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Theatre professor shines light on Broadway’s return

Photo by Joan Marcus

After more than a year of dark theaters and bereft artists and fans, Broadway triumphantly reopened in August with Antoinette Chinonye Nwondu’s play Pass Over, featuring lighting design by theatre associate professor Marcus Doshi.

“It was really moving,” Doshi says. “There was a moment where I sat down at the lighting desk to start working and I got a lump in my throat—I was choked up because it had been 18 months since I had done a show.”

A return to live theatre demanded a play of import and consequence, which Pass Over delivers with its examination of being young and Black in a violent American city. Doshi notes that the production was mounted in a compressed time frame and was even able to open a couple of weeks earlier than planned—a welcome development for pandemic-weary New York. When the stage manager started the preshow announcement on opening night, the crowd at the August Wilson Theatre erupted.

“It still feels electric,” Doshi says. “And at that moment I thought, ‘Oh yeah, we just made history.’”

Although Springsteen on Broadway was already running, Pass Over marked the first new play to open on Broadway since the COVID-related shutdown. All audience members are required to wear masks, and the producers hired an epidemiologist to monitor and track testing, exposure, and masking in the interests of cast and crew safety.

Doshi designed the lighting for the play’s 2017 production at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and he has always brought a dramaturgical sensibility to his highly technical work. But the play’s post-COVID Broadway debut delivered something unexpected—a newfound sense of inspiration and appreciation.

“To put it simply, I feel a stronger desire to make decisions out of joy rather than out of any other motivating factor,” he says, thinking about his work moving forward. “It was almost like a sense of zen where I could just be with what the production was doing, what it had to offer, and react in a very present way. I felt much more open to what the world had to offer when I was in that room. It was rejuvenating.”

Pass Over is scheduled to run at New York City’s August Wilson Theatre through October 10.