A Prolific and Award-winning Lighting Designer Offers Some ‘Sayeg’ Advice

Jared A Sayeg-2

Theatrical Lighting Designer, Jared A. Sayeg. Photo courtesy of Jared A. Sayeg.

It is no exaggeration to say that multi-award-winning theatrical and Broadway Lighting Designer, Jared A. Sayeg, has a résumé containing a body of work listing over 400-plus shows, spanning from 1999 to the present. Although his work has largely been in musicals, ballet, traveling productions, and awards shows such as the LA Stage Alliance’s Ovation Awards, Sayeg has worked repeatedly with many notable and award-winning directors such as Sheldon Epps, Glenn Casale, Sally Struthers, Jules Aaron, Stephanie Vlahos, and now, Richard J. Hinds, just to name a few.

Sayeg’s career began in theatrical lighting at the age of 14 in ballet, when his sister, dancer Jean Michelle Sayeg, was performing. It was then he would meet his mentor, late Lighting Designer Liz Stillwell. Sayeg said he learned from Stillwell lighting aesthetics “from art books like Goya and Rembrandt” where she encouraged the replication of such light and color with the theatre stage as canvas. Critic, Rob Stevens, said of his work that “Sayeg’s painterly lighting design makes you almost feel like you can smell the freshly mown grass, taste the freshly baked cake.

Since then, he has done several productions for 5-Star Theatricals where he hopes that theatre can only continue to grow and thrive.

So when it comes to working on a musical like “Newsies” and with companies like 5-Star Theatricals, please walk our Better Lemons readers through your creative process—from paper to implementation—when providing a working design for the show.

The process for me is always to start with a clean slate. And, you know, it’s all a collaboration. 5-Star Theatricals obviously specializes in musicals. And really rather iconic, well-known, Broadway musicals is what they typically program. When they staff their creative teams, from the directors to the designers, we all have several meetings and it all, of course, starts with the Director’s vision.

We kind of springboard from that as to what we really want the end product to be and how we can support their vision and what we can bring to the table. Collectively, sometimes we have a touring set. Sometimes we have a set from scratch. In this case, [for “Newsies”] it is an existing set from one of the tours and our Director, Ricky Hinds, was part of the original Broadway production. So he knows the show very well and brings that wealth of knowledge of this production. But we’re not just reproducing how it was done on Broadway, we’re making it our own production. Everyone’s bringing their own talents to the table.

Disney’s “Newsies: The Broadway Musical” by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. Photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals.

Once we kind of establish our general aesthetic for the show, which was already a month ago, we have several more meetings, and it takes me probably three to four weeks of pre-production before we’re in tech rehearsal. And that’s from reading the script, having meetings, seeing rehearsals, and reviewing rehearsals again to really be familiar with the material and the staging and the scenery.

And then, from there, I start to generate a light plot, draw it all out, and generate an equipment list of everything that the show needs. And all that then gets delivered to the electricians—to our head electrician and their staff—who install it. That’s just from the lighting end of things. Of course, other departments have very similar processes. So all that kind of happens right up until we load it into the theater. And then, once we’re fully installed, I will show up to the theater and we’ll have a focus session where we focus all the lights, putting them where I want them and adjusting both their softness and the direction.

Then we enter tech rehearsals and that’s about a week in the theater.  So that’s kind of a nutshell version of the process.

When it comes to a Disney-related production, have you done “Newsies” with other production companies before? How much different are other musicals from a Disney production?

I have not done “Newsies” before. I have done Disney productions before, but they’re all so different. I couldn’t compare it. I mean, “Newsies” is so iconic just because of the original film, and then of course, the musical—and the songs are just fantastic—it’s such a high-energy show with the dancing. It’s a huge ensemble. And it requires a very athletic cast of young ‘Newsies’ and so it’s very entertaining, but I couldn’t really compare it to other Disney shows.

In my experience in seeing live Disney musical productions, the vibrant color of the animated films seems to be mirrored in such productions. Would you say that is the case with your approach to lighting this show?

I would say it’s actually rather unique in that there’s a lot of grit to this show. And so there is a real absence of color in a way, because so much of the piece is showing the real world these Newsies are living and working in. So there’s a coldness and a harshness, which is really the environment that we live in throughout much of this show. But there are variations or other scenes that take us out of the street and out of the hustle of the city and just the weather of it all. And, then we do go into vignettes scenes where we are more colorful and lush and vibrant.

But the production numbers of course have a lot of energy to them, so the lighting really does sculpt those numbers and supports it with movement, with energy through light. But generally, the aesthetic and color palette of the show is really quite cold and raw because there’s a real grit to the whole physical world that they’re in. So to compare it to other Disney shows, like I said, it’s not lush and vibrant like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Lion King” or any shows like that. There’s definitely a sharper look.

Disney’s “Newsies: The Broadway Musical” by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. Photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals.

I have seen the dramatic power that you do in your work—specifically, as an example, a moving opening scene where light replicates the menacing approach of a very famous train towards the audience. For this particular production of “Newsies”, what are you most looking forward to seeing come to fruition as you have imagined it through your lighting? Are there any particular scenes that you’re excited to see when everything comes together?

For me, it’s the entire show. There isn’t a particular moment, no. But I will say that the end of act one is my favorite. It’s a really very high-energy number and the lighting is another character in the piece—rather, it’s another part of the choreography and the choreography is so critical in “Newsies.” It’s woven through every moment and that, I feel, is a great moment in the production where the syncopation of lighting, music, and movement all really just join together.

I’m looking forward to seeing it. It’s my experience that 5-Star Theatricals doesn’t skimp when it comes to their high-quality productions.

No, they really don’t. We have a great cast and a great creative team. Our director and choreographer are from New York and they cast this from all over and we’re excited… You know, it sounds cheesy, but we’re all just so glad to have reopened the doors to the theater—to be producing live theatre again and creating. Creating theatre and creating art and creating moments and memories [again] is tremendous. So I’m just thrilled. Live theatre is back and we are all doing it again and thriving.

What were you able to do with your time, or what did you choose to do with your time, when things were quiet during the Pandemic?

I’ve never really not worked. I should rephrase that: It was really a shock to my system because I’ve always worked and when the global industry shutdown happened and we were all living in fear, and in the Pandemic, it was an eye-opener. The rest [from work] was great, initially, and to be able to shut [myself] down. But then, after a while, I just tried to make the best use of the time. I did a lot at home and did a lot of cooking, and spent as much time with the family as possible—tried to stay safe and remain positive when we were just kind of in this endless limbo of, “Will the industry come back?

I’m glad we did after a lot of perseverance and COVID compliance and, really, discipline. Which is why we’re able to do this show… And that’s what I’ve learned from these last two years—to find a better balance. We’re always on the go in this industry and it is important for ourselves to just have that little incubation period in between projects to kind of recharge.

Has anything changed in terms of your methods or approach to a project because of COVID?

It hasn’t changed my process. But what has changed for many, many productions, the full company will—and it’s different everywhere you go—remain masked all through tech rehearsals up until, let’s say, final dress rehearsal or the first preview or something. It’s not always the case everywhere, but that’s been my experience on several productions. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the sound department, because [actors’ voices are often muffled.]

But to have a mask covering the actor’s face really does change how I balance lighting and skin tones and in really featuring the performer. So that’s just been a new element in through this COVID chaos we’ve been living through, so that’s been a new adjustment on my end.

Lead photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals. Disney’s “Newsies: The Broadway Musical” by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. 

5-Star Theatricals’ “Newsies: The Broadway Musical,” directed by Richard J. Hinds, book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Jack Feldman, is now playing at the Fred Kavli Theatre Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks until Sunday, July 24, 2024.

Featured photo by Jeff Ditto

Director Jules Aaron Waxes Poetic on TWO FISTED LOVE & His Love of Los Angeles Theatre

A frequently credited directorial name in the Los Angeles Theatre community, Jules Aaron graciously stepped in at the eleventh hour to direct TWO FISTED LOVE, already in previews opening February 10, 2018 at the Odyssey Theatre. We got the chance to chat with Jules on his backstory with David SessionsTWO FISTED LOVE and his long relationship with the Los Angeles theatre community.
Thank you, Jules, for taking the time for this interview!
What cosmic forces propelled you to step in to direct TWO FISTED LOVE?
I’ve known David’s play for two years. I worked dramaturgically on it with him. I originally was set to direct it, but a New York project got in the way. So, when David asked me to come aboard about ten days before opening, I took a look at the wonderful cast, remembered why I love the play, and was on board. I was both scared and excited about doing a play I thought was beautifully written, and though it’s set in 2008, it’s unfortunately very important in the current political maelstrom.
TWO FISTED LOVE is a director’s dream because of the combination of comedy of manners, fantasy and very dark drama. They comprise the unique world of the play. Hopefully, the personal and political fall from grace in 2008 has resonance in the horrific fall from grace that permeates the White House today.
Was CLOUD 9 the first play you directed (South Coast Rep in 1986) in the Los Angeles area?
I had directed at least twenty shows in N.Y. and L.A., but SHE ALSO DANCES at South Coast was my first Equity show. CLOUD 9 at SCR came later.
What brought you to Los Angeles from New York?
Since I have a Ph.D. at NYU in theatre and dramaturgy, I’ve not surprisingly worked on at least 80 premieres over the years, starting in N.Y. in my twenties with plays by Genet and Ionesco and new one-act plays by John Guare, Lanford Wilson and Leonard Melfi. I came out here to head the MFA Directing program at CalArts. In L.A., I did new shows at the Cast, Circle at the Cast, Smitty’s, LATC., etc.

What major changes in the Los Angeles Theatre community have you seen from back in the mid-1980s to present day?
I was proud being a part of a great L.A. community which developed new directors, new designers, new tech people and NEW PLAYWRIGHTS. It was better than N.Y. I believe Equity has single-handedly done their best too emasculate the creative flow of what made L.A. a great theatre town. No one else in L.A. wanted this. (Why have their members vote?!) Future artists will suffer through their stupidity.
You’ve directed shows in cities between the two coasts, right?
As far as working all around the country, I’ve been in pretty extraordinary companies, many who did great new work: the Public theatre in New York, the Humana festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Utah Shakespeare Festival. But there was a spirit of adventure in the 200 small theaters that was exhilarating. I will miss it.
There’s an old adage “Those who don’t act, teach.” This definitely doesn’t apply to you as you do both prolifically. Can you delineate the satisfaction you get from teaching as separate and distinct from your high from directing?
I teach now at American Academy of Dramatic Art, which gets some very gifted students. My directing there has a special adrenaline from dealing with young students. It only informs on my professional work. In the past few tears I decided not to commute, so I only work in local theaters on plays I really care about.

Would you concur that teaching and directing are both methods of promoting better communications?
By “better communication,” I think you mean reaching out in a live situation that changes night-to-night to tell better stories.
As a director of more than 250 stage and television productions, you have been part of many, many auditions. What’s your advice to an auditioning neophyte in a first audition?
Auditions are like doing stand-up. It’s scary. You better have a great picture to get you in. Look right for the audition as part of your prep. Make friends with the assistant casting director. Make strong choices and be ready for adjustments. Your audition starts as you enter the room, and ends when you close the door. PREPARE. It’s not about you. It’s about what actors the director feels will make the play work.

You’re directed big names and unknowns. Any ‘unknown’s you’re directed that eventually became big names?
I directed Don Cheadle at CalArts (in STRIDER) and Julianne Moore at ATL (in THE BUG). They haven’t done badly.
What’s the most unexpected audience reaction to one of your directed plays that you has ever received?
Every audience reaction is unexpected because every night is different.

What post-show reactions from the Odyssey audience would please you the most from seeing TWO FISTED LOVE?

I hope the audience is startled by the play’s turns, that they care about people who can be very dark, and that they learn something about how we live our lives under adversity. Something I think we can relate to in 2018
Thank you again, Jules! I look forward to seeing your latest directorial creation.
For ticket availability and show schedule through March 11, 2018, log onto OdysseyTheatre.com