Saturday, August 13, 2005
While watching bands at Levelz these days, you can sense an unseen performer in the room. It takes awhile to figure out where all the extra energy is coming from, and then the lights fade out.
Patrick Steitz, the 28-year-old lighting designer at Levelz, seems to be dancing along with the music as he brings one light down and raises another.
"I count the beats and anticipate what's going to happen next," he said.
Unlike theater, in which lighting designers pre-program each sequence, there's nothing static about lighting a live band.
When Steitz talks about his lights, he uses words like improvisation as if the lights are just another instrument on stage with the band.
Steitz has been on the road with rock bands and theater shows for the better part of 10 years. Taking the job at Levelz and moving to Steamboat Springs is his first attempt to settle down and enjoy what he's learned during the past decade.
His resume includes long tours with Yonder Mountain String Band, Speakeasy and a band from Atlanta called Blue String. He was touring with Blue String when they passed through Steamboat for a night at Levelz. Steitz got along really well with the club owner, Chad Gagliano, and the seed was planted for him to come back to Steamboat.
Steitz finally decided to make the move after a year on tour with "Cats," the off-Broadway musical. For an entire year, Steitz ran the preset lighting design for the show. For someone who likes to improvise, pushing buttons on cue was like working inside a cage. As soon as the tour ended, he offered his resignation and gave Gagliano a call.
Steitz is a self-taught designer. He was 18 years old, already registered for college but unsure what he was going to do with his life, when he discovered lighting.
He was watching "Pulse," the 1994 Pink Floyd video, in a friend's living room when he had the epiphany.
"The next day, I went to the bank and took out a loan for $5,000," he said. "Then I drove to St. Louis and bought what I thought at the time was a pretty good light setup." Steitz was still living in his hometown of Springfield, Ill., at the time. He approached his favorite local band, Speakeasy, and asked whether they needed a lighting guy.
"I was kind of a natural at it," he said. "It's always made sense to me."
When Steitz starts working with a new band or musicians, he gets a hold of as much of their music as possible and immerses himself in it.
"I really study it," he said. "If I get to know them a little bit, I can get inside their head. I get pretty deep sometimes about what I do."
Steitz favorite show of his career was lighting DJ Jon Bishop.
"The music gives you so much room," he said. "You aren't constrained. I like the way he builds the energy and the beats until it reaches that breaking moment."
Although Steitz describes his lighting design using musical terms, it is still a visual art -- a moving sculpture.
"I try to incorporate colors, shapes and movements that are right for the kind of music on stage," he said. "What you're seeing on stage is a blue and magenta wash, but there's a lot more going on than people might pick up on.
"This is my passion. It's what makes me happy. It's my creative release. For some people, it's just a job, but for me, it's when I can be myself."
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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