“Angels was tough. It really beat the crap out of me.
It was also one of the shows that got me into grad school. And getting into Yale is no small feat.”
Award-winning lighting designer Marcus Doshi ’97 is sitting in one of the seats in Northwestern University’s Josephine Louis Theater recalling his work on his senior capstone project at Wabash: lighting the theater department’s production of Angels in America.
“I just wanted to work with Jim Fisher,” says Doshi, now associate professor of theater at Northwestern. “I had absolutely no idea the scale of what we were doing until we were actually doing it. It was a bear of a show, and I was just trying to get it lit!”
The structure of the play—38 scenes—was among its challenges.
“Lots of different scenes, lots of different sets, lots of different transitions. Sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living, I say, ‘Transitions.’ There were a lot of transitions in this production of Angels.”
Ball Theater had its limitations too. The show required Doshi to employ an electrician in the basement constantly patching and unpatching circuits into the dimmer with every scene change.
“It was, without question, a formative experience in my career as an artist.”
That artistic career nearly didn’t happen. When he was 17, Doshi was a student athletic trainer planning to become a neurosurgeon. The College’s trainer, Jack Mansfield, had recruited him, and Doshi began visiting Wabash his sophomore year. But there were changes coming.
“I was getting into the nascent punk culture at my high school; I grew a Mohawk and I had a double row of liberty spikes and would wear it in a ponytail.”
During two-a-day football practices his senior year, the head trainer told Doshi he wouldn’t let him on the field without a haircut. After three years of working practices and games for football, basketball, volleyball, and swimming, Doshi walked away.
“Suddenly I had all this free time on my hands, and my art teacher said, ‘Why don’t you go down to the theater and help them paint sets.’ So I did. The next thing I know I’m running a fall spot for a dance concert and then backstage for something else. It was great!”
Doshi had chosen Wabash with his pre-med plans in mind. First semester freshman year he took two science courses, freshman composition, and Introduction to Stage Design.
“I got a C in bio; I got 110 percent in stage design. The first week of classes, I walked into the theater and introduced myself to the scene designer, Lonna Wilke, and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in theater; can I hang out?’ She said, ‘You can have a job—you are going to be the master electrician.’ That became my work/study job the whole time I was at Wabash. I had found my home.
“I discovered that lighting is a classic art form in the way it’s designed and processed. It’s very nimble and agile, so the way I’m interfacing with a production as it’s being built onstage, I can be right in the game with it.”
Doshi says he learned a lot from Fisher while lighting Angels, often from afar. With Doshi up in the lighting booth and Fisher in the seats close to the stage during rehearsals, a thumbs up from the professor told his student that his ideas were working.
“I learned that the best way to tech the lighting design is just to do it. I remember very distinctly Jim would make that gesture, and we’d move on to the next thing. ‘This is good, let’s keep going.’ I remember the ease with which the lighting ideas came together.”
Now as a tenured professor with hundreds of projects to his credit, he hasn’t forgotten the power of those simple gestures.
“If I could have the impact on my students that teachers like Fisher, Michael Abbott, David Blix had on me, I’d be cooking with gas!”
As a highly sought-after lighting designer and professor, Doshi does well to balance, essentially, two full-time jobs. But he also enjoys the feedback loop he’s created by sharing the discoveries he makes in the theater with his students.
“I’m out all over the world designing shows, then in the classroom I have to put my money where my mouth is. I didn’t know that I would love teaching as much as I love it, but I really love it.”
Although Angels was a challenging project, Doshi remembers his time at Wabash fondly.
“I would not be where I am in life without that school, and there is absolutely no question about that. I was utterly transformed by that institution. The atmosphere of intellectual rigor lit a fire that is still burning.”
He says that, after Angels, he felt as though anything was possible.
“If we could do that play, with those limitations in that environment, and be that successful, why, then you could do it anywhere with anything,” he says. “It was a trajectory-altering project.”
Marcus Doshi » Class of 1997
Scenic and lighting designer
Associate Professor of Theatre