"I was interested in science—not the mathematics of science, as I was not a very good student; rather I was interested in the mechanics of science—how things worked, how things were made. I am still interested in that today."
A Young Magician
Carnegie Tech and Early Career
As a young child, Jules Fisher was fascinated with magic. What seemed like a mere hobby for Jules would ultimately lead him to discover his passion for lighting. Even at a young age, he could see vivid connections between lighting and magic, connections that drew him in even further to both artforms. He was also fascinated with nature of science, particularly physics and optics as they related to light, a, even though he was not particularly interested in the technical aspects of these subjects. He was more interested in how science lent itself to the magic of light.
Reflecting on his days as a young magic-enthusiast, Fisher states:
"I remember one scene in a play where there was a person standing outside a brick wall covered with leaves, and suddenly you could see through the brick wall. It was magic! I was hooked. I id not know then that it was a painting on scrim; but it was a real turning point as far as my love of magic and the theatre. When I work on a show now, I'm looking to find the things that I can provide in light that will give people that experience, that charge, that I got watching that brick wall dissolve into nothingness."
Fisher's passion for magic would pervade throughout his career, and helped shape his innovative work.
Even though Fisher was not the best student, it was his tenacity and passion for lighting design that drove his success. Fisher recounts his interview with a lighting design professor at Carnegie Tech, who "indicated to me that if you had an aptitude and a passion for the theatre, even though you might not do well in the other academic classes, they would take you in." And Carnegie Tech did take Fisher in. Fisher would use his newfound connections at Carnegie to work at theaters across the country, every summer for nine years. Through these experiences, he had learned how to make connections and seek out advice from professional lighting designers. When he was in his final year at Carnegie, a director he had collaborated with during a previous year contacted him and asked if he'd like to go to New York and light his Off-Broadway show, All The King's Men.
Fisher recounts the conversation with the director:
"He said 'OK, how long is it going to be?' and I said, 'Two weeks.'—which tells you something about the time that was spent on shows back then. If it were toda, it would be six or eight weeks. So I lit my first show in New York, and it was reasonably successful."
"At the end of that school year, 1960, I graduated with a BFA and moved to New York for good, having already lit three Off-Broadway shows. I look at that now and wonder how I ever did that. But it was really just meeting people—the director of this show, the designer of that show, etc., and each one led to more people. It seemed accidental to me at the time but now I realize it was the perfect way to get started."—Jules Fisher
Making it in New York
"I ran everywhere. The subways don't go east and west, I couldn't wait very long for the bus, and I couldn't afford a cab; so I ran and I sometimes slept in the theater."
As indicated above, it was Fisher's drive and ability to make connections that allowed him to garner success. This was not without sacrifice, however. Fisher started out very poor in New York while he was pursuing theater. His dedication despite these hardships is shown in the quote below.
Despite his hardships, Fisher found a way into the theater scene by becoming a theater consultant, developing new technology for lighting design such as the first moving light, and providing ghost lighting for Broadway productions for which he was given no credit. In an interview, he stated the following about his experiences with ghost lighting, underscoring his desire to gain experience in lighting above all else:
"I did these because it was a great opportunitiy for me to sit in the theatre and light something. I couldn't care less about the credit."
Following positive reviews of Fisher's work on Spoon River Anthology, Fisher was able to begin his "legitimate" Broadway Career. It was his connections in the New York theater through a Theater Union he had joined that helped make his success in Broadway possible. A notable production that Fisher worked on while on Broadway was on Sondheim's piece Anyone can Whistle and later Do I Hear a Waltz? Interestingly, Sondheim originally sought Fisher out to help him light his apartment after it had been remodeled and this would be the start of their collaboration, and initiated Fisher's foray into architectural lighting, which he would continue to be involved with throughout his career. Originally, however, most Broadway designers designed the setting and the lighting. While working on Sondheim's work, other Broadway designers would often try to get Fisher to design works they way they wanted him to. As he continued to work with Sondheim, however, and established himself as a "persistent worker," he was given more creative license.
Within one year of being on Broadway, Fisher would work on five different shows, the most notable of which was the Pulitzer Prize winning The Subject Was Roses.
Early Life and Inspiration
"A Life in the Theatre: Lighting Designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer | Playbill." Playbill. N.p., 2005. Web. 19 May 2016.
Unruh, Delbert, and John Lahr. Jules Fisher. Syracuse, NY: United States Institute of Theatre Technology, 2009. Print.