For Jason Lyons, Vala’s In-House Lighting Designer, it was a production of Fiddler on the Roof. “That show starts off pretty quietly, and Tevye is telling his story, and I was sitting there like what is this going to be . . . I was probably 7 or 8, and he’s talking and he’s talking and then he starts talking about tradition and then the music starts getting bigger and then all of a sudden he’s stomping and the music starts going and the chorus starts going and they start dancing around the stage, and I was just . . . wow.” A lifelong passion for theater was born.
It is the potential to bring that unforgettable moment of connection to the next generation that has Jason most eager to be working with Vala. “We all remember that day that we sat in a theater for the first time and had that moment of revelation . . . Hopefully some of those people that we connect with will be inspired to create themselves, and that is all of our wish and hope when we do create any piece of theater.”
Creating Musical Theater for a New Generation
Jason got to know Vala Founder, Jonathan Brielle, when he worked with him on the Off-Broadway show, Himself and Nora. Jason loved that experience and what a great collaborator Jonathan was. They did recordings of the show with HMS, and that came out so beautifully, it became the “germ that took us down the road,” towards musicals “delivered in a more cinematic setting.”
When asked what gets him excited about starting a new platform, Jason describes the development of theater and musicals as having become stalled. “We’ve been doing things the same way we’ve been doing them for years.” Vala’s ability to find new ways of developing new work is central to his vision of the platform.
Delivering Broadway Shows to the Masses
Jason, who has won an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Lighting Design amongst numerous other awards, has appreciated the “breadth of exciting things happening” Off Broadway. “One of the things that I’ve been really excited about over the course of my career is that I have been able to be a part of a lot of new productions.” But in recent years, even Off Broadway is less accessible to developing work and theatergoers alike.
That accessibility is another key component of Vala for Jason. “How do we bring theater to people, whether it’s about where they are, whether it’s socioeconomic, whatever the roadblocks are, we’re trying to get past those and trying to make sure that everyone has the ability to dream with us.”
Producing Stage Magic
Jason’s early passion for theater continued to take root in junior high as a performer, and he became involved backstage in high school while interning one summer. He tried his hand at carpentry, props and costumes, but it was a community theater production of Man of La Mancha that set him on his future career path. While operating the follow spotlight, and watching the way the light cue worked in tandem with the music and the cast “to deliver a real true feeling to an entire group of people . . . just blew my mind, and it was at that moment that that I was like that is what I want to do, I want to be able to create moments like that.”
Jason now recalls that original experience that instilled his love of theater during Fiddler on the Roof, “I look back at that quiet moment at the beginning and realize how important that was to pull an audience in and really make you listen for a second before you wow them.” Lighting design might be one of the more underappreciated aspects that goes into a production. Maybe that’s a good thing, “overall, I think, great lighting is sometimes totally unnoticeable . . . it doesn’t take you out of it, it doesn’t take your eye away from where you’re supposed to be looking.”
Jason views lighting design as the “thread that ties everything together . . . That is what I do on a daily basis and it’s all about figuring out how to create empathy for the audience, get the audience to relate to what is happening on stage. And it’s in creating those moments that I get most excited. Whether they’re big or small, sometimes it’s the most intimate thing, and sometimes it’s the giant light cue that everybody notices, but being a part of creating all of that is thrilling.”