Interview with Joseph Magnus


Joseph Magnus. Broadway credits include Matilda, Doctor Zhivago, Wicked, West Side Story, White Christmas, Guys and Dolls, Grease, and Big. Off-Broadway: LCT, 2ST, The York, Encores. He founded The Study, an intimate performance and work space in Greenpoint, which focuses on exploring the creative process. He designed the lights for Bloody Poetry at the Brooklyn Art Library.

Why theatre? 

I did my first play at six years old. I frequently turned the entryway of my childhood home into a stage. I designed and choreographed a version of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” in our backyard. I built a set model in a cardboard box for a play version of James and the Giant Peach. And I would turn the lights off in my bedroom and use my yellow plastic flashlight to illuminate objects in the dark. Theatre is individuals experiencing events in real time, in real space, together. I like it. It gets my head and heart spinning.

Why Ardor?

Matthew and I met somewhat randomly, through a friend of mine from high school. It turned out one of his newest plays shared, not coincidentally, the title of one of my favorite books: Ardor. Which is an exploration of ritual, art, image, meaning… Sounds like a good project to me.

How did you start working with light in live theatre?

It was never my intention to become a lighting designer. Lights are just one part of the process in working on my solo performance piece. An image appears in my mind and it is my job to create it in space. The image usually includes lighting in a particular configuration with furniture and/or objects and then a thought of where my body should be located in relation to those things. Once I’ve configured the physical elements, I go back to my store of text fragments that I’ve written and pull things out that seem to have a reaction with the physical set up. Then all of the elements speak to each other and change one another and develop themselves and inspire more images. And the cycle starts all over again.

What role do lights play in the production of Ardor?

It’s exciting to take just one element out of this process and apply it to a completely different project like Ardor. I want the lights to live and behave off of the essence of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. I want them to come on and off and “move” in ways that illuminate their inner lives and relationships. The lights aren’t attached to a grid up above and turned on and off by someone at a computer; they are fully integrated into the space and the actors are given agency to light up or dim themselves and each other. The lighting creates something of a parallel text that has direct points of contact with the characters.

What inspires you?

The practice of art leads to self-reflection, leads to knowledge, leads to… I’m inspired by books, projects, practices that break things open, and then puts it back together in a more knowing way.

Random Facts

I love pad thai. I love dumplings. I love cappuccino. 
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