By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
As if scrambling to stage any intimate play in a dark Boulder backyard during a pandemic summer weren’t enough of a challenge, Lighting Designer Lily Bradford was tasked, literally, with turning Ryan Sprague’s play “Reach” inside out.
“Reach” is the story of a woman who has essentially shut herself inside her New Orleans flat in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Inside a theatre, this premise would have afforded all kinds of creative lighting opportunities for Bradford to establish the penned-in claustrophobia this story demanded.
But (thank you COVID), Misfits Theater Company producer Emily Tuckman asked Bradford to instead create that same feeling in the open air of her backyard deck, with small pockets of audience members scattered throughout the lawn watching and listening to the intoxicating underscore of cicadas and crickets.
And yet, Bradford somehow pulled it off from a small table tucked behind the house, where she operated $7,000 worth of lighting equipment she borrowed from the temporarily shuttered Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where she has worked as the Assistant Lighting Designer since 2013. It was mesmerizing to experience the mood she managed to establish with a small pool of light here, the outline of windowpane there – all coming from well-placed projectors and portable lighting trees nestled comfortably next to the arboreal kind.
Bradford did indeed turn the inside out(side).
“I have to say, the entire world of the play was fully realized by its design elements,” said DCPA Theatre Company Literary Manager – and audience member – Lynde Rosario. “The lighting and the sound, specifically, created a theatrical environment that I did not think would be accomplishable in a Boulder backyard.”
This whole creative enterprise was a bit of a “Reach.” Tuckman’s Misfits Theatre Company was just one weekend into its planned staging of a non-binary “Macbeth” when the COVID shutdown hit in March. So she turned back to “Reach,” a play she first staged here as part of the 2016 Boulder Fringe Festival.
Emily Tuckman and Domon Guerrassio. Photo by McLeod9 Creative.
The sultry story is set in 2006, one year after the devastating hurricane caused more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage. It follows a man of questionable intent who is seeking out an old flame in the throes of her own extended grief.
The play, directed by Lisa Young and featuring Tuckman and Damon Guerrasio as the steamy couple, is written by a playwright best-known outside theatre circles as the host of a popular UFO podcast called "Somewhere in the Skies."
Bradford, who was working on the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming “Choir Boy” when COVID brought rehearsals to a screeching halt, has become something of a “Misfits Angel” to Tuckman’s 4-year-old start-up company. She first lent a bunch of DCPA lighting equipment for two Misfits stagings of “Macbeth.” For “Reach,” Bradford added her own (suddenly and unexpectedly available) lighting-design talents to the package.
The “Reach” creative team speaks in all manner of superlatives when describing what Bradford managed to create with her lighting. Tuckman calls Bradford “fabulous and magical.” Young calls Bradford and Stage Manager Madeleine Wagner her “Wonder Women.” (She also calls Bradford her “lightning bug” … get it?) An audience member called the lighting design appropriately “sexy” for the story. And Sprague himself called the lighting “gorgeous.”
Bradford posted to her Facebook page of the project: “It brings me joy to make art and tell stories to a handful of (masked) people in Boulder.”
And throughout the “seat-of-their-pants” run, the Misfits maneuvered everything from cloudbursts to wildfire smoke to lost audience members (hey, my GPS totally failed me) to a bat that decided to dive-bomb its way into the Opening Night storyline.
DCPA Director of Lighting Charles MacLeod, Bradford’s supervisor for the past seven years, says Bradford “is one of those people who just gets things done. Lily always brings energy and a smile to every project, whether she is leading it or assisting. And her organizational skills are enviable. It’s great when your team is talented and just plain nice.”
Bradford hails from Silver Spring, Maryland, and lives in Boulder. She apparently assists only on the coolest of DCPA Theatre Company productions, a list that includes “The Who’s Tommy,” “Macbeth,” “black odyssey,” and, most recently, “A Doll’s House” and “twenty50.” She’s been the Lighting Designer of record on several Off-Center shows, including “Lived/Re-Lived” (true Denver stories told in collaboration with “The Narrators” podcast) and “The SantaLand Diaries,” a co-production with Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company.
But perhaps the best past-life work credit that jumps out from her resume: Production Stage Manager and Audio Engineer for the Charm City Roller Girls of Baltimore, Maryland.
“She really is one of a kind,” MacLeod said.