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The Play’s The Thing: Globe−hopping lighting specialist calls Queens home

Robert Cangemi has been a lighting designer since 1993. He started out doing high school and college theater lighting (St. Francis Prep, Queens College and SUNY Oswego), but his career path has taken him to all kinds of venues throughout North America and Europe, making him a guy very much in demand. Although he’s worked on dozens of Broadway, Off Broadway and regional productions, more often than not he can be found lighting projects at hotel ballrooms, high school gyms, convention centers and arenas, TV studios, on rooftops high above New York City, in tents in Hawaii, or on cruise ships sailing around Tahiti or Eastern Europe.

“I have always loved the variety,” he says, “and it certainly never gets boring.” When not traveling, Rob lives with his wife Sonia, a psychiatric social worker, in Douglas Manor. Show business sometimes pays off, because the two met at a Queens College production of “Company,” with Rob behind the scenes and Sonia on stage.

His grandfather used to work for NBC, and starting at the age of 4, Rob would get a tour of the shows at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where he was dazzled by the lights and sound. When he first began to draft his designs, it was all by hand. Today it’s all done on a computer. “It used to take five days to draft lighting plans for a show, now it takes five hours or less,” he says. The latest technology is a convergence of lighting and video, most often seen at rock concerts, and it’s growing fast.

One of his favorite assignments is the work he does on a recurring basis for Broadway Theater Showcases for Group Sales Box Office. To promote group sales for Broadway shows, short segments from these shows are performed on one day, usually on a Monday when theaters are dark, at one location. Rob does the lighting.

A vivid memory is when he was working on the Regis & Kelly television show early on a Tuesday morning — September 11, 2001. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, everything came to a halt, and Rob wound up walking home to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge.

For my own Outrageous Fortune Company, Rob designed the lights for our second show, “Burn This,” back in March 1994, and donated his services for 15 more of our shows until he got way too busy on paying projects. One of those was “Beauty and the Beast” at the Lunt Fontanne Theater.

In 2007 Rob formed his own company, Cangemi Design. If all this sounds like a good life that you might want to get into, Rob points out that all of his business came from three early connections: his internship in the Lighting Designer Union, his college friendships and people he met at a master class for Broadway lighting. He’s always thinking that “today’s gig is a learning experience, and tomorrow’s gig will be my very best.”

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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