34 PL & P
By Manus Hopkins
Bryan Kenney is catching up on a lot of projects these days . The Halifax-born , now B . C . -based lighting designer , like so many others in his industry , had most of his work paused during the pandemic , but as health restrictions ease up , the project requests are flooding back — some new , and some that were meant to happen over the last few years .
“ I ’ m working as an account rep and designer for Innovation Lighting right now , so with the COVID restrictions dropping , I ’ ve been slammed with requests over the last couple months , planning everything that ’ s been pushed back or held off until restrictions lifted ,” he tells Professional Lighting and Production .“ I ’ m deep in a number of large-scale corporate conferences , as well as a few high-profile weddings .”
Kenney has taken on a massive variety of different projects in his career as a lighting designer , but his favourite projects have been stage plays . One play he worked on at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria , B . C ., called Forget About Tomorrow , resonated with him for an interesting reason . The play involves a family coping with the father getting early onset Alzheimer ’ s , and the husband of the playwright , Jill Daum , was dealing with the same diagnosis .
“ Seeing him sit there at our dress rehearsal , while his colleagues performed a story that paralleled his life in front of him — it was beautiful and haunting ,” Kenney remembers .
He ’ s also worked on many musical productions , and says he ’ s been fortunate to work with some of Canada ’ s Indigenous companies to help share their stories . One such musical he mentions is Children of God by Corey Payette , which focuses on an Oji-Cree family whose children were taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario . As the associate designer , tasked with adapting and implementing Jeff Harrison ’ s original design , it was a tough and rewarding job , between its preproduction , rehearsals , and first run in Montreal , followed by a run in Vancouver , and then a “ rock and roll-style tour ” through B . C .
“ The main reason this one sticks with me , was to witness how this show , about residential schools and their survivors , struck people . I hope I did the work justice ,” says Kenney .
Among his work with Innovation Lighting , who he says “ have been great to me throughout the whole pandemic ,” one show that sticks out was a big holiday party for EA Games shortly before the pandemic , and it certainly wasn ’ t your average bland company party .
“ They went all out ! We had two different stages — one running live entertainment , bands , and DJs , and the other for more interactive audience games , like a quiz show , and in the middle , we had a 100- by 100-ft . laser tag arena . The whole place was decked out with decor with different thematic zones as you walked the space ,” he says , noting the dozen giant mirror balloons on DMX winches , hundreds of lighting fixtures , and more throughout the spaces . “ It was one of the largest productions I put together , it was also one of the last for nearly two years .”
Through all the challenges in his career , though , nothing was quite like some of the work Kenney did during the height of the pandemic , when physical distancing guidelines were still in place .
“ Building out a show story-wise that could flow from space to space , only using story driven prompts and cues , that allowed us to have a steady stream of people into the exhibit , required a precision within all departments to have all the lighting , audio , and video cues in sync , and active across a couple dozen different spaces , and still allow for a story that entertained and had a natural flow was a monumental task ,” he explains . “ I took on the lighting design , but also a lot of other technical synchronization responsibilities . Heck , I even wrote the first sketch of a story for one of them .”
Interestingly , before his lighting career , Kenney was first enrolled in a science program at Dalhousie University . It seemed “ proper ,” and was what his school pushed him to do , but it wasn ’ t long before he grew bored of it .
“ A friend of mine was in the theatre program at Dal , so I thought I would give it a shot to see if I could finish off a couple more years and walk away with a degree ,” he remembers . “ From nearly the get-go , it sucked me in , body and soul , and I ended up finishing my degree with honours .” Kenney ’ s program , Technical
Scenography , consisted of regular production
work like scenic carpentry , prop-building , and audio , but also had a focus on scenic design with a side of lighting .
After school , Kenney started working in theatre . As a house technician for a few venues in Halifax , he soon became a technical director at Ship ’ s Company Theatre in Parrsboro , NS , and then took on an assistant technical director role at Neptune Theatre in Halifax .
“ I wanted to create , not manage , so I applied to the University of Victoria ’ s grad program , where I did a Masters of Fine Arts in design under Allan Stichbury and began designing theatre around B . C ., some back in Nova Scotia and P . E . I ., and did a couple seasons at the Stratford Festival as an assistant ,” he says .
In between theatre gigs , Kenney took on corporate and music gigs to fill in the gaps . Eventually , he started at Innovation Lighting as an in-house designer and account representative , where he still works today .
Through it all , what Kenney loves most about his work is the moment that a space gets instantly transformed once the house lights go off and the stage lights take over , and the fact lighting is the last touch to bring a production to life .
“ I always thought the lighting is what takes something from ordinary to exceptional ,” he says . “ I ’ m constantly amazed at how much lighting transforms , and how much emotion and atmosphere are created with a little bit of light .”
Manus Hopkins is the assistant editor for Professional Lighting and Production .