In a theater-based class in the first grade, Matthew Brehm was allowed to operate the faders, which dim the lights, on a control board. "I was instantly hooked on theater lighting," he said.
Fifteen years later, the Longwood University theatre major’s passion for lighting design and technology burns as brightly as ever, and his talent soon will shine on the biggest stage of his young career.
Brehm, a senior, will serve as assistant lighting designer for the world premiere of Kris Kringle The Musical, which will run from Dec. 4-13 at the Olmsted Performing Arts Center just outside Cleveland. The New York City-based producers of the play, whose work includes a Tony Award-nominated musical, hope to take the show to Broadway.
Brehm’s Longwood mentor, Scott Chapman, assistant professor of theatre and resident scenic and lighting designer for the theatre faculty, made this foray into professional theater possible. After being hired as the show’s lighting designer in April, Chapman asked the producers if he could bring Brehm along as his assistant.
The pair will leave Nov. 22 for Cleveland, where they will work on the Christmas-oriented production and attend opening night. They’ll return to campus the next day, two days before Brehm begins his final exams.
"I’m extremely excited about this opportunity, especially because I will work with equipment I’ve never worked with before," said Brehm, of Falls Church. "It’s the kind of thing where, when I heard about it, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I am incredibly grateful to be able to be part of the team."
Brehm already has an impressive résumé, having worked as a lighting designer on numerous on- and off-campus productions since his freshman year, including the current Longwood Theatre production, The Real Inspector Hound, and for productions by the Longwood Company of Dancers. He also has been a spot operator, lighting console operator, programmer, electrician, master electrician and assistant lighting designer on theatre productions.
"At Longwood you have a lot of chances to get a lot of hands-on experience, especially in theater. I’ve had multiple chances to design," said Brehm.
The assistant lighting designer "helps record the lighting designer’s artistic choices," said Chapman. "In this show, Matthew will also be my programmer, which means he will work the light board during the technical process, recording each look as I paint the canvas of the stage with light. Lighting truly brings a production to life."
Brehm said with a laugh that he has "always just enjoyed playing with lights." Why the love of theater lighting? "It’s the perfect marriage of creativity and practicality. It’s artistic but also has a practical value.
"Professor Chapman has taught me quite a bit," added Brehm, a teaching assistant in his lighting class. "Sometimes we have what I would call lively debates about lighting design, but that’s what I like about Longwood. You’re encouraged to not only learn by acquiring knowledge but also by challenging opinions. This makes for a good learning experience and for better theater."
Meghan Potter, technical director for Longwood’s theatre program and for the Texas Shakespeare Festival, also is familiar with Brehm’s work. For eight weeks this summer, Brehm was an assistant master electrician with the festival.
"Matthew is a remarkable young man who has a natural grasp of not only the art of lighting but also a grasp of the management side," said Potter, who taught the stage properties class Brehm took in spring 2015. "I think he will go very, very far when he graduates."
Brehm plans to work in the field for a few years, then possibly attend graduate school and teach on the university level.
Though the Olmsted Performing Arts Center is a nonprofit theater, the upcoming production is being produced by theatre professionals. The production will include several actors and stage managers from the Actors’ Equity Association, the union for such personnel.
"This is an opportunity to take what I’ve learned and apply it to the real world. It’s also a great chance to show what Longwood can do," said Brehm. "I feel well-prepared. I’ll probably be nervous the day before heading off to Cleveland but then will be ready to go."
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