When a local actor makes a splash on television or Broadway, it’s big news. But there’s a homegrown theater pro who’s been making waves all over the world for more than a decade. And few Richmonders know about him outside of the theater scene.
Lighting designer Joe Doran is responsible for the rock ’n’ roll light show interludes in Swift Creek Mill’s recently opened musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and in a couple of months he’ll be back in town to bring a similar sense of spectacle to Virginia Repertory Theatre’s “Dreamgirls.”
In between, he’ll travel to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to light shows there, and maybe get a chance to stop in New York, which he’s called home for 15 years.
Some of his more significant credits have included lighting the Finnish National Opera Ballet in Helsinki and an adaptation of “The Tempest,” starring Olympia Dukakis, in Montana.
So why does a big-time international designer still return to little old Richmond?
“Richmond allows me to do such a variety of work. I really cherish the times I get to come back,” Doran says. “The last show I did here was the Mill’s ‘Little Lion,’ which was an intense drama, and now I get to do a big campy musical.”
The local connection to family and friends also runs deep for Doran, whose first interest in theater was as an actor, landing roles at Fort Lee Playhouse and the Mill when he was only 9. While he hated auditioning, he loved being in the room while theater was being made. So he started volunteering to paint scenery and hang lights and, before long, graduated from technician to designer.
Early on, he found a niche he could embrace.
“I was running the board for a production of ‘Secret Garden’ back when we still used manual dimmers,” Doran recalls. “I had to pay attention to the rhythm and the mood, really feel the music, because with a flick of a switch I could totally change the way the stage looked.
“You can really tell a story with lights. They are like another character in a show.”
Doran says that lighting productions in New York usually involves a whole team -- a designer, an assistant and a programmer, at least -- while it’s usually just him for shows here. “I really respect people in Richmond,” he says. “They do amazing things with much less money and a lot fewer people than in other cities.”
Running: Chamberlayne Actors Theatre’s “Moon Over Buffalo” sets next weekend. Virginia Rep musicals “I Do! I Do!” closes while “Croaker: the Frog Prince Musical” sings on for another couple weeks.
On deck: The production with the biggest buzz coming into this season, Quill Theatre’s “King Lear,” opens March 31, featuring Richmond legend Joe Inscoe on the beautiful Leslie Cheek stage at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.