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Lincoln Park Church to Serve as Giant Canvas for Light Show This Week

By Paul Biasco | May 18, 2015 7:28am
 St. Vincent de Paul Church will be lit up for three nights starting Wednesday.
St. Vincent de Paul Church will be lit up for three nights starting Wednesday.
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DePaul University Theater School

LINCOLN PARK — For three nights this week, the architecturally stunning St. Vincent de Paul Church will become a canvas for light: Sixty LED lighting fixtures will illuminate the church with color and projections.

For lighting designers and technicians, it's a rare chance for their work to be showcased front and center rather than behind the scenes.

The students from The Theatre School at DePaul University, along with famed alumnus Paul Gregory, will illuminate the church, 1010 W. Webster Ave., with a 30-minute show starting at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

There will be four separate sections within the show, created by four groups of students, each tasked with creating moving and static images inspired by artists Leonid Afremov, AJ LaGasse, Vincent van Gogh and Mary-Anne Papanek Miller.

Paul Biasco lives nearby and says it's a much anticipated show:

The students hope to use their tool of light to transform the church.

"You can take it in a room this size, [a classroom], or a church outside, and it has the same effect and is still making something so beautiful," DePaul student Emmaleigh Pepe-Winshell said.

The project is a joint effort by DePaul University students and Gregory, one of the world's leaders in architectural lighting.

Gregory was tasked with recreating the New Year's Eve ball in New York to celebrate the event's 100th anniversary in 2008. The design, using LED lights and triangular Waterford Crystal, is still in use.

Gregory has been working with the students since October on the project. He said he is particularly excited about the medium, the towering 118-year-old St. Vincent de Paul Church, an architectural marvel on its own.

The church's cream-colored Indiana limestone facade and bell towers are accented by recessed windows that added to the level of difficulty of the project.

"I think it’s a beautiful architectural canvas," Gregory said. "These kids are painting with light on a piece of architecture.”

The light fixtures will be placed on the ground around the church and some will be installed on temporary scaffolding across the street.

"We used to say in the theater, 'You can make good scenery look great, you can't make bad scenery look good,'" Gregory said. "This canvas is beautiful scenery."

Each student group's lighting set will last roughly five minutes with about 15 to 20 lighting cues each.

On the opening night, the students will narrate their individual pieces based on their own artistic visions.

"For us, it's getting close to finals, and [the church is] close to campus. And if just for a couple minutes, [someone] stops and looks at the church and can escape for a few minutes from their week and stress, I think we have accomplished our goal,” theater school student Anthony Forchiellie said.

Gregory trained at the Goodman School of Drama — now known as the DePaul theater school —  and his firm Focus Lighting has worked on projects all over the world.

He has led similar public lighting projects in Bochum, Germany, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and in Sweden.

In Germany he led a group on a "guerilla lighting" project, selecting a site in one day, planning the scheme and lighting it the same night. The team lit up a World War II above-ground air raid shelter.

Gregory brought the idea of lighting a building on campus to the school in 2014, and the students chose the church as the site.

"I'm doing this because the theater school did so much for me," Gregory said.

Gregory, whose firm Focus Lighting is based in New York, will be on campus this week to help finalize preparations.

"I was a little hard on them initially," he said. "'Why hadn’t you thought of this? Why hadn’t you thought of that?' And then I realized they are students. It’s OK. The more they experiment, the better.”

The opening reception will be held at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday with the lights being flipped on at 9 p.m.

The 30-minute displays will run on a loop until 11 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

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