Martin Thomas, Lighting Designer – Black History Month, R. O. C. U.
By Liam Klenk
In the course of Black History Month 2021, we are working together with Roadies Of Color United (R. O. C. U.) and we want to introduce you to a number of fabulous entertainment industry professionals. Today’s spotlight is on Martin Thomas, Lighting Designer and Lighting Director. He shares with us his thoughts on working in the entertainment industry.
First, I was a roadie. As I progressed, I became a lighting technician, then a lighting engineer. I didn’t call myself a lighting designer until very late in my career.
I studied architecture. Back then I also understood that just because I could draft it didn’t yet make me an architect.
The same goes for the entertainment industry, or any industry for that matter. Before you give yourself a title, you should have the knowledge which gives you the right to claim that.
The lighting designer will make a difference in as he literally brings the show to light and to life.
Through my job, I’ve been lucky enough to see a huge majority of this planet in ways other people will never see it.
It’s been difficult. I’ve missed birthdays and important family events. But my kids didn’t hold it against me. They understood what I did.
They said, “You’ve never not been here Dad. We always know you’re here.” I am immensely grateful for their love, support, and understanding.
When my oldest was in elementary school, his teacher asked the kids in class, “What do your parents do?”
My son said, “My daddy plays with robots and rock stars.”
When the teacher asked him to elaborate, my son explained, “My daddy is the lighting designer for the Black Eyed Peas. He has moving lights that are like tiny, little robots and he gets to play with them all day.”
All-in-all surely one of the best explanations of my job that I’ve ever heard.
I don’t really like to talk with people about what I’m doing. As soon as they hear famous names, that’s all they can think about. But that’s not what it’s about. And I am not famous. Nor do I want to be. On the wheel of this entertainment world, I am just a cog. There is no need to brag about what I do.
I am a cog. I do realize my importance, but I also do realize nobody comes to the show because of me.
Ours is a very egotistical industry. To get a foot in the door and stay in the game you have to be this bragging, narcissistic person because it brings you to the forefront of people’s tongue.
A little while back I met a guy, Grant Hill. He had recorded a couple albums worth of material. But he had no direction. He didn’t know what to do with what he had recorded. I helped him out, connected him with a distribution company, an accountant, a lawyer, etc.
He came back to me and said, “You did all the things for me a manager would do. Would you like to be my manager?”
I ended up saying “yes.” Lots of conversations we have are not so much manager – artist but rather client – therapist.
Artists are very sensitive about the things they present to other people. Many times, it’s good to express to the artists that we know and understand the difficulties they are going through.
Grant knows he has talent, but he’s been spinning his wheels for a few years. His album comes out next week and he touches all the feels. The album is very emotional.
Being that he was able to create that kind of music naturally means he is an emotional, deeply feeling individual. Organizing the business side of his affairs, we don’t handle him with kid gloves though. But we are aware of who he is.
His day job is in a rebar and construction company in California. In a way, he almost reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, because of his work ethic. He is very hands on, wears blue jeans and shirts with the sleeves rolled up. But his personality is not that rough and tumble guy. When he meets new people in the business who have formerly only heard him, not seen him, they are very surprised. From his lyrics, they expect something else, yet he is this manly, rough looking guy.
Artists as a whole are very much unsure about their art. They put up a façade regularly to aid them in being confident.
I know a lot of guys who do that. They don’t feel particularly confident about what they are doing but the façade helps them to get through it all. Some of them get more work, get bigger shows because of the tough, confident image they are projecting.
My preference has never been to work on the big extravaganzas.
I have done arenas and gigantic shows.
But I am never looking for that “fifty trucks of lighting” show. I can do it. I have no problem. But I don’t feel it is the job I need for my career.
Instead, we can go to a four-thousand theater in some place in Kansas. And people will walk out of the venue after, saying “This is one of the most phenomenal experiences, I have ever had.”
That’s what I want to give them. That’s what I want to create.