Natalie George: Painting With Light

Lighting Designer Natalie George and her company, Natalie George Productions, occupies a unique space, straddling the worlds of theatre, performance and events. Specializing in bespoke projects in unconventional spaces, every event has different equipment requirements, but the one common denominator is ADJ!

Growing up, Natalie George wanted to be an actor, which lead her to Austin, TX, where she studied Performing Arts at St. Edward’s University. However, during her studies she discovered a different passion, which changed the direction of her future career. “One day during class, I was asked to go up to the grid to do something and I never came down,” she quips. “I fell in love with the lighting grid and everything about it; that sparked my interest and I became obsessed with lighting from there.”

After college Natalie started freelancing and gained plenty of experience taking on multiple different roles in theatre lighting and also stage management. However, as she quickly began to develop her own style, she realized that her approach was far from traditional. “This sounds terrible to say, but I was always bored by the paperwork! I just wanted to get in there and touch everything, and play, and kind of create the atmosphere as I was going. For me, lighting feels like painting, so I really wanted to do that live. It took me a while to grow a reputation and get to the point where I would be allowed to work on things and play in the way I wanted to.”

Fortunately, persistence paid off and Natalie became known in the area as a creative lighting designer who specializes in pushing the boundaries of how lighting can be used. Her work has garnered multiple lighting design awards and over 20 nominations, including Austin Critics Table and B. Iden Payne awards. As her career developed, she began to realize that her favorite projects were outside of a conventional theatre setting. “I found that I loved doing site-specific work,” Natalie explains. “I was really drawn to unconventional places and unconventional types of performance that allowed me to create outside the box.”

This led Natalie to branch out into the event world and, in 2014, launch her own production company that would allow her to bring her theatrical experience and creative approach to a wide variety of different spaces and events. Natalie George Productions has a tagline of ‘events, experiences and entertainment’, which succinctly describes the company’s diverse range of services. One week Natalie and her team might be providing décor and lighting for a corporate awards event, the next hosting a pop-up cabaret evening in a furniture warehouse. Whatever they are doing, they bring creative flair and theatrical sensibilities that make for truly unique and engaging lighting designs.

Diversity, in terms of both the types of project she would work on and the spaces the events would take place in, was at the heart of Natalie’s desire to start a company. However, this made investing in equipment difficult, as the fixtures required for one project would likely be completely different to those required for the next. The solution was provided by another business based in Austin, the long-established Rock n Roll Rentals. This music store with a twist has a very unique business model, as everything laid out on the shelves of its showroom is available to rent!

Founded in the mid-‘80s, Rock N Roll Rentals was the brainchild of owner Jim Norman who recognized that Austin’s burgeoning music scene needed a support system that would provide local musicians access to not-so-affordable instruments and equipment at extremely affordable prices. This concept proved very popular and the business has grown over the years to not only offer instruments and studio equipment rental, but also PA, lighting and effects gear.

“Rock n Roll Rentals is kind of the reason I’m able to exist and do what I do,” enthuses Natalie. “When I started out and decided that I wanted to live in all these different worlds, doing performances and events and all these different things, owning my own gear was just cost-prohibitive. It was impossible to figure out what would work for everything I was doing, especially as I was so in love with the idea of site-specific work and really wanted the gear to fit the place I was moving into. I’d rented little stuff from Rock N Roll rentals before – I’ve been going there for almost 20 years I think – but it was really when they started doing lighting seriously that I was able to create the business I wanted. I can hire exactly what I need for each event, which gives me much more creative freedom than if I had to buy the equipment outright.”

There’s no such thing as an average job for Natalie George Productions, but a good example of one of their projects is the annual Big Hair Country Fair fundraiser. Raising money for Creative Action, an Austin-based charity that provides social and emotional learning and social justice education through arts-based programs, Natalie and her team have supplied lighting and décor for this event for the past four years.

The event takes place in a large warehouse space, which could feel cavernous for a 250-person dinner and performance. However, Natalie and her team install burlap swags down each side of the room, lit in vibrant colors using ADJ WiFLY EXR HEX5 IP battery-powered up-lights. This frames the seating area and gives a more intimate feel to the evening. In addition, they use ADJ Encore Profile 1000 WW Ellipsoidals to project custom GOBOs of sponsor’s logos onto this eye-catching splashed of color. “The Encore Profiles worked great for this,” comments Natalie. “Being LED, they create minimal heat, but the crispness of the GOBO image is also really good. Even though the fabric makes a slightly curved projection surface we are still able to get a super-crisp image.”

ADJ’s popular Ultra HEX Bar 12 linear LED fixtures provide illumination of the venue’s distinctive back wall, while ADJ 12P HEX LED par fixtures are used for both front and back light on the stage. The latter fixture Natalie describes as one of her go-to lighting tools, “They are great wash lights. The dimmability and color mixing is so good, which means I can use them for both face light and back light. In fact, they are so versatile, I can use them for anything. They are also incredibly bright, and I like a lot of light, a lot of power, so I’d rather have all that bang and then dim it down if I need to. They are also very portable, and for us that is the key thing, because we’re loading up the van and taking everything with us. Quick and easy is important, when we find something that works for us, and is versatile, we’re going to stick with it. Because we’re moving so fast when we’re loading into a space, I want to know the instrument inside out and be able to rattle off settings and addresses, and get it set up quickly.”

In addition to corporate and non-profit clients, Natalie and her team also work alongside local caterers and event planners on a wide range of private parties and events. For example they recently lit a large private residence for a Bar mitzvah celebration, transforming both the exterior façade and interior party space using a wide variety of ADJ lighting fixtures.

Guests couldn’t miss where to find the party, with the outside of the large home vibrantly illuminated in saturated greens and blues from ADJ WiFLY EXR HEX5 IPs and 7PZ IP weatherproof fixtures. Meanwhile, inside a ‘silent disco’ setup allowed the younger guests to party while their parents enjoyed conversation over cocktails.

Natalie and her team creatively transformed the large front room into an exciting party space by hanging florescent Slinkys from the ceiling and wrapping various colors of florescent construction tape around two truss totems. They then brought these to life using a pair of ADJ’s potent UV COB Cannon LED-powered UV washes. Meanwhile, the totems were lit using Element HEX battery-powered uplighters and a mirror ball was hung from the ceiling, illuminated by a PinPoint GO LED pinspot. Finally, a package of effect lights, consisting of a Stinger GOBO, Stinger II and multiple Sweeper Beam Quad LEDs, created a high-octane party atmosphere.

Some of this was planned in advance, while other details came in the moment, as Natalie explains: “Renting ADJ gear through Rock N Roll Rentals is so affordable that we can fill up the van with even more than we need and be overly prepared, which then gives us the creative freedom to play in the moment. An example of this is the place where the Slinkys are hanging, there’s a great little nook that I didn’t know about until we got there, and we were able to use it to hide more Element HEXs, which looked really cool!”

While most of Natalie George Productions’ work is providing technical services for events organized by others, the company also acts as a promotor for a recurring series of pop-up cabaret shows. Natalie and her team host four of these events each year and have utilized a variety of different ‘found spaces’ (usually commercial property in transition between tenants) to serve as their venue. However, recently they have settled into one particular home, a furniture warehouse in Austin, which has a showroom in the front and a big warehouse in the back. The management of the business not only allow Natalie and her team to setup a bar and in the showroom, they provide use of their furniture stock to seat the audience in the main warehouse.

To transform the commercial warehouse into an intimate performance space the Natalie George Productions team use 12P HEXs to light the stage and up-light the room using another of their go-to fixtures, the ADJ Element HEX. “I nicknamed that fixture the ‘babybear’, because it is just so small and cute, and now even everyone at Rock N Roll Rentals calls it that!” Natalie laughs. “Honestly, the battery life is just incredible on them and they are really bright too. They are so compact that I use them tucked in things, I like to hide them away so that you don’t see the fixture just the light it produces.”

The lighting design for these cabaret evenings is always completed by a pair of ADJ’s FS600LED LED-powered follow spots. “It’s funny,” explains Natalie, “to me that was the most important thing to have. I felt like if we were going to have this night of music and call it a cabaret, we had to have a follow spot, that just sealed the deal. And I’ve had so many people comment on them and say that it was amazing that we actually had spotlights!”

Natalie’s passion for lighting is evident from both the work she produces and the animated way she talks about it. Lighting isn’t just an after thought in her mind, it can completely transform a space and is therefore essential for establishing the right mood for an event or performance. She truly is an artist, using the ADJ fixtures provided by Rock N Roll Rentals as her brushes to create a new masterpiece at every event.

Lighting Designer

Natalie George

Production Company

Natalie George Productions

Equipment Rental Company

Rock N Roll Rentals

Photo of Natalie Taken By

Sarah Bork Hamilton 

Gear List

WiFLY EXR HEX5 IP

Encore Profile 1000 WW

Ultra HEX Bar 12

12P HEX

7PZ IP

UV COB Cannon

Element HEX

M-1616 Mirror Ball

PinPoint GO LED

Stinger GOBO

Stinger II

Sweeper Beam Quad LED

FS600LED