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See the Light
By: Chris A. Weber
Carnegie Mellon Duo's Shining Behind-the-scenes Work
Light bulbs of all shapes and sizes shine throughout Peggy Eisenhauer's Brooklyn loft. Spotlights glow against framed artwork. Lamps enhance texture and space. Neon letters salvaged from Broadway's rooftop marquees enjoy a second chance at life, washing part of her home's interior in a whimsical red hue.
For Eisenhauer (A'83)–who partners with alumnus Jules Fisher (A'60) to do stage and screen lighting for Broadway musicals and motion pictures, most recently the movie Dreamgirls–the bulbs are simply "task lights." Nothing more.
But as she conveys her lighting preferences, the parallels follow. "Task lights basically point at things," she explains. "They have direction and purpose."
Eisenhauer is no different. The Nyack, N.Y., native had an idea of what she wanted to do from the time she was a teenager. After summers of amateur theater lighting experience, she entered Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama at age 17, with a goal of meeting Fisher, a Broadway veteran whose lighting and stage production she admired while catching weekend musicals in New York City.
"During my sophomore year, Jules was invited to campus to talk to us about his work on Broadway. I was so excited to meet him that I told my folks it was worth the price of tuition," Eisenhauer remembers. "Somehow, my mom found his address and wrote him a note saying how thrilled I was to meet him. He actually wrote back to her and said if there's anything he could do to help to call on him."
Eisenhauer followed up. Not long after graduation, she began work with Fisher as an assistant. Twenty-two years later, the mentor and former student are partners with Third Eye LLC, a Manhattan-based entertainment studio. With more than 30 stage productions to their credit, the pair has garnered 27 Tony Award nominations and two Tonys.
Because of their stage expertise, they rank among the top lighting experts in the musical film genre as well, earning acclaim for their work on such movies as The Producers, Chicago, and Dreamgirls.
"Light is our paintbrush," says Fisher. "It's thrilled me since I went to Carnegie and still does today. Working with Peggy is a privilege because one of her great strengths is her musicality. She has a rhythm to her work and an ability to make the movement of the light move [the audience] emotionally."
Working on the Motown-themed Dreamgirls was a challenge for the partners. Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, and the movie's other performers take the stage in divergent venues–from a worn-down Detroit theater to a luxurious Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, with many sets constructed in between. Each scene was meticulously crafted under intense pressure.
"Fine artists can paint by themselves, working in peace and quiet," says Eisenhauer. "Lighting is very similar to painting except we're doing it on demand. But you get used to being able to deliver creative content on the clock with 50 or 100 people standing around waiting for you to do it."