Note: This article appeared as part of the 2003 Hall of Fame series.
Curiosity may not be very kind to cats, but it is the key personal characteristic that enabled Jules Fisher to successfully apply his extraordinary talent to an extraordinarily wide range of venues. “I am an inquisitive person,” said Fisher. “I still want to learn new things to this day.” Fisher's inquisitiveness over the past 40 years has led to the formation of his three New York-based associated companies: Fisher Marantz Stone, an architectural lighting design firm; Fisher Dachs Associates, Inc., specializing in theater design consultation; and Third Eye Ltd., and entertainment lighting firm.
Fisher's curiosity drew him to the theater as a teenager. “I began in the theater just out of high school as an apprentice and then stage manager at the Valley Forge Music Fair,” said Fisher. “In the second year of summer stock, I began looking closely at lighting.” Fisher dovetailed the practice of lighting design in summer stock with formal study, earning a degree from Carnegie Institute of Technology.
“I moved to New York in 1960 and began lighting off-Broadway shows,” he said. Fisher broadened his range to include lighting designs for industrial shows and in 1963, lighted his first Broadway production, Spoon River Anthology. The first of his seven Tony Awards for the lighting design of a Broadway show came in 1972 for Pippin. “Though my theatrical lighting designs continued, along the way in 1968, I established an architectural lighting firm with Paul Marantz,” Fisher said. Today, in addition to third principal, Charles Stone, Fisher Marantz Stone boasts six experienced senior design associates. The firm's international portfolio includes a range of project types, such as the Jacob Javits Convention Center, the Four Seasons restaurant and the renovation of Carnegie Hall.
In 1971, Fisher added the role of producer to his credits with the Broadway production of Lenny. Other Broadway venues followed, including The Rink starring Liza Minelli and Bob Fosse's Dancin'. When his curiosity bubbled up once again, it led Fisher to address environments in which the plays he lighted were performed. “I was interested in the design of the theaters themselves,” said Fisher. “I saw that theatres have design mistakes in them. The Music Box in New York, for example, had no box office. The Forest Theater in Philadelphia had no dressing rooms. Our theater design consultation company, Fisher Dachs Associates, is able to fix these mistakes or help create new spaces that avoid them.”
Fisher Dachs Associates, formed with partner Joshua Dachs, has been responsible for the design of New York's Second Stage, Circle in the Square and Joyce theaters; the renovation of Radio City Music Hall and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center; and the design of numerous U.S. civic centers and regional theaters such as Guthrie Theatre, Alley Theatre and Arena Stage. “I am interested in problems of scale that you find in venues such as rock-and-roll concerts,” Fisher explained. Fisher has also served as production supervisor for tours of rock performers such as the Rolling Stones, Kiss and David Bowie.
Six years ago, his thirst for knowing and doing more led to a partnership with theatrical lighting designer, Peggy Eisenhauer. They formed Third Eye Ltd. to create designs for all types of entertainment lighting projects, from Broadway plays to films and concerts. Third Eye's credits include the 2003 hit movie Chicago. “We lighted 15 musical numbers for Chicago and Peggy called the cues live for each take, which gave the scenes a sharper and crisper look,” said Fisher. “When the cue lands perfectly, it's thrilling. The audience may not know it's happening, but if the cues were missed, the scene would be ruined. Lighting shouldn't call attention to itself and pull the audience out of the play or film.”
Having accomplished so much, where would Fisher like his curiosity to lead him in the future? “I love doing new things-not the standard,” Fisher explained. “I want to keep doing new plays. I've collaborated with such great directors as Mike Nichols, George Wolfe, Bob Fosse and Graciela Daniele. Now, Peggy and I are working with Sam Mendes on the Broadway revival of Gypsy and am still loving the chance to figure out how to make the lighting count.” Fisher has received 17 Tony Award nominations. Shows garnering Tony wins include Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk; Jelly's Last Jam; The Will Rogers Follies; Grand Hotel; Dancin'; and Ulysses in Nighttown.
“I've been successful because of the passion I have to do a job well, rather than as a smart business person,” said Fisher. “My advice is don't give up until you do the best you can achieve.” Fisher spends his days creating illusions with light in theatrical venues that suspend reality to reveal deeper truths through art. It's no surprise that in his spare time, the genius behind Fisher's curiosity is expressed in the practice of magic.