The Work, and Skill, It Takes to Make It Simple

A director friend of mine told me a story once about a theatrical piece he worked on. The piece was primarily musical, but it included staged elements. He lobbied for a specific, very talented, top-of-the-line lighting designer to be part of the artistic team for the piece.

As my friend tells it, the lighting designer tried concept after concept and idea after idea to do the piece justice. Lots of lights! Lots of cues! Fancy! Complex!

But the more he added, the less it worked.

Finally, he came to my friend with the solution. One streetlight. One streetlight would provide the light for this piece.

According to my friend, the producer asked him why they were paying top dollar for a single light. “Because you’re not paying per light, you’re paying for the right solution,” he responded. 

I think of this story often, in a couple of contexts. One is that we pay professionals for the invisible work they do that leads up to the solution. In this case, the designer created many ideas before he found what was going to work for this show, at this time, in this place. He kept iterating until he discovered the right solution.

He was also confident enough in his own work to be able to say “Here’s the plan, it’s one light.” How many of us are ready to turn in something that we know is the culmination of a lot of work, but may look like anyone could have done it? The beauty of his design was that it took an incredibly experienced professional to come up with it, and to commit to it. 

Anyone can over-design and over-complicate in an effort to prove that we did something. What does it look like to make a difference by doing something simple?

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