CPM Interview: Charles Stone of Fisher Marantz and Stone
By: David Martin Jacques

Copyright © 2004 by David Jacques

Published in the September, 2004, issue of Church Production Magazine

Charles Stone is considered one of the world’s leading architectural and theatrical lighting consultants. As a principal of Fisher Marantz and Stone, he has designed and consulted on numerous projects including houses of worship, concert halls, airports, convention centers, museums, hotels, theme parks, corporate headquarters, commercial developments, and residences.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University with a Certificate from the Program in Theater and Dance for Lighting Design. He received International Association of Lighting Designers
Citations for the restoration of Carnegie Hall, the New York Hospital for Special Surgery, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the
National Yokohama Convention Center, the Korea Development Bank, the I.A.L.D. Award for Excellence for the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, the National Gallery of Canada, 100 East Pratt Street in Baltimore, the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City, and the new Hong Kong Airport. He also received a Themed Entertainment Association Award for Outstanding Achievement for the Wild Arctic Exhibit of Sea World, Florida. Mr. Stone is a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society, the European Lighting Designers Association, is 2003 president elect of the International Association of Lighting Designers, and is Lighting Certified by the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions.

Throughout our conversation, Mr. Stone’s views resonated with his desire to find lighting solutions while preserving the sanctity of the worship space. This can be a challenge for even the most experienced consultant. Mr. Stone’s projects and accomplishments clearly illustrate this point.

DJ What originally attracted you to this business?

CS I don’t think I was attracted to the business, I think I was attracted to the art and science of lighting. The “business” was necessary.

DJ How did you get involved with the “Art” of lighting? What is your background?

CS I was attracted to the backstage of the theatre in Junior High School. It started backstage at the Harrisburg Community Theatre in

DJ What formal training have you had as a lighting designer?

CS I believe it’s correct to say I have absolutely none. I am more like an “old-fashioned apprentice”. In school one of my main extracurricular activities was theatre, so I did as many shows as I could on all of the campuses. After I got out of Princeton I worked at the McCarter Theatre as an electrician and sometimes lighting designer. I was introduced to Claude Engle who was teaching at Princeton and I went down and interviewed with him. I ended up working for him in Washington.

DJ How important do you feel theatrical lighting training is in the architectural world?

CS Roughly half of the people in my office have a theatrical background. We have designers from all backgrounds, that’s one of the interesting things about the career. I have people who started in photography, architecture, and engineering. We have half a dozen people who have Architectural Engineering degrees. There are some people from interior and industrial design too. They fit well into the
mix. We teach them about lighting but they bring knowledge of the little things, they know how to put things together.

DJ What events led up to your appointment to president/elect of the IALD?

CS I don’t know, I must have met too many people. They found me. I was getting more interested in the international events I was attending and giving speeches not just in Europe but in a dozen countries in the past few years. You meet people, find out what they’re doing and how they are trying to make a living in the business of lighting design, and you become friends. There is a community here and I am friendly with them so one thing led to another.

DJ What are your plans for the IALD?

CS If you’re going to change the world, and you’re in your chosen profession, then you have to take advantage of your opportunities. I was given the opportunity to step up and take a leadership position.
I am very interested in the “I” of IALD. It stands for international, but also independent lighting designer. It’s a noble idea to be an independent lighting designer where you are getting paid for your design ideas, and you are not getting paid for providing materials or fixtures.

DJ Could you please give us a brief background on your company, Fisher, Marantz, Stone, and your role there?

CS By coincidence, Fisher, Marantz, Stone, which began with Jules
Fisher and Paul Marantz, started about the same year as the IALD. Paul and Jules got together and started a business in Jules’ basement in 1970 or 1971. So we just finished our thirtieth year. I joined twenty years ago and became a partner a few years later. We are all still here in one office. There are twenty four of us. We practice day lighting and electric design for projects all over the world, large and small, houses and museums, office towers and educational facilities, and houses of worship for all faiths.

DJ What is your philosophy on lighting design? How can that philosophy be applied to large and small churches?

CS The first project I worked on for Claude Engle in 1979 was the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. I remember flying to
Los Angeles. We had to wait for the sunset, so we watched the fireworks at Knott’s Berry Farm. Then about 9:00 we started adjusting the lights on the catwalks and did that for several nights until we had that done. There have been a lot of additions to the theatrical lighting, but this was the beginning. In fact, we have been working on a new Visitors’ Center for them.

We have worked on churches, mosques, and synagogues. I’ve come to understand that the large congregations have activities and programs which are extensive. As I see in your magazine they have large and small production capability. These are sacred spaces, so my philosophy is to make sure that there in not too much hardware hanging on the walls and ceiling. I believe that solutions should be well integrated and flexibility has to be balanced with architectural integration. Techniques such as distributed dimming and concealed rigging should be used as much as possible.

DJ When should churches hire a lighting designer/consultant?

CS When they begin to design and build them. The more complicated you make it when you design and build it, the more likely you are to need a full time staff to operate it. So I think these things need to be considered from the beginning. If you are going to operate in a theatrical way and have a program that is either for broadcast or productions, you need to have consultants on board to be sure that the dialogue is held early enough to deal with these tradeoffs: Capital spending versus operating costs, flexibility versus fully integrated lighting systems. How much of it is just white light? How much is theatrical with effects and color?

DJ What recent technological developments have had a great impact on lighting design?

CS The use of the LED is probably the most significant use of new technology. I have not seen them in churches yet but I am sure I will. We are seeing it everywhere else. It’s not just the ability to change color. We are seeing LEDs used in a widening circle of applications. White light LEDs will make coves and light boxes easy to do in smaller spaces.

DJ Could you comment on how you integrate theatrical with architectural lighting? Why is it important for the lighting consultant to handle both areas on a project?

CS It depends. There is not a bright line between the two. It’s a continuum. Some of the most basic architectural techniques are theatrical techniques. For example, a cyclorama lit up in the theater is the same concept as a wall-wash. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to have different consultants, sometimes it is. It depends on how extensive the theatrical applications will be.

DJ How is lighting design impacted by audio and video? What has changed about the relationship between these three sets of systems?

CS AV is ‘Heavy Tech’. The consultants who do the audio-visual typically do not do the lighting, and typically the people we find on the AV side are involved in engineering and electronics. We can be a good counter to them at a meeting as they know lots of things that we don’t know how to do.

However, they tend not to be as architecturally interested. I am often amazed at how those speakers are put all over the place. I don’t understand why people are not concerned about all the exposed hardware. They are just as guilty as the lighting consultant cluttering up beautiful spaces. I think we have to work together to make less clutter.

DJ Based on recent technological developments including moving lights, where is lighting, and lighting design, headed in the next three to five years?

CS The new moving lights are very expensive. It’s all about money.
They make a lot of sense in medium to large churches where they handle various types of productions and services with a few technicians. Remember that moving lights take a lot of maintenance.
You need a ‘lighting gardener’ to look after all these moving parts.
When the reliability of the servos improve and fewer moving parts are incorporated, you will see increased usage of moving lights in hard to get to applications, such as over the congregation.

DJ As a consultant, how do you deal with churches who desire the latest technology for only the sake of having it?

CS These things have a cost and costs are not just measured in dollars. Costs are also measured in time. If you devote several hours a week to worship, don’t you have to carefully consider where you do that? I do. So you end up with a beautiful room that is junked up with hardware. I notice that, and I don’t think its ‘O.K.’. I don’t think that the lighting consultant should forget the importance of serenity in a house of worship.

DJ Do you think it’s necessary for a small church to hire a lighting consultant?

CS Sometimes I think they shouldn’t. I think that sometimes small and sacred spaces should not have theatricality. If you have a beautiful church that is one-hundred years old and you start installing side box booms on the walls then you have to consider whether you are degrading the quality of the architectural space that is also a place of worship.