Michael Maag is the lighting and projection department manager at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Maag has been fascinated with theatrical lighting and design since high school. After achieving a bachelor’s degree in technical theater, he traveled as an actor, a stunt man and fight coordinator, designed lights for theaters and planetariums, and then came to OSF to pursue the love of his life. We chatted in his office behind the stage of the Elizabethan theater.
EH: How do you design lighting for a play?
MM: When reading a play, the first thing that you start with is time, place, motion, where we are, when we are, how we’re moving from place to place. Then there is the overall idea — what is the piece about? What is the underlying meaning of this piece? Why are we doing this play? It’s not only what the playwright has as the underlying meaning of the work, why they wrote the play, but why this director is doing it, what their concept is, and why is it that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival chose to do this play at this time. All of that gets layered in. Then the job is to take the concept and to find a way with light to reinforce and to help tell the story. If we’re doing the “Scottish play” (“Macbeth”), and the play is all about blood, we want to establish lighting that helps make that blood stand out. So, we’ll have stark white, cool light that is in stark contrast to the deep red that is on the other side of the color spectrum, until we need the bloody scenes, and then we light it with red to emphasize it. So that we’re always getting your eye ready for what is going to happen.
EH: What’s it like working at OSF?
MM: The sense of family around here is absolutely amazing to me. Obviously I am in a wheelchair. I was hit by a car in 2003. I wasn’t supposed to live; I did live, and I came back paralyzed. But the Shakespeare Festival continued to use me in my job as the head of the lighting department, because the way I had managed the department up to that time was not something they were willing to give up. I had lost my physical abilities to run up the ladders and focus the light. But the festival was able to see through that, and trusted enough in what was in my brain that they wanted me to still be here.
Since then, I have been doing the thing that I loved to do my entire life. Because of the people that I work with and the strength of this festival, it has not been a major interruption. It’s fantastic, to know just how much love is there. And I have seen it time and time again.
I’m certainly not the only person at this festival in the last 10 years that had something bad happen. And every time, even the slightest thing goes wrong, we pull together as a group. And we’re there with, “What do you need?” And we’re there with the food and the rides. It’s an amazing company that way. There are 600 of us, plus all of the volunteers, and everybody gets in on it. Not only are we an amazing resource in the community, we are an amazing resource to ourselves. We are a really strong family, and this is a really good place to work as a result. This is the first job that I have stayed at for more than four years. There is a reason for that, and it’s not just my lovely wife.