An Appreciation of Craig Miller

by Jacob Coakley

Remembering the man behind the lessons.

In the October issue of Stage Directions we revisited Craig Miller’s article “A Guide for Assistant Lighting Designers,” an article that’s 25 years old yet continues to have an immense impact on the field. And so does Craig Miller himself. Everyone we spoke to who knew him was effusive in their praise of him, so effusive that we couldn’t fit it all in the article. But we felt it imperative to honor the man as well as his work, so we set up this page, where we’ve put the comments we gathered while researching this piece. We’d also like to extend an invitation to anyone who benefited from Craig Miller’s teachings—either directly or indirectly—to lend your voice here. Please write your memories and lessons of Craig Miller in the comments at the bottom of the page, so we may all get to remember Craig a little better. We’d love the page to reflect the warmth that everyone has for Craig, his lighting, and his teachings.

Peter Kaczorowski first assisted Miller at the Santa Fe Opera in the summer of 1979. They went on to work together for 3 more summers at the opera, on a few Broadway shows and on dance performances at City Center and the New York Dance Festival on the outdoor Delacorte stage in Central Park. He remembers Miller fondly, as a fantastic teacher: organized, literate, thoughtful, someone who embraced technology and computers early. “He was a documentarian and a magnet for assistants, which probably led him to fill the gap in assistant training by talking about a system of working and how to conduct one’s self.”

Kaczorowski took his assistant training from Miller with him when he went on to assist Tom Skelton. To this day, he thinks about Miller’s ways of giving himself choices, duplicating ideas and designing the whole space top create his own work. Now, he takes on young assistants on smaller projects because it can be fun. From Miller, he learned to look for assistants who are “a bit of a kid in a candy store,” who still have some of the wonder and excitement and realize how lucky they are to be doing what we do. It is important, he says: “Don’t be anxious to show off how much you already know, be anxious to admit how much you don’t.”

Ken Posner, a Tony-winning Broadway lighting designer in his own right, was handed “A Guide for Assistant Lighting Designers,” when he assisted Miller during his United Scenic Artists internship (a career development program which no longer exists). What Posner remembers most about Miller was his passion for performance, love of light and his ability to create very quickly. “This was something I paid a lot of attention to.  He was incredibly fast [and] I took that training to summer stock and wove it into the fabric of who I was going to become,” says Posner. From Miller, Posner learned a lot about what he would be looking for in an assistant: for people with really great personalities “who will be embraced and respected and appreciated; someone who can command a room on both sides of the tech table. We depend on other people in this art form, from the production assistants all the way up to the artistic directors and someone who can move within that world seamlessly, while still gathering the necessary information can be priceless.”