David Fillmore’s biggest challenge this year is burning down a house. As lighting designer for the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte production of Dragons Love Tacos, he is part of the team that will produce pyrotechnics when those fire-breathing friends chomp some jalapeños (Associate Professor of Scenic Design Tom Burch is designing the set).
“We have to burn the entire house, down. On a budget.” He shrugs. “In theatre, it’s always do-it-yourself.”
The April production won’t be Fillmore’s first time playing with fire. In his senior year at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he majored in theatre, he was recruited by the director of a new outdoor amphitheater in Utah to be the master electrician for an outdoor drama about the Mormon pilgrimage. Budget was not an issue: The spectacle included a flood (“120,000 gallons of water across the stage, directly towards the audience”) and flame-engulfed wagons, drawn by real horses.
Fillmore had graduated a semester early to take that job, and after two years, he returned to his alma mater as technical director for the theatre program, which included an intensive summer stock where he had cut his teeth on big shows like Barnum (with its massive circus ring and 28-foot tall Jumbo the Elephant).
“I loved seeing how what I created could transport the audience into a place that hadn’t existed – bringing that imagination to life. I wanted to be able to give that creative experience to other people, and that’s why I’m teaching.”
After completing an M.F.A. in scenic and lighting design from Northwestern University, he took a temporary position at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania (where he met his wife, Allison Stedman, who is now Professor of French at UNC Charlotte).
In 2004 he applied to UNC Charlotte. Robinson Hall was being completed (he did his interview in a hard hat), and Fillmore was hired to create the lighting design program. “A new building, a new program – it excited me.”
While he has trained and worked in both scenic and lighting design, he enjoys creating in light, a “three-dimensional art form that can also become two-dimensional…. The light etches out everything, like a sculptor does with tools.”
Fillmore designs lighting for both theatre and dance, “specializing in large, environmental storytelling.” Classes and productions at UNC Charlotte keep him busy. In the Fall 2019 semester he will design lighting for Detroit ’67 and pieces on both the Faculty Dance Concert and the Fall Dance Concert, including a work by dance professor Delia Neil about Frida Kahlo, in which he will help the dancers bring Kahlo’s paintings to life. The Spring 2020 semester includes a co-taught “Theatre for Young Audiences” class with theatre education professor Beth Murray, which will result in a touring production to local schools, and the UNC Charlotte remembrance concert on April 30 at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center uptown.
He is also in demand off campus. Last winter he designed the lighting for the Hudson Theatre Works off-Broadway production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (pictured). And Children’s Theatre of Charlotte calls often. Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical, for which he designed lighting, has been the company’s top-grossing show for three consecutive seasons. But Dragons Love Tacos could burn through the Pageant.
“When my eight-year-old son heard I was doing that show, he jumped up and immediately demanded tickets!”