Spotlight on: Clyde Sheets

Please note: This article was originally posted in Nov. 2016. In Aug. 2018, Sheets was named the Director of Comparative Arts at Interlochen Arts Academy.

Clyde Sheets is playing one of the most important roles in The Light in the Piazza, but don’t look for him on stage.

For Sheets, Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Design and Production and lighting designer for The Light in the Piazza, there’s more to lighting design just pointing a few spotlights. Sheets has been taking photos of sunrises for weeks, trying to find just the right color palette for The Light in the Piazza’s lighting.

“It’s a very romantic musical, and the time of day is very specific,” Clyde said. “The goal is to create a mood and a picture of the story the musical tells”

Sheets has also been studying—quite aptly, given the musical’s Italian setting—classical Italian painting, which places an emphasis on lighting. “I always think like a painter when I’m designing lights, but it’s especially important for this musical,” he said.

Art History is one of Sheets’ favorite subjects both to study and to teach. He studied not only directing, but also art during his undergraduate studies at the Central Michigan University. Originally a stage performer in high school, Sheets gradually became more and more involved with the production aspects of theatre. After working with a theatre company in Minneapolis, Sheets decided to focus exclusively on design and production. He earned his master’s degree in production and design from San Francisco State University in 2010.

In 2014, Sheets accepted a teaching position at Interlochen Arts Academy as a professor in theatre’s design and production major. It’s not just a pedagogical role, however: part of his job is to collaborate with the other faculty and staff to manage the behind-the-scenes aspects of Interlochen’s productions.

Sheets emphasizes the importance of collaboration in theatre—between actors, between the creative staff and between the two groups. Before he begins his own work, he meets the director--which, for Piazza, is Robin Ellis--and set and costume designers to make sure everyone is on the same page. The team continues weekly meetings with Ellis throughout the production to ensure that the design follows her vision for the musical. “Design is a story,” he said. “Everything happening needs to be unified, which means working in collaboration.”

“The challenge and the wonderful thing about theatre is that you can’t do it alone,” he added. “The design staff are in charge of creating a world for the performers to ‘live’ in, and we have to help the audience find a way into that world too.”

Sheets’ other job is helping another group find a way into the world he has created—his students. He teaches fundamentals of design, an interdisciplinary class that welcomes students from motion picture arts, visual arts and comparative arts as well as theatre. The class is a little bit of everything: critical thinking, dramatic analysis, art history and drawing. While most of the class is pencil-and-paper practice, accelerated students can gain hands-on experience working alongside Sheets and his colleagues as assistants to the designers.

For The Light in the Piazza, Sheets is accompanied by a student assistant, Leah Cohen, who serves as Assistant to the Designer. As always, Sheets is also a part of a greater creative team, including director Robin Ellis and a team of designers who have carefully planned and unified every aspect of the production.

So as the lights come up on The Light in the Piazza, take a moment to appreciate not just the visibility that the light brings, but also the subtle story it tells. For Sheets, lighting design is not just illuminating a stage—it’s illuminating a story.

Learn more about Interlochen Arts Academy Theatre Department’s design & production concentration.