At the Alley Theatre, Making Sure Theatergoers Never Feel In the Dark

Plus, six can’t-miss shows this season.

By Morgan Kinney August 26, 2019 Published in the September 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Vance uses lighting to tell stories.

He might be one of the few employees at the Alley actively avoiding the spotlight. You’ll typically find Lighting Supervisor Andrew Vance in the shadows, working hard at conjuring sunsets or figuring out which lighting angle makes an actor look particularly spooky. “This is my way of being able to tell a story to a larger audience,” he explains, “that doesn’t involve me talking in front of lots of people.”

At one point the Wisconsin native saw a future in biochemistry. Yet during a high school lab, he tried, and failed, to imagine himself running experiments for the next 50 or 60 years. He hung up the goggles in favor of a theater degree. A post-grad lighting gig with the opera brought him to Houston nearly two decades ago, and by now he’s worked, as either staff or freelance, on most every stage in the city.

For every Alley production, Vance and his team spend grueling tech weeks analyzing the script, seeking ways to facilitate the story through three main tools—light, color, and time. If they’re successful, much of that work is invisible: Most audience members would never guess that a recent production required a mile and a half of LED lights tucked into the set design, or that there are nearly four dozen shades of blue light, each suited to a different dramatic purpose.

“A lot of times, lighting’s the icing on the cake, and it’s the thing that lots of people don’t notice,” he admits, “but without it they wouldn’t be able to understand the play.”

Season Standouts

A Chorus LineTheatre Under the Stars | Sept. 10-22

One of the longest-running Broadway shows ever, this 1975 musical about musicals follows the backstage drama of the usually anonymous chorus line, deploying razzle-dazzle song and dance along the way.

The Hard ProblemMain Street Theater | Sept. 14-Oct. 6

What is consciousness? That’s the existential question at the heart of Sir Tom Stoppard’s 2015 work, which follows a brainy psychology researcher on a years-long journey to figure it out for herself. Expect the usual intellectual heft—hopefully buoyed by the proper amount of heart—from the Arcadia dramatist.

VietgoneAlley Theatre | Oct. 4-Nov. 3

Playwright Qui Nguyen sprinkles ninja fights, rap battles, and plenty of profanity into this semiautobiographical sex comedy from 2016, which explores the lives of Vietnam War refugees struggling in 1970s America.

Salt, Root and RoeStages Repertory Theatre | Oct. 4-20

A co-production with St. Louis’s Upstream Theater, this U.S. premiere stars Stages favorite Sally Edmundson as one of two elderly twin sisters who must make an 11th-hour decision: whether to die on their own terms or embrace what life remains.

Dear Evan HansenBroadway in Houston | Nov. 12-24

Caught in an impossible tangle of anxiety, social media hysteria, and teenage suicide, the titular character tells a lie that spins out of his control. Considering the 2016 Broadway production racked up six Tonys and a Grammy, you won’t want to miss this touring production of a modern classic.

Baby Screams MiracleCatastrophic Theatre | Nov. 22-Dec. 15

Described by the New York Theatre Review as “almost more dream than play,” Clare Barron’s 2015 “enviro-horror” comedy follows a small, religious family engulfed by an apocalyptic storm. When an alienated daughter returns amid the chaos, the family must grapple with forgiveness and faith.

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