Lighting designer going for ‘Hitchcock feel’ with ’39 Steps’

I once asked a theatergoer after a simple, dramatic production what he thought of the light design. He looked at me puzzled, and said, “They were just lights.”

Las Vegas Little Theater designer Ginny Adams — whose “The 39 Steps” opens tonight for a three-weekend run – has no problem with that kind of reaction.

“I like to think that my lights don’t call attention to themselves,” the 48-year-old Las Vegas resident says. “Unless they’re specifically meant to pull focus, you’re supposed to just enhance what’s going on.”

Adams has been at the Little Theatre for about two years, and a couple of things immediately struck me about her work.

She almost always made sure the audience knew where the illumination was coming from and had ability to quietly transition into different moods. In her recent “Blithe Spirits,” for example, she easily segued from an “ordinary” conversation into a sensuous, intimate moment between two people. You didn’t feel the changes in cues; the new mood just seemed to appear without fuss.

When Adams reads scripts, she thinks visually.

“I picture the show in a space, and how I need to hang the lights,” she says. “I distinguish between instrument types, indicate color and assign channels. After everything is hung and plugged in, we aim the lights – some from the front, side and back. I play with concepts and colors. Then we figure out cues which are recorded into a light board so that they’ll be executed when they need to go.”

Adams points out that sometimes the script or director makes very clear what’s needed. But there are plays that tell you almost nothing about tech, which leaves the designers to come up with their own concepts.

“I enjoy that,” she says. “But then you have to deal with constraints. You can’t always do what you want to do (because of limited equipment).”

Adams is trying something new for “The 39 Steps.”

“I’m attempting to create some cinematic moments to give the Hitchcock feel.”

Adams says she tends to notice a lot about light when she’s out and about.

“I’ve spent a lot of time watching sunsets and sunrises to see how they reflect on things at different times of day. All those colors!”

Adams now works backstage at the MGM Grand’s “Ka.” She has been on the payroll for Strip productions of “Stomp,” “Avenue Q” and “Blue Man Group.”

Like most good designers, she sees herself as a collaborator. Occasionally, actors will request that only certain colors be used on them.

“I try to accommodate them,” she says. “Of course, if you don’t like someone, you can easily make them look really ugly.”

She quickly clarifies that she’s joking.

“I like to make people feel comfortable. When you do that, and the production is good, it’s awesome.”

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@ You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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