URBANA — Red lights illuminated Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night, a symbol of solidarity with those in the live-events industry.
But for Brant Murray, a University of Illinois teaching assistant professor of lighting design and technology, the process of lighting the building served another purpose for students who don’t have performances to light.
“For the community, it’s really for raising awareness,” Murray said, “but for our students, it’s a very important project because it’s not something they would normally do.”
This type of undertaking isn’t outside of Murray’s expertise. He held multiple senior positions at the Lincoln Center in New York, and he organized the lighting of its exterior for events, including Fashion Week.
But he hadn’t taught this type of architectural lighting during his time at the UI.
This semester, though, provided a conundrum for a class that relies on physically lighting performers.
Director Mike Ross announced a month ago that Krannert Center would cancel all public in-person performances for the remainder of 2020, like similar event centers around the country.
The movement known as #RedAlertRestart created the perfect alternative.
Created by “We Make Events,” which describes itself as “a coalition of trade bodies, businesses, unions and live-events workers,” the event included over 1,500 buildings across the country to raise awareness for unemployed workers. Last month, around 700 buildings in the U.K. were lit for the same reason. The organization encourages people to ask Congress to extend initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program and the federal unemployment compensation.
“We’re really trying to raise awareness and advocate for change at the national level,” Murray said.
It was also the perfect opportunity for Murray’s students to take part in a real-world project. Theirs was led by senior Cameron Koniarski and graduate student Tanner Funk; Rather than directing every move they made, Murray set them loose.
They began gathering lights Friday and made sure they were set for a test run Monday.
“We (said), ‘Take everything we’ve taught you so far and do it how you think it should be done,’” Murray said. “What we put together has been done in less than 24 hours. But the point is, that’s the speed at which the event industry works. If you were to rent a venue to light, you don’t get it for the whole week, you have to go in, know what you’re doing, get the job done and make it look good.”
In a difficult time for students to enter an industry that is almost shut down, Murray is showing his students that options extend beyond the stage.
“No one knows what the future of the live-event industry is going to be or when it’s going to restart,” Murray said. “That’s the type of education we’re trying to pivot to, to say, ‘In this new future world, there may be fewer theater plays, fewer operas, fewer musicals, but there will still be opportunities for lighting designers that are not typical or traditional.”