in or they saw. That’s what I prayed for in Los Angeles. In LA, I would mostly hang out with industry friends and I’d go to parties. I’d say, “I work in theater,” and they’d all make a face and go, “What do you do?”
Because I did a lot of work in film, I’d say I worked as a production designer or art director for beer commercials. They were like, “Let’s talk about that. That’s fabulous. Come let’s have a drink.” That’s okay. That’s interesting to a point. In ‘96, I decided I could move to New York just to be a lighting designer. I was 33 or 34 so I had a lot of experience on my belt. I did move to New York to assist because I did a lot of assisting in Los Angeles. I had done a lot of shows. I knew a lot of people. A lot of people I knew in LA were moving to New York around that time for various reasons.
I hit the ground running. New York City was immediately welcoming to me because I was the guy who used color when not many people use color. I used all these light bulbs and funny things to make light. I could bring downtown lighting to commercial Broadway lighting with cueing and esthetic. I was doing things that not many people were doing at the time.
I want to go back to something that we were speaking about because it’s an important point, especially for entrepreneurs or creatives wanting to get into an industry. It is to just start as you just started in the industry. You’re playing around and trying to figure out what you like and what you didn’t like. People then came to you and saw something in you that you might have not even seen inside of yourself at that point in time.
When people are thinking about becoming an artist or becoming an entrepreneur, they feel like they have to have a clear vision of where they’re going. No doubt, that’s amazing. If you have that, you might get to that place faster. I also think that there’s a real sense of encouragement here in that you can just start. You can get into the industry. You can start to play around and things develop. People sometimes see potential in you and can evoke that potential.
When I got out of grad school at Cal Arts, I moved into Hollywood. I went around to see all the people in the theater that you go see. These were pretty established people to taper. I was an unformed, somewhat talented 22-year-old. I hadn’t done a lot of work. There wasn’t a lot for them to respond to. I pulled my long hair back and wore khakis. It’s like, “These are the people you work with.” I didn’t get anywhere with that.
At some point, I forgot about that. I found ways to make money by working in the film industry. I saved every penny I ever made. At some point, I just started making my own work and falling into that. That then developed my point of view, my eye, and who I was as an artist. Those people came to me, but when they did, I realized that’s not even the work I want to make. That work is squared and not interesting. I have found this other world that’s much more interesting to me.
When I talk to college classes a lot, I tell them that story. I also tell them, “Develop your point of view. You also have to make yourself interesting. If you’re not interesting, if you’re not unique, if you don’t have a unique point of view or a unique eye, then make it interesting. That’s up to you.” The more you develop yourself as an artist, the more you develop your own point of view, people will then come to you. They will find you and they will want what you are.
Amber Mylar is your point of view. Can you tell me about Amber Mylar?
Most people have websites that clearly state who they are and what they do and their contact information. I made this when I was in my 40s and I had a career. I wanted to make a site that hid all those things that was like, “Who is this guy?” On this one page, I pulled in all these different Kevin Adams off the internet that were photographers, lawyers and going through criminal suits. I was like, “I’m that person, and that person, and that person” I made it where they couldn’t contact me. It was like an anti-getting-a-job or networking
It was a modern Fluxus piece.
I’m taking some of that stuff up. I’m losing my sense of humor as I get older. Amber Mylar, I liked it but it was not my name. Duchamp has this female character called Rrose Sélavy, his female alter ego. I like Amber Mylar. It’s like my female alter ego. It’s like a stripper name. When I lived in Los Angeles, I lived in this studio. When I moved in, I wasn’t a lighting designer. I had these windows and I made this clear choice that I was going to have this symphony of light all day long. They would go through all these different phases.
I went to the Melrose Shade Company and their businesses used to have these cool mylar shades that you pull over windows. I had all these orange mylar shades made for my windows that were so beautiful. If you put them up, all this blue daylight would come in. If you put them down, it would be amber light. Those were orange plastic or amber mylar. That shaped a lot of my early lighting career.
I would say there’s a Kevin Adams esthetic. I don’t know if you see that, but there is. You’re known now in Broadway. You talked about how you brought hardware tech uptown to Broadway. Can you elaborate more on how you looked at Broadway as you were getting Broadway shows and started going, “What can I do to light this differently? What tools, light bulbs, filaments and devices can I use?”
Part of using the light bulbs, tubes and LED things in shows or Broadway shows was because that’s who I was. I was a little ignorant of higher-tech things. A lot of people use those higher-tech moving lights. I never had an interest in them. I never worked on shows that could afford them. A lot of young people learn about those things from working in corporate events or slicker, better-financed kinds of events, and I never did that.
When I did Spring Awakening, I never used moving lights very much before. I brought to that show all of these fluorescent tubes, colored-sleeve fluorescent tubes, colored bulbs, neon linear-LED stuff because that’s what I had been exploring. The more shows I did, I started to learn more about the high-tech stuff and started to lay that more and more. The last few years were less of the light bulb works in my show than there used to be.[bctt tweet=”Make yourself more interesting. The more you develop yourself and your own point of view, the more people will then come to you.” username=””]
The high point of all that was in 2007 through 2010, I did these three pop-rock shows, Passing Strange, Spring Awakening and Next to Normal. Those completely used all kinds of compact fluorescent light bulbs, fluorescent tubes. A lot of these things aren’t made anymore but I call those a trilogy of pop-rock light bulb shows.
The tricky thing for me is I try not to repeat those tricks. Once I used them, I won’t go back to them. It’s hard to keep finding things that interest me. There are all these new LED color bulbs that are interesting. Usually, I live with them in my home for a while before I put them into a show. I’ve been testing those out in different ways. I’m certainly aware more of the lower-tech and the higher type of ways to light shows.
That’s cool because I feel that your edge came from the fact that you didn’t know the high-tech stuff at first. You came in with a different approach.
Totally. Because those shows are high profile, I would do a lot of lecturing to lighting and theater people. I didn’t have lighting classes. I call myself grandma Moses of lighting. I feel like such a folk artist sometimes. As I get older and learn about those higher-tech things, I feel a little less that way. I often have to look to my younger, bright-eyed associates to ask them, “What’s the name of that thing that we use? What’s the number that thing?” All of these things look alike to me.
You have resonated with directors who are trying to tell a story and present a story. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve influenced directors? I know you’ve worked with a couple that continually brings you back to do operas at the Met. How did they get inspired by your lighting of their storytelling?
I work with this director, Michael Mayer, a lot since 2004. We work mostly together. We had done a few shows 20 or 15 years before that. He came to see the show I did with John Leguizamo, where I made this big curtain of light bulbs. In the beginning, that wall of light bulbs pops on. It was such exciting energy. He went to see that with Betty Buckley.
When the lights went off and that thing popped on, they grabbed each other. He’s like, “This is so exciting.” He told me, “I’m doing this show, Spring Awakening. I want to see that sexaholics energy, that thing you did with that. That’s what I want to do with the show.” I feel like that’s been the case for not only, “I want you to do this thing for this show, but for a lot of shows. I want you to bring that energy and that innovation to anything you want to bring it to.” Some things I do are a little more conservative in the way they’re presented and led and told. “We’ll try it out at the Met,” is a much more conventional view.
Also, Rigoletto at the Met where they set it in Las Vegas. Did you help inspire Michael to push it in that direction?
No, he came up that he wanted to do it in Vegas in the ‘60s around a Rat Pack context. That’s what he sold to Mr. Galbraith and Matt, but certainly, the set designer and I were like, “Great.”
Potentially, if he knew that he had you in his back pocket as a collaborator, that could have inspired him to go in that direction.
We had done Spring Awakening and a few other things, the set designer and I. Certainly, he knew like, “You are going to run with this. You’ll probably do this a lot.”
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? When you’re starting to think about a project, how do you get your inspiration? Are you dreaming of colors and waking up in the middle of the night? Are you making drawings or using Pinterest?
I am always looking at visual things. Every day, I look at a lot of movies or read about people who make movies and all kinds of directors, cinematographers, producers and actors. I read on theater directors. I read about shows. I look at art. I read about artists, fashion, photography. I go to galleries and museums, architecture photography. All those things I’m always looking at. They’re not for any specific project. They’re just grazing on visual things and visual ideas.
It was like filling your cup and your archive.
Also, looking at different ways to see the same thing. Different points of view about how to view the same thing or tell the same story. All of that I work from when I make a show. I store up ideas like, “If I did it, if the show comes to me, I could do this.” Just by luck, that show will come to me. It’s like, “I’ve been waiting for this show.”
You manifested it.
Often directors will say to me before they even tell me what the project is, “Do you have any cool ideas you’re thinking of now? What are you thinking about?” I say, “It’s funny you should ask because I want to do this thing.” They’ll be like, “That would work for this show. I want to do with you.” That’s pretty cool.
A lot of these things I do are such big multi-genre like SpongeBob or the Cher Show. They have all kinds of songs. There’s a country song and a pop song about it, David Bowie, Brian Eno anxiety song. I pull more from all that other stuff that I look at than anything specific. For SpongeBob, I watched the show. For the Cher Show, I watched a whole decade of different kinds of spectacle-making in variety shows. That’s a lot of YouTube watching.
I rarely bring that into a director. They often trust me. Their head is full. When you’re working on a new musical, most of what is in a director’s head is just writing this new musical, or they’re not the writers, but everyone’s trying to figure out how to tell that story. Half a rehearsal, half of putting the show together in the theater, half of that is about writing a new musical. Writing a new musical is not an easy thing. They’re complicated things. Is this the right song? Is it the right scene? Are these the right lines for this scene? Does this scene lead to the right song? The last thing they want to worry about or talk about is the lighting. They usually just trust me.
Michael Mayer, the director I work with, says to me, “The lighting is going to be great. I know what you’re going to bring to it. You’re going to take care of it. It’s going to be good.” I’ll tell them little things to keep them interested here and there. They’re certainly open to it, but we never have a meeting where we talked about from beginning to end like, “This is what the lighting is going to be,” because often, like making music in a space, you don’t know where it’s going to go until you’re in the space. I know what little highlights are. A lot of what lighting is in real-time is coming up with ideas that glue all those ideas I had together. You glue the things that you know together with things that you never knew. You just explore.[bctt tweet=”Taking selfies in front of art devalues it.” username=””]
That comes back to structure and mischief because you lay the structure. You have those moments where you know you want to hit those, and then at the moment or leading up to the moment, you can have some creativity, some mischief-making. That’s where the magic comes in.
It’s by the seat of your pants and it’s like being shot out of a cannonball often because of the clock-in time and money’s being spent. Yes, it is all of that. It’s listening to people around you when you’re working when you’re making a show in the dark. It’s also tuning in. Sometimes you’ll hear someone five rows over who’s just hanging out. They’re like, “Wow.” You’re like, “I’m on to something. They’re responding to that.”
I want us to take us in a slightly different direction for a moment because I know your passion. You listed artists that have inspired you, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, etc. One artist you didn’t mention was Warhol, something you and I share a passion around. I wanted to talk a little bit about Warhol. I wanted to move it a little bit in Cess’ description of mischief-making and structured mischief of how you view Warhol that has inspired your work, or how his work has inspired your work, and then the whole celebrity culture that he helped to create.
We live in this celebrity world of social media and people who go to art museums and stand in front of an amazing piece of art that they don’t even know what it is to take their picture. What I’m trying to tie together is you’re known as a lighting designer, but I see you as an artist who represents the world through your light work. Also, through other kinds of media as your photography and other things that you’ve done. I’m wondering, connecting some dots back to Warhol, and specifically how Warhol’s work has influenced your work and then putting it in a larger social context.
I was in Warhol for many years and read anything I could get my hands on. Thinking about Warhol, what’s most interesting were his films, but also all the contradictions of the artist. Although he lived a long time, and these are different times in his life, here is a person who could hang out all day with people who are shooting speed. He would put Nancy Reagan on the cover of Interview magazine.
He hung out with different kinds of classes of people in the city. He was a person who went out every night, but he had a Catholic work ethic. He worked hard all day long, and encourage people around them to work hard. If you talked to Lou Reed, he’s like, “What do you remember about him?” He’s like, “Warhol was always saying, ‘Lou Reed, did you write a song today? Did you work today? Were you making work today?’” I liked that about him, that he worked hard every day. He just worked.
What I like about his films and all of his other work is how conceptual that work is. Going to Cal Arts, which all this mattered to me after I left Cal Arts, was all the artists I hung out with were taught by Baldessari. The artists that I liked in the ‘80s are Richard Prince and other conceptual artists. I like the engine of a big idea because some of my lightings are not so clean and not well-formed. The ideas behind my lighting are strong. It is a high concept that maybe not always done so well. The big ideas can push the work along. All of that is informed partly by Warhol and other artists.
That’s amazing to hear about how the films, the art, and the dedication to making inspired you.
Do you think Warhol has forecasted everything that was going to come with social media in a way?
People say that but things were going to change anyway. He was responding to what was happening.
Do you consider yourself a mischief-maker?
The way I work, everyone’s reporting work and there’s a system or the way they work. That’s all pretty clear and the same every day. There’s not a whole lot of room within that time crunch and that money-spending too. What the work is not so much in the Cher Show or SpongeBob because those are a little different thing. Other work I do is like I often try to guess, especially as commercial things, what people’s expectations are when they’re coming to the show and subvert those expectations.
I’ll often give them what they expect and then pull the rug out from under them. It’s this back and forth between, “Here’s what you want. Now, you’re also going to get this.” It makes the experience interesting. It makes it not what they expected and gets some different ways to look at the same thing. In that way, some of my work like La Traviata at The Met, just a little more conservative than that, although lushly beautiful to look at.
What I love about New York City is dressing for the street and I love buying and wearing things and this is low-end. This is all kinds of ends, but I love catching the eye. People are looking at what people wear because there’s a lot of wit, humor and recontextualizing in that. That’s what I love about living in New York City. There’s a lot of mischief within that.
You’ve always been a mischief-maker in the things that you pick to wear. What you’ve worn to the Tony’s, for example. Can we talk about your various Tony outfits?
I want to know what DJ wore to the Tony’s with you the second time you won.
I was pretty conservative compared to what you were wearing. You were liking Comme des Garçon.
That’s what I usually wear. I wore this one Comme des Garçon suit for many years that was reversible. Inside, it had all these chains sewn into it. That was fun. I then have this Comme des Garçon gold-painted thing that’s beautiful. I wore it a couple of times. For Cher and SpongeBob, I bought this Comme des Garçon thing with all these colored, little sequins on the front with the sheer pink silk shirt. That was pretty. Five people saw it because I didn’t win.
That year, you didn’t win.
I wore it two years in a row because the second year I was like, “I’m not going to win and no one saw this last year, so I’m going to wear it again.” That’s such a pretty piece. Bob Mackie loved it. He’s like, “I want to touch that.” It’s up to my loser shirt. I’m not going to wear that shirt again.
Cess, you always have a favorite question.[bctt tweet=”The museum culture has become a commercialization culture of art.” username=””]
Yes, I do. My favorite question is if you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? On the flip side of that is if you could fast forward, a few years from now and tell your current self one piece of advice, what would that be?
My younger self, save your money. It’s such an important message for life in the arts. Probably just relax and be yourself. I certainly wasn’t hiding who I was. I was probably trying to be a more conservative version of what I thought people would want to see at times when I went to work, not when I was away from work. Be yourself, develop yourself, and know that that’s going to be awesome. What I want to know a few years from now is how these next couple of years turned out because our industry is on the off switch. Everyone’s in retirement. We don’t talk about work every day. I like to know what’s going to happen.
What your future livelihood is. On a serious point, recognizing that people in the arts industry, what is keeping you current? What is keeping you motivated, knowing that this pandemic will end, but how do you keep inspired at this moment where all your shows have been sidelined?
Because I’m an only child, I have all kinds of ways to amuse myself. I make all kinds of things. I decorate my home and redecorate and buy things. When it’s summer, I work in the yard and I sent you a group of drawings I just did for production. I never do that. I woke up one day and for three days made drawings that were interesting. I try to keep myself occupied with making things and looking at things.
There are periods of stasis where I’m like, “This is pointless when I’m dead inside. I don’t know how to see things anymore.” What I’m not realizing during that is I’m seeing all these little clues. After a few days, all that stuff, all those clues will come together. I’ll make a thing I could have never thought of based on all that. I live. I create. I live again. I tried to keep my mind occupied.
To that point, you’ve been nominated for eight Tonys and you’ve won four times. You’re a very successful guy. Many artists struggle with this idea of success and acknowledging their success and being present with it and enjoying it. There can be a level of ambition sometimes that’s maybe not even that helpful. Have you experienced this in your career? Has there been one moment where you’ve seen yourself as very successful?
It’s hard to ignore that success when you’re doing things that are being seen by a lot of people. A lot of people are vocally responding to what you’re doing. That’s hard. You can’t deny that, and then the Tony Award and big checks and all that. It’s hard to but that was never my goal. My goal always was just to have an interesting experience each day. Even when I lived in LA, my goal always was to work on interesting work with people that I like.
It seemed so foolish or foolhardy now, but I never had a goal of like, “I want to be on Broadway and do a Broadway show by the time I’m 30.” I knew what that was but my goal was to enjoy each day in some interesting way. That is still the case. I don’t think I was ever ambitious. When you work in theater, and you see other people, you can’t help but be like, “They got that job. I’m going to get this job. I’ll show you.”
You can be a little competitive. Ultimately, what we’re hearing is that it was always about the work. It wasn’t about this desire or this ambition or this career-climbing. It was more of, “I want to wake up every day and have an interesting day.” I love that.
I didn’t want to be king of the world. I just wanted to occupy myself in the day in some interesting way like when I was an only child when my parents were gone.
Back to making your circus out of crepe paper.
Thank you so much, Kevin Adams. This has been awesome. We can’t wait for you to be back in the theater, lighting amazing shows that we’ll all enjoy.
There are so many on the list. They’re coming to a theater near you in a few years. I got an offer for an opera in 2026.
The good news is you’ve got bookings. You just need some sooner.
Yes, I have those too. It’s great talking to you.
Thanks so much, Kevin.
Thank you so much, Kevin. Bye.
About Kevin Adams
Kevin Adams is on the leading edge of the post-incandescent age on Broadway, exploiting the potential of CFL bulbs, fluorescent tubes, glass and flex neon, and the latest LED technology. His work for Spring Awakening — brilliant white light for the 19th-century play’s scenes and saturated color from what he calls “electric objects” for the songs — won him a Tony in 2007. He picked up a second Tony in 2008 for The 39 Steps, a third in 2010 for his lighting of the Green Day musical American Idiot and a fourth in 2014 for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Another Adams hit: a fabulous wall of light for the musical Passing Strange. One admirer said it looked “like Mark Rothko meets Japanese pop.”