Q&A With Lighting Designer Abby May

By Drew Quinones | General
5 years
 Q&A With Lighting Designer Abby May

Abby May is a freelance lighting designer based in New York City. She is also the Lighting Supervisor for Ailey II. A native of Tampa, Florida, Abby discovered lighting in the 10th grade. In April, 4Wall provided her with a lighting rental package for the 'Into the Woods' musical held at her high school alumni, Howard W. Blake School of the Arts. After the show, we were able to talk to her about her lighting design and how she got introduced to the industry.


4Wall: Before we get into the details of your lighting design for 'Into the Woods,' tell me how you got your start in the lighting industry.

Abby May: When I was in elementary school, my favorite TV show was 'That's So Raven' and the main character designed and made her own clothes. I asked my mom to teach me how to sew. I fell in love with it and went to a magnet middle school, Progress Village Middle Magnet School of the Arts, for costumes and decided I was going to go to high school for that as well. My first big show at my high school was 'Fiddler on the Roof' and I was the head wardrobe person. The tech theatre teacher, Mike Wood, pulled me aside after the show and said, "For the next show, I want you to be on the lighting team." I was super disappointed and didn't want to at all. So fast forward to the show where I designed and called follow spots for 'A Chorus Line' and I have never gone back to costumes.  


4Wall: What are some noteworthy projects you have worked on so far? 

AM: The White House Halloween in 2016 in which my teacher and I lit the White House for their annual Halloween party. Another one was 'Side Show' in 2017 and 2018 back at Blake High School with all alumni from people I went to school with. It was great to work with all the current students and teach them and to be with all of the students I went to school with. Other notable projects would be the 'Sound of Music's' 2nd national tour, 'The Last Days of Judas Iscariot', UNCSA's Photonapalooza and being the Lighting Supervisor for Ailey II. 

(Abby was the Lighting Designer for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at UNCSA)

(In 2016, Abby was not only the LD for Photonapalooza, but she was also the Video Designer.)

4Wall: What was it like returning to your old stomping ground as the LD for 'Into the Woods?'

AM: It was really exciting but also nerve-wracking. This was the first time I had designed in the venue as an adult or for anything with stakes at that specific place. I had worked in the venue on many significant projects but was always the associate or the assistant, so it was a really cool experience to be in charge. I definitely had to keep reminding myself that I was an adult in the room. It was really amazing to be able to teach the students and show them everything I've learned about lighting. 

4Wall: How did 4Wall get involved with the musical?

AM: I went to college at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. That's where I met Al Ridella of 4Wall New York. Part of going to school there is that you learn you can call Al when you need things after you graduate. So I called Al and he got me in contact with Jeff Mateer from 4Wall Orlando. Even with my small budget, Jeff truly helped me make my vision come true!


4Wall: What was the goal of 'Into the Woods' in regards to the lighting design?

AM: After talking with Director Sean Paris, we were able to isolate the little moments of the show. 'Into the Woods' is a hilarious show if you can see all the small things that are happening everywhere. So we wanted the lighting to help guide peoples eyes and to help tell the story by transforming you into another world of the woods. 


4Wall: How did you utilize the rental package 4Wall provided?

AM: The gear from 4Wall was very helpful in creating the atmosphere of the forest while also still making it theatrical. We used the gobo wheels in realistic ways to scrape some of the trees or used on the floor to help isolate people by doing a sharp gobo that contrasted from everything else on stage. We used 5 Viper Performances and without them, it would have been so much harder for the color, gobos, isolation and telling the story. I put 3 movers DS and 2 US and that plan seemed to work pretty well. 

4Wall: Tell me about the programming process for this project?

AM: The programming process was different than other ones that I have been a part of because we programmed everything without any actors or anyone really onstage and then ran, which was unique because I was used to a more Q2Q setting but ending up being helpful to slam cues in without people waiting for me to be done. The show is a pretty large one in terms of lighting and so it was nice to be working at our own pace. 

My programmer was actually a high school student Ben Phillips and he just graduated from Blake. Ben was able to jump right in and start programming. He had already programmed some palettes and presets and was able to really show me everything he had come up with at the beginning.

My associate, Aidan Marshall, was someone I went to college with and it was very helpful to be able to bounce ideas off of somebody who already knew my workflow and so between Aidan, Ben and myself, it was really a team effort to make the show look good!

4Wall: Do you have any advice for somebody looking to gain more experience in the industry.

AM: Talk to everybody! Learn as much as you can from everybody you meet, there is more than one way to do things, and it is ok to be wrong. Being a designer is like 60% about your work but 40% is about being able to communicate and talk to other people, you're always on a team and being nice is the best way to make everybody happy. 


4Wall: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

AM: Sure! I will be back at Blake for their spring musical this year, I am designing a piece for Ailey II and will continue my work with Mike throughout the year at various theaters! 

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