May 01, 2014

James Moody to be honored for service

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- James L. Moody graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1967.  But his love for the university, passion for his chosen career, and commitment to teaching and mentoring keep him returning to campus to present workshops and check on the students who win the scholarship he established. 

One of the nation’s leading lighting designers, Moody will receive the Distinguished Service Award May 10 during the 9 a.m. commencement exercises at the SIU Arena.  The SIU Board of Trustees approved a recommendation by Chancellor Rita Cheng and the university’s Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Service Awards Committee to honor Moody. 

Moody earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1967 from SIU, where he minored in theater and discovered his true love.  He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in technical theater from UCLA in 1969.  Today, his colleagues describe him as “one of the most active lighting designers in the country.” 

Moody’s career highlights include work as a lighting designer for theater, concerts and television.  He is also a textbook author, head of technical theater at Los Angeles City College, and a lighting designer for, among other venues, the Los Angeles Theatre Academy. 

In an interview with “Projection, Lights and Staging News,” Moody said his role as mentor to students is one of his most important.  “I’m a big believer in mentoring,” he said during that interview.  “I tell all my students that finding a mentor is important.” 

This passion for education and his continued love of SIU shows in the SIU scholarship he established for graduating seniors or graduate students: the Jim Moody Award for Excellence in Lighting Design. 

Moody worked his early years in theater, emerging as a major lighting designer in the early 1970s.  Unlike many of his colleagues, he established himself first as lighting designer for a place -- Hollywood’s Palladium -- rather than going on tour with a group.  For that reason, he worked with a wide variety of performing artists, including the Grateful Dead, ABBA, Rod Stewart and others. These experiences did eventually lead him to the road, though, where he was the lighting director for Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, and Jackson Browne among others.  In recognition of his pioneering role in sophisticated concert lighting, “Performance Magazine” named him the inaugural winner of the Concert Lighting Designer of the Year Award in 1980. 

He was a lighting director in Las Vegas for several years as well, and earned Las Vegas Designer of the Year in 1982. 

For many years Moody made his career in television set lighting, starting with “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” a gig that lasted seven years.  He also worked on shows including “Entertainment Tonight,” “Jeopardy!” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “Hard Copy.”  All told, Moody worked more than 6,000 hours of television programming.  His efforts led to two Emmy nominations and a team Emmy award. 

He wrote “Concert Lighting: Techniques, Art and Business,” a textbook now in its third edition and sometimes called “the Bible of the concert world”. Critics have praised the book not only for the author’s knowledge of the subject, but also the readability of the text.  His more recent book, “The Business of Theatrical Design,” is in its second edition. 

Moody is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Science, and serves on the Technical Production Committee.  He is a member of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, and has been Vice Commissioner for Lighting Design.  In 2003 received the Joel E. Rubin Founders Award for outstanding contribution to the institute. 

These days, he is designing lighting for the theater again and teaching others how to follow in his steps.  Recently, he designed lighting for shows at the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colo. 

Mark Varns, a professor of theater and lighting design at SIU, nominated Moody for this award, noting that Moody has and continues to credit SIU with the foundation of his success.  Varns praised Moody’s willingness to return to SIU to serve as guest lighting director for SIU productions, to offer master classes and, on occasion, help a student obtain a meaningful internship.  

“He has remained a friend to SIU throughout the years and has always been helpful and available to our students during his visits,” Varns wrote in his nomination letter.  “I was delighted to be present, along with a number of SIU students, at Moody’s address to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology when he was awarded Fellow status and the Joel E. Rubin Founders Award.  During his address, he referred a number of times to the valuable experience he gained, and life lessons learned, while attending SIU.  It was a very proud moment, and I was pleased that a number of our students were there to hear it.”