Spotlight: Bradenton's Joseph P. Oshry shows us the light

His lighting design has enhanced area productions from 'Miss Saigon' and 'Les Miserables' to 'Aida'

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 21, 2013 

Most kids who catch theater bug dream of being actors. They want to have people watch them, they want to bow as hundreds of people cheer.

Joseph P. Oshry's dad used to take him to theater in Indianapolis all the time. Young Joseph got to see some legendary performances: Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" and Topol in "Fiddler on the Roof."

It made him dream of becoming a lighting designer.

"There was an intangible element to it that almost made it mystical," Oshry said.

Not long after he saw those shows, while he was still in junior high school, Oshry started volunteering to work on shows at a nearby college. By the time he started to think about what he wanted to do with his life, there were two obvious choices.

"I was playing tennis at the time," he said, "and I had to decide whether I wanted to become a lighting designer or become a professional tennis player. I think maybe I made the wrong choice, because if I had been a tennis player I'd be retired by now."

He decided to become a lighting designer. He's anything but retired. In fact, he's probably the busiest lighting designer in the area.

Local audiences have recently seen his work in the Manatee Players' mammoth production of "Miss Saigon" that inaugurated the Manatee Performing Arts Center. He also lighted Banyan's Theatre's "Painting Churches," which closed last week

The months ahead seem impossibly busy. He's just finished working on a production of Verdi's "Aida" in Lakeland, and he'll be lighting "Carmen" and "Popera" for Opera Tampa in the upcoming season, and maybe "The Magic Flute" too. He's off to New Orleans soon to design the lighting for a production of the Marschner Opera "The Vampire."

At American Stage in St. Petersburg he'll be lighting the season-opening production of Conor McPherson's "The Birds" and "Around the World in 80 Days" in March.

But before that, local audiences will be treated to his work in the Manatee Players' highly anticipated staging of "Les Miserables" that opens Aug. 8, the first production of the company's first full season in its new home.

"I love working for Manatee Players," he said. "For one thing, they've got this new theater that's a wonderful toy to be able to play with. And besides, it's awfully nice to be able to come home and sleep in my own bed at night."

Oshry and his wife, Dee, who works in medical field, have lived in Bradenton since 1986. He had grown to love the area when he had an internship in Sarasota, and both he and his wife had had enough of the cold and snow of northern winters.

Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director for the Manatee Players, said he understands why so many theaters around the country compete for Oshry's time and talents.

"It's always a pleasure to work with Joe," Kerby said. "He will spend more time and more energy than most lighting designers will. And

if he has a vision for a moment, he will not be deterred from using whatever resources are available to realize that vision."

Because Oshry has worked in most area theaters -- he was the lighting designer in resident at American Stage for many years, and then at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa -- he has better connections than a lot of people. If there's a specialized piece of lighting equipment he needs, he knows which theater has it, and if they're not using it he can usually get them to lend it.

By fostering that kind of cooperation, Oshry acts as a conduit that elevates the level of theater for the entire area.

"He'll borrow, rent, call in favors," Kerby said. "He'll always do whatever it takes."

Oshry understands that people don't often come home from the theater and talk about the lighting. To him, that means he's done his job.

He can use the lighting to enhance mood or to direct the audience's eye to one part of the stage to another. But if the audience notices that he's doing it, he's failed.

"To me it's just one medium for storytelling," he said. "And if it's done right, it's subliminal. If I wanted to be noticed I'd be a performer. I acted one time, in high school. I played a corpse in 'The Real Inspector Hound.' That was the limit of my acting abilities."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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