Though he seems to spend his whole life in the theater—either working three separate shows in one weekend or a five-hour shift every day after class—Sam Dahnert is a modern-day Prometheus to Colorado College performers. He brings light to the stage with precision, and he has been doing it for over half his life.
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, NY (about an hour north of NYC), Dahnert was exposed to theater and lighting at a young age. “In the fifth grade I was asked to come forward and volunteer to run the lights,” said Dahnert. “So from fifth grade onwards I’ve been running lights for shows.” While many young performers may not jump at the chance to step back into the shadows and away from the stage, Dahnert found lighting alluring.
For Dahnert, though lighting was originally an escape from the angst of young performance, it evolved into a form of creative expression and performance in itself. “I was always intrigued by the way you could orchestrate things so precisely. I think lighting as a medium is something people take for granted and don’t pay much attention to.”
On campus, Dahnert is an active member of the theater community; he is the current Tech Director for Theatre Workshop and has lit 92 shows (as of our interview) on campus. His background and expertise are impressive and wide-ranging—his past lighting projects include Paradise Motel, Dance Major Theses, student productions, and even lights for famous folk artist Bela Fleck.
Most recently, Dahnert has been heavily involved in the production of Dance Workshop. “I’ve worked on Dance Workshop in past years,” he said. “This was my first time designing, and I was also the only [lighting] person on the show this year. (Which isn’t how it is supposed to be),” laughed Dahnert. Every ounce of luminescence that made its way onto Dance Workshop’s stage can be accredited to Dahnert.
Though primarily in charge of position, intensity, and timing, Dahnert’s role in the planning of Dance Workshop was made easy with the help of the choreographers: “They were immensely helpful in arranging much of production in advance. Every choreographer had filled out a queue sheet even.” While most of the show was already pre-organized, Dahnert filled the role of executioner and handled the “nitty gritty.”
However, Dahnert often grapples with the question of how present or aggressive the effects of lighting should be. “In many ways, the objective of lighting is to be non-existent. It should be something the audience takes for granted,” said Dahnert.
“The purpose of lighting, bluntly speaking, is to make a performance visible. Lighting owes itself to its subjects in many ways. . . When the lights are on the dancers, the lighting matters most.” Lighting provides the perfect creative outlet for someone who sought escape from the exposure of the stage. In this way, Dahnert thrives in obscurity. “In a weird way, one of my favorite things about a show is when no one is talking about the lighting,” added Dahnert. Not only is the spotlight off of him, he is controlling it.
Furthermore, Dahnert excels in the shadows—he doesn’t need people to recognize his work to feel successful. In fact, he feels quite the contrary: “If people are noticing it, you’re doing your job wrong,” he laughed.
Despite the end of Dance Workshop, Dahnert will still see no rest; there are two new productions that he will be lighting this weekend. “Dead Man’s Cellphone” and Andrew Manley’s “NOTHING,” Dahnert’s work is cut out for him in the upcoming months as he prepares to approve almost every student proposal for the theater space on campus.
However, he doesn’t seem tired or drained. In fact, Dahnert couldn’t stress the importance of theater enough, and he eagerly awaits his next 92 productions.