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The shining light of ‘Judas’

Photos and Story by

Portland Fire & Rescue

Peter West

Peter West, who has been recognized three times with Drammy Awards for Outstanding Lighting Design, is the man who must shine the light on the cast of the spring theater production, "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

"Like the military operation, the enemy is time," West said of the time constraints of a theater production. "Sometimes you eat the bear (time) and sometimes the bear eats you."

He said that time and space are always enemies of a stage production – using space to its fullest potential and getting work done in a short amount of time. "Maximum use of time inside the building is hard," he said.

West was teaching at Lewis and Clark College part time when PCC came a calling, needing a lighting design instructor. This is his first play with PCC as he helps to fill in for Dan Hays who has gone on paternity leave. He is also is teaching lighting design for the college.

His job, like other lighting directors, is to get the feel of the locations just right for the play’s director (Gretchen Icenogle) and the audience. Lighting is a lot more than just illuminating the actors so the audience can see them. Light can set the mood and texture of the production or a scene, and elicit feelings by the simple selection of light color and its placement. The light can be used to reinforce a point, highlight a moment or simply to entertain. To get it right, the lighting person has to work in sync with the director.

"It is the sheer work of collaboration and analysis which is ongoing," he said of lighting in theaters. "The elements should look seamless. That’s the real fun."

"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot"

This is the final main-stage production of the season for PCC’s Theatre Arts group. It will raise the curtain at 7:30 p.m. from May 8-10 and 16-17 and May 18 at 2 p.m. in the 400-seat Performing Arts Center. The play offers a second chance to Judas, most famous for his kissing, specifically for the kiss he planted on the purported son of God and savior of mankind. A couple of millennia later, a feisty and fetching lady lawyer turns up the heat in purgatory by forcing a retrial of the apostle whose name has become synonymous with betrayal. Can divine love and perfect justice be reconciled? Can Judas ultimately find forgiveness? The jury is out. Freud, Mother Theresa, and Satan himself will all take the stand.

For ticket info, visit www.pcc.edu/theatre

"The interpretation of this play has been a real joy," West said. "This play is approaching a high level of intelligence and enthusiasm. I was surprised by the degree of analysis. Everyone involved is incredibly ambitious. One of the key ingredients of the show is the emotional energy being thrown around; lots of intense anger. Students have to memorize long speeches that are difficult and powerful."

Sneaking into the New York opera

Portland Fire & Rescue West grew up in New York during the 1950s and 60s, the child of a painter and a photographer. He could travel anywhere in the city for 15 cents and a seat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium cost only $3. He often recalls fondly when he would get into opera dress rehearsals for free. He was 16 when he got a summer job at Long Island’s John Drew Theatre as an apprentice. The group consisted of mostly students from the Yale Drama School and the job didn’t pay much, he explained, but it exposed him to people on the professional track in theater arts. They produced musicals, comedies, revues and classics.

"All I wanted to do at that point was to have a successful professional career," he said. "It was the most fun I’d ever had."

The job propelled him into high school theater gigs and he majored in theater arts in college, specializing in theatrical technique. West came to Portland in 1966 to Reed College, where he was a theater major and later continued his education at Portland State. He designed seven seasons of lighting for the groundbreaking modern dance company Cirque/Portland Dance Theatre and eight seasons for The Jefferson Dancers. For Oregon Ballet Theatre he lit such productions as "Equinoxe," "Crayola," "Gloria," and more. His Portland Opera credits include "Carmen," "Martha," and "Don Giovanni," to name a few.

In the 1970s, his interest in theater took him on a long journey to every corner of the theater world. He toured with a theater group that consisted of artists from all kinds of media that traveled city to city in an old VW bus, "creating works of art I still haven’t seen," he said.

Later, West designed and produced corporate events, trade shows and special projects in the U.S., Asia and Europe for Nike (working at times with Michael Jordan), Columbia Sportswear, Nintendo, Autodesk, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Nordstrom, Adidas, Skechers and Dr. Martens. His architectural projects include exhibit lighting for The Museum at Warm Springs and Niketown Atlanta.

Now, Peter West spends his time at PCC working on theater productions, always in that continuous battle with the bear – time.

"The exciting part is the program is very vibrant," West said of PCC. "There is a lot going on. There are plenty of people with a lot of enthusiasm and professional commitment."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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