H e’s unassuming, humble, and is most often found operating behind the scenes at arts events. But don’t be fooled. Jamie Burnett’s job is to dazzle, illuminate, and light up the skies.
As a production and lighting designer, Burnett sees—and helps others see—the whole picture. He can reveal the depths of both actors and their surroundings with the slightest shift of a knob. Recently for the Education Center for the Arts (ECA), he designed and lit an elaborate multi-platform set for the 1960s psychological drama David & Lisa which in less capable hands would have sprawled. Instead, it was a moving feast of expressive atmospheres and focused performances. For Elm Shakespeare Company productions of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Edgerton Park, Burnett (who is perhaps best known as an ESC founding member) made the park and its enveloping trees part of the set, and lit that grand landscape accordingly.
Burnett’s company Luminous Environments also lights dozens of local small theater shows a year. For a production of Carlo Gozzi’s Italian commedia classic The Green Bird upcoming at the Educational Center for the Arts magnet school, he’s designed both the lighting and the set.
Right now Burnett’s at BAR on Crown Street, inspecting his handiwork. He not only lit the big floor-to-ceiling light towers
Luminous Environments LLC
which have distinguished the BAR dance floor for years, he “helps maintain the brewing system for the homebrewed beers at BAR’s BruRm. There are electric sensors which control valves, and they can need replacing,” he says.
Jamie Burnett has always thought big. In the late 1990s, he produced a trilogy of monumental multi-media performance events in quarries in Branford. Terra Continuum, Terra Lumina and Terra Mirabilia were shows of staggering size and scope, mixing modern music, the natural majesty of giant rock formations and of course light—from both Burnett and the heavens.
Burnett reveals that, after a break of more than six years, a new Terra project is in the works, slated for 2013.
“What I’ve done throughout my career is incorporate theatrical lighting and electrical work,” Burnett says. He’s seen many changes in lighting technology over the years. “What we’re doing more of these days is renovate theaters. We’re putting a TV studio in Hamden High School, and we did another one at Bristol High School and another at Bristol East High School.”
His interest in light flows back to his own
school days. “The company’s been called Luminous Environments since 2001. Before that, Burnett Electrics. Before that, I had an apprenticeship with a contractor so I could get my license.”
And before that, Burnett was a kid in junior high and high school, figuring out how to enhance the performances of his friends’ rock bands.
“I started doing lighting design in high school, but I started working with bands in eighth grade. I went to the American School in London, a brand new building with a nice theater. Elton John played in our school gym in 1974; I didn’t light that, but I helped with load-in. I was one of those AV Aide nerds. I remember doing lighting for a band called Blue—I lit the whole thing in Peacock Blue.”
Burnett came to Connecticut in 1981 to be the Master Electrician at Long Wharf Theatre. “It was a job I got while I was at school at Carnegie-Mellon. Did an Off Broadway show, and the designer of that was resident designer at Long Wharf.” That gig lasted a couple of years, plus “I did small theater all along. I worked with Performance Studio, who did the first outdoor Shakespeares on the Green. I did the first four Chapel Street Festivals.”
He was given a coveted Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven in 2005 when the organization realized that he’d worked with every artist who’d won the previous year, from The Space rock club in Hamden to Elm Shakespeare Company.
One thing which many artists have to share from long careers in the community arts scene is amusing stories of mishaps during shows. Burnett can’t shed light that way.
“There aren’t usually very funny stories with electricity,” he demurs. “Electricity is dangerous and I treat it with respect.”