Ben Stanton didn’t start his life in theatre behind the lights. In fact, the two-time Tony-nominated lighting designer (Fun Home, Spring Awakening) studied jazz drumming at University of Massachusetts Amherst before turning to technical design. But his innate sense of rhythm enhances his ability to design the lighting of a show—especially the breakneck-speed Junk, closing January 7 at Lincoln Center Theater.
With over 40 scenes, Stanton uses light to focus the action, create clean transitions to drive the story, and create the mood and texture of the piece.
Listen to his Designer’s Commentary Cut in the video above to hear about the intricacies of his design.
And while Stanton is responsible for all 500 simple lights, 45 moving lights, hundreds of feet of light strips—and melding it all with video projections by 59 Productions—he concerns himself with their placement, hue, effects, saturation, and more to create the lighting vision, rather than operating equipment. “At the Broadway level there are experts in every position,” he says, remarking that there are too many misconceptions about what a lighting designer does. “The follow spot operators are experts at doing that job, the light board operator and the programmer are experts at programming, and if I tried to do any of those jobs I would do a terrible job. My job is to curate the look of the show in collaboration with the other designers and the director and the writer and the producers.”
With Junk, Stanton built on the war play structure of the drama, with two sides hedging everything to win. “The defining characteristic of the lighting design was the kind of old guard versus new guard,” says Stanton. As he narrates in the Designer’s Commentary, Stanton relied on cold, sleek colors like silver to light the cut-throat new guard helmed by financial mastermind Robert Merkin, played by Steven Pasquale, and heavy, metallic colors like gold to light the stodgy old guard portrayed by Leo Tresler and Everson Steel.
But what Stanton relished most about the project was how much it relied on light in the abstract world playwright Ayad Akhtar wrote and scenic designer John Lee Beatty created. “John Lee very cleverly divided the set into ten boxes so that we could place people in different spaces just by simply lighting up two different boxes and dimming the other ones,” says Stanton. “This is not just ‘here’s what happened in 1980,’ this is ‘here’s what happens when people’s morals change in society, here’s what happens when the rules change and when people lose sight of what’s important and what’s valuable and train their eyes on the money.’”