It’s a twist of fate worthy of the Bard himself: This summer, the two Shakespearean plays currently being performed in Central Park showcase the work of not one but two lighting designers from Verona (New Jersey, not Italy).
The first is Ken Posner, whose work has illuminated more than 35 Broadway musicals, including Wicked and The Coast of Utopia, for which he won a Tony Award. The second is Alex Fogel, who graduated from Verona High School in 2005 and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in 2009, and who was Posner’s assistant on the sets.
For a month, the two designers worked nightly at the Delacorte Theater preparing for the Public Theater‘s annual free production of Shakespeare in the Park. Since June 9, The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale have alternated in repertory on the outdoor stage in Central Park near 81st Street. Both shows close August 1, but rumor has it that Merchant, which won critical raves and features an electrifying performance by Al Pacino, is Broadway-bound.
Moving indoors would no doubt be a welcome change of pace for the lighting team, as outdoor venues such as the Delacorte present unique challenges to lighting designers. “There’s this really big light in the sky that we have no control over,” says Fogel. “The time that it sets is constantly changing.”
What’s more, while in a normal Broadway theater the lighting team can leave after rehearsal and return in the morning to make adjustments after a good night’s sleep, “we couldn’t do the lights in the morning because it was light out,” he says. This meant literally working through the night. Fogel crashed in the city with friends and family afterward, but Posner returned home to wife Michelle and children Lillian, Ethan and Rachel, which meant traversing the park in the wee hours of the morning.
Despite the challenges and odd hours, Fogel is enjoying his new profession. The product of a theater family–his mother, Karen Giombetti Fogel, was a Broadway dancer, and his father Ron sells lighting equipment to theaters–Fogel became interested in the artistic aspects of stage lighting as a preteen and, as a high school junior and senior, created the lighting for the VHS shows Into the Woods and Jekyl & Hyde. “It’s a long process but the perfection is one of the things I find most interesting,” he says. “You go over and over the same details to make it great so when it opens it’s spot-on.”
Verona being the small town it is, it wasn’t a complete coincidence that the two neighbors have ended up working together. They crossed paths in town shortly after Alex graduated from college last year and a few months later, when Posner was asked to do the lighting for a production at the Manhattan Theater Club, he invited Fogel to come in and learn the ropes as an intern/assistant.
The connection has certainly been fortuitous for Fogel, who is thrilled to be learning from a master of the genre at such an early stage in his career. “Ken is a fantastic designer,” he says. “I really admire his work. On top of that he’s a good guy and really great to work for.”