LD Spotlight Interview: Elation, August 2019
Growing up in rural Vermont, Sooner Routhier’s love of concert touring developed when she would cross the border to Montreal to see shows. She now counts artists like KISS, Muse, Halsey, Mötley Crüe, G-Eazy and Depeche Mode as clients. A self-described ‘chameleon’ when it comes to design, this Formula One fan (and boxing enthusiast) has honed her skills to become one of our industry’s most respected and sought after designers.
What was life like growing up in Northern Vermont?
I grew up in a pretty rural community. I remember there were only 3 stoplights in the town. My junior high school tended to smell like cow manure when the farmers were getting their fields ready for spring planting! We did a lot of outdoor activities; hiking, mountain biking, sailing in the summer and skiing, snowmobiling, skating in the winter.
When did lighting enter the picture?
In the summers, I would participate in theatre programs at the high school. There was a stock company that put on some pretty elaborate productions and I always found a way to participate. In high school, my dance teacher, Cheri Skurdall, introduced me to tech theatre. I was hooked! I finally attended my first concert as a senior and discovered that I wanted to pursue concert touring. Unfortunately, the closest concerts we could attend were over two hours away. There just wasn’t another location close to Northern Vermont to see bands play. Somehow my friends and I managed to see a bunch in Montreal. I tried to study the lighting designer’s cuing and stage designs as much as I could.
If I have it right, you honed your chops both in school and out there in the “real world.” Is one more important than the other?
I always stress that real world experience is more important than school. However, I needed school to gain a lot of my real world experience. Attending college allowed me to grow up. I learned about the real world by living in a dorm and an apartment outside of my hometown in Northern Vermont. I think that it’s important to get the experience of college and as much real world as possible. Even if one only gets two years of trade school – so be it.
Did you have that seminal moment when you knew lighting was for you?
I saw Lawrence Upton’s lighting design for Smashing Pumpkins “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” tour in 1996. I had never seen lighting move in such vivid colors before that moment.
A successful lighting designer needs to have both a technical and artistic side. What percentage would you place on each?
As a lighting or production designer, it should be 50/50. A creative director should be 100% artistic. I think that there is a strict line between creative direction and production design. A production designer needs to help the badass creative director make his/her outside-the-box ideas come to life. The only way that can be done is by understanding technical constraints in a creative way.
Do you have a certain lighting design style or is there a look that defines a Sooner Routhier design?
I consider myself a chameleon. I usually can tailor my style to whatever the creative entails. I admire designers who have a very specific voice and style. I consider them true artists. I think that my voice is unique in that it changes from project to project.
What, or who, do you feel has influenced your design style the most?
I can’t necessarily pinpoint one individual that has influenced me the most. I’m constantly learning from multiple individuals and my surroundings. I think that it helps me stay fluid with my design style. I try to go to art galleries and performances as much as possible to gain inspiration.
Do you prefer a client who wants to collaborate with you on the design or one who just lets you run with it?
I absolutely love collaborating. I think it’s important for an artist to see his/her own voice in a live show. It’s sometimes more difficult when they don’t give you an idea to start with. It’s more difficult to pull together a concept without a bit of direction because there are so many things that I want to do! Sometimes I have too many thoughts floating around my head to put to paper. When I get a bit of direction from a creative director or artist, it helps me hone in on those thoughts to create something that is more tailored to his or her overall vision.
From the moment you sit down with a client to the final show of a tour, what's your favorite part of the journey?
My favorite moment – when we actually have time for this – is the moment that we’re sitting down in the final two days of rehearsals before a first show. Those are the moments for the super nitpicky details. Sliding time code events left or right to perfect the timing. Examining a color that might be slightly off from the overall palette we’re trying to achieve in a song. Adding one extra snap to a drum beat because it needs that tiny little detail. It gets a little obsessive compulsive. But when we have the time to fix all the tiny details, the show feels magical.
Has the lighting design process changed over the course of your career? How?
It CONSTANTLY evolves. And it has to. Technology changes. Client’s needs and wants change. It is a constant evolution of process for me. Just when I think I have a good flow, something changes and I have to adjust my process.
This industry is pretty male dominated. Has that ever been a problem? An advantage? Or neither?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with incredible men in this industry. I have never experienced a challenge with the male dominated industry. If there is a problem – it’s their problem, not mine. I try to carry on as a strong lighting designer in the industry – not a strong female lighting designer in the industry.
When does fixture choice enter your head? Do you think about that as you’re designing or is it something you think about afterwards?
It depends on the design and the artist. Sometimes, I’m a bit of a slave to inventory and availability. But I almost always have some sort of fixture that is specific to a scenic/production design. The specific fixture is usually something that needs to be built into the set.
You’ve turned to Elation fixtures at times and are currently using a bunch of DARTZ 360™ on the KISS “End of the Road” tour. Is there an Elation light you’d like to get your hands on?
I saw a recent demo of the Artiste Picasso and really loved the features. I’m hoping to get it on a show soon. I will be checking out the new Fuze on Tuesday. Very much looking forward to it.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently collaborating with the Cour Design team for the upcoming Of Monsters and Men tour. I also still have a few shows left with Muse before the end of the year. KISS is still rolling around the planet. And I have a few design proposals that are about to go out. There are a few other projects that I can’t discuss ;-)
What do you like to do when you’re not doing lighting?
Am I ever NOT working??? HAHAHA! I love reading. I’m almost always relaxing with my kindle when I can. I also love boxing. I try to train with my boxing trainer twice a week when I’m home. It’s an incredible physical and mental work out. I’ll never get in a ring. But I love doing mitt and bag work as much as possible.
This industry can be hard on people. What do you do to stay healthy?
I try my hardest to workout 4 to 5 days a week. It’s not easy when I’m in the middle of rehearsals and programming. But it’s the only way I can keep my brain functioning properly. And I tend to have more energy when I keep up with the routine.
What’s something about Sooner that people might find surprising?
I’m obsessed with Formula One racing.
What advice would you give to a young lighting designer just starting out?
LEARN. Never stop learning. I’m constantly going to galleries, shows, looking at art online, etc. I love working with younger programmers and lighting directors that know more about the lighting console than me so that I can learn new tricks. I think it’s important to have an open mind so that you can allow growth in your life. Even when it comes in unexpected places.