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Inside the booth – with Andrew Potvin

Inside the booth – with Andrew Potvin

One of the questions I asked Andrew during this interview was “What are the different jobs you do?” but upon hearing his answer, the more apt question would have been “What jobs don’t you do?”.

Andrew is Indian Ink’s lighting guy, tour guy, sound guy and all-around tech-extraordinaire. Fortunately for me, he took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and have a chat!

What goes into the process of setting up a show from your end? What are some of the key things you have to prepare for? 

It’s important to get an idea of the storyline, the writers’ and director’s vision, and what their intentions are. Once you have a good sense of this, then it’s about looking at what the long term goal for the production and the design team is. 

Indian Ink’s work has to be built to tour easily. So it’s important from early on to build a design that is also easy to install and travel with. For the Paradise lighting design, I needed to find the balance between creating the various lighting states required for the storyline and the logistics of making the design happen in various theatres. My original lighting design in the development season had over 70 lighting fixtures, whereas the current one has about 25. This adjustment maintains the quality but (hopefully!) allows for the show to be installed and performed on the same day. We’re going to be trying that out for the first time on the South Island leg of this tour!

Often my lighting designs are large scale, flashy and feature prominently. So it’s been a nice challenge with Indian Ink creating different, simple, clean lighting states that are not in the audience’s face or hitting the projector screen upstage of the acting space. The lighting in Paradise is not an obvious thing where people go “oh my gosh, the lighting is amazing in the show”, as they would often do when I light a musical.  

Do you have a favourite Indian Ink show?

I’m definitely biased, but I would say it would have to be The Pickle King and Mrs. Krishnan’s Party. They’re both really fun, emotionally engaging, lots of laughs and great stories. Indian Ink’s slogan of serious laughter is so relevant in those shows. The Pickle King is a bit more old school than Mrs. Krishnan’s Party but I really enjoy both of them. I’ve worked on four Indian Ink shows in their portfolio now, and I’ve seen two or three of the others, and while there’s still a few I haven’t seen, I still think I would pick these two.

So, how many jobs do you work again?

Andrew Potvin Designs Limited has a variety of permanent and project-based contracts of varying scale and time commitments. My core contract is working with iTICKET as their Business Development Manager. Since 2020 my second main contract has been with Indian Ink tour managing The Pickle King and Mrs. Krishnan’s Party (and now Paradise). Around these I do a bunch of consulting and/or design work for various theatre companies as well as mentoring technical theatre students.

In addition to these core contracts, I volunteer as the manager of Westpoint Performing Arts Centre (Auckland Music Theatre) undertaking venue hire and scheduling. I’m also a Trustee for Auckland Musical Arts Trust. Just can’t escape my passion for musicals!

How does touring change when it’s international vs domestic?

When touring nationally with Indian Ink we have responsibility for the whole touring package and planning. This includes the budgeting, logistics, technical elements, staffing, ticketing and so on. There is a bit more pressure with the New Zealand tours because logistically, we need to look at the tour as a whole as some centres may not have the equipment we need which means we have to travel more gear or be prepared to pay for higher costs than perhaps in the larger New Zealand centres. 

Internationally, the venues (or presenters as we call them) basically buy our work, and we provide them with a Rider that tells them what we need from them. So for example, in New Zealand we tour everything around the country in a car and trailer, including speakers, some lights and cables, whereas on our international tour, we tour the set & costumes in 6 suitcases and the venue provides all the big stuff (like speakers and lights) as part of their investment in the show. So there’s no additional cost, because they’re bringing us in, as opposed to us producing in a venue for hire. This allows us to focus more on the relationship with the presenters and making the best experience possible for their team and audiences. 

Was this what you always wanted to do?

Yeah, I think so. It’s what I’ve always done!

It’s really hard to go back in time and think of a stage where I wasn’t really doing theatre. Like many, I started off wanting to be on the stage but it didn’t turn out to be my calling. 

In high school I auditioned to be in the musical Little Shop of Horrors and I didn’t get the role. However, I really wanted to be involved because there was a girl…

So I asked myself, “how else can I get involved – I’ll sign up to be on the crew”. But then I didn’t make the crew team either! 

I was a young sports kid… they had no idea who I was, and they only had 10 spots. So when loading day came around, I just went to the theatre anyway. And before you knew it, I ended up being the assistant stage manager for the show after one of the main crew members had to pull out. There was no turning back from there. 

But that’s really just part one. Part two goes even further back than that. My father worked at a nightclub with a stage, dance floor and huge bar. Instead of getting a babysitter, they would take me to the club and hide me because I was under 18. They would put me in the tech booth where I would be hanging out with the lighting and sound people. So I spent most of my childhood literally in nightclubs. There’s pictures of me in the family albums pushing buttons on technical consoles. So it’s been in my blood for some time!

There was a time my father actually got in trouble because I decided to put on the dance lighting in the middle of a wedding ceremony. Who wouldn’t 🙂 

What plans do you have for the future?  Do you see yourself sticking around doing lighting design? Or is there something else that you’d want to tackle?

I’m keen to continue growing as a creative and expand my networks around the world. My main goal with anything I do is to ensure that I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m very fortunate to have a set of skills that are very versatile and allow flexibility in choosing my next projects. 

I originally wanted to do lighting design as a full time career, and I’m very fortunate that now I get to do it when I want to do it. It’s not my main source of income, but it’s something that tickles the creative side of my brain. I’m grateful that I get to do it when I feel like the project interests me. 

How do you go about the lighting design from a creative perspective? How much research do you do, how much is based on how you feel at the time, how much is due to logistical constraints etc.?

Personally, I work a lot off of the set and the costumes. So quite often, that dictates the fundamentals of how the lighting design is going to work in terms of angles, color, aesthetics.

In terms of Paradise, there was a lot of creative and logistical work around how to minimize the amount of lighting that goes on to the projector screen while ensuring that Jacob is well lit and is vibrant enough to support the storyline. 

What is the back and forth process like when working with Justin and Jake?

The Paradise script includes incredible detail around the sound and lighting requirements which you don’t always get as a designer. The placement of lighting cues were very well thought out and part of their scriptwriting magic. In terms of implementation of the design, I would make design offers and Justin as Director will tell me if he doesn’t like it, or if it’s not the way he was envisioning it, and then we make more offers until we find something that works for everybody.

The first design incarnation during the development season at TAPAC was actually pretty different from what we’ve ended up with now. And that goes back to the development process and allowing time to discover what things worked and what things didn’t.

Part of that process was simplifying. So, as mentioned above, the first lighting design had over 70 lighting fixtures in it, but the current one has only 25. So it’s about 1/3 of the quantity, but still creates the same sort of vibe with its fluctuation and variations.

What do you think are some of the most important principles in lighting design (for people that don’t know anything about it)?

Every situation is different, but there’s a few core tools that lighting designers have. 

There is color, there is intensity, there is the angle, there is the source of the light and there is timing in terms of transitions. It’s a beautiful equation that really is learnt with experience and research. 

So there are particular scenes where the lighting is moving over the course of a two and a half minute fade. But the audience doesn’t know that because it’s so slow, and you don’t realise that half of the stage is going dark while the focus is moving to Kutisar sitting on the mound, for example. And then there’s times where it’s instant, sort of like the autopsy sequence where we have the flashes from the strobe, or the snaps into the Bardo.

What are some of your favourite things to do when not working?

I love hiking, the outdoors in general and eating Mexican food!

Where is the first place you’d like to visit once travel is allowed?

I grew up in a beach town in Los Angeles called Redondo Beach (cue Beach Boys song). I haven’t seen my American family since January of 2020. Prior to the COVID outbreak, I have been fortunate to usually see them two or three times a year. Obviously, that’s not possible at the moment with the NZ borders being locked down. So I’m really hoping the Indian Ink US tour next year goes ahead!

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