Thomas Buczko

Elation Professional: LD Spotlight, April, 2021 – Chris Lisle

Lighting, Set, Video and Production Designer


A clear goal, concrete plans and supportive relationships can get you a long way. Just ask Chris Lisle, a 30-year vet of our industry. Never far from his iCalendar, his lighting resume includes names like Brooks & Dunn, Robert Plant and Alice Cooper, not to mention the recent Presidential Inauguration. Grateful for his journey, Chris has given back by teaching and co-founding the Touring Career Workshop.

Meet Chris
What have you been doing to stay sane/positive over the last year?
That’s an ever evolving question for sure – early on it was exercise, then it turned to cooking, then it turned to being out on the water. One thing that I have done fairly consistently is at the end of the day make note of one thing I can do the next day. I am the type person that needs to have goals, purposes, etc. Knowing each day when I wake up that I have at least one thing to do was key. Sometimes that one thing was to fix something in the house, the other it was to call an old friend.

There are signs of optimism out there. Have you felt that in your caseload and are you working on any projects at the moment?
There is definitely some momentum building – the calls are starting to come in, discussions are happening, etc. I would not by any means say that the “faucet is turned on”, but the water is at least starting to trickle. What I am seeing the most of are outdoor-based events, one-offs, and tours. My personal gut is that the “world of live” will likely not make a strong return to indoor markets until much later this year, or perhaps even next.

You were born and raised in Nashville. What was your youth like and what did you want to be when you grew up?
I love this town….like I LOVE this town. It has grown so much since my childhood, but a good bit of its character is still the same. We are a much more diverse town than when I grew up – in culture, art, food, thinking, etc. I love that. We still have that “treat your neighbor well” attitude though – and I hope we never lose that. Growing up – at one time I thought being a travel agent would be awesome….then it turned to advertising. I sure love the path my career took.

You still call Nashville home then?
I have an interesting scenario as I got married to my awesome wife last June….she has a home in the Nashville suburbs, and I have my townhome here in the 12 South area of Nashville. Due to the pandemic, we have not quite been able to merge homes yet, so we basically split our time between the two. Her family has also owned a home on gorgeous Tims Ford Lake (about 1.5 hours southeast of Nashville) for more than 20 years, so we certainly get down there when we can – it became my “COVID escape” for sure!

Do you remember when you first became enamored with lighting?
Honestly, it was the first time I was sort of thrown onto the console. A buddy of mine had a band, and he said “why don’t you do lights”…so I got on the console and just started playing with the buttons….then it all clicked….this thing I was doing combined three things that I loved: music, creativity, and travel. I was hooked…

Success in this business is often about relationships and whom you meet. Can you tell me about someone you met who helped you along the way?
It is so hard for me to define just one person as there have been many. I wrote a blog piece for the TCW [Touring Career Workshop] Facebook page many years ago in which I sort of charted out my career through the connections I had made. It was so crazy to look back and see how many people had affected my career, and how those relationships helped to link to other relationships. I am truly grateful to the people who took chances on me, taught me, and led me through this journey.

Speaking of TCW, you are the co-founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization that helps touring production professionals with human resources issues. What was the motivation behind starting the program and how active have you been with it this last year?
Erik Parker and I started TCW ten years ago. It honestly started out of a motivation to see those in our industry succeed in their careers – especially on the business/human resource side. It got hard to see a lot of my mentors hitting the end of their career with little to show in terms of retirement, bad health, etc. We wanted to find a way to give folks in our industry the tools and information needed to get the most out of their career. I have definitely tried to use the extra time I have had during the pandemic to help TCW grow. We expanded our Board at the start of this year, and have a lot of great things in the works coming up.

You have an impressive list of design successes to your credit. From design day one to the end of a project, what is your favorite part of the process?
Two parts:
1) The day that we get to walk into rehearsals and see your whole vision that you have been working on and staring at on paper all of a sudden come to life in a physical and real form (and hope that it works out as you had envisioned).
2) The sound the crowd makes when house lights go down…..that sound gives me chills to this day.

Earlier this year, you lit the Presidential Inauguration Field of Flags, one of the most significant and moving events of our democracy. What impact did that have on you and how did your involvement in it come about?
I am not a political person, but man it was just SO good to get to work again! The energy on that show site was amazing – just an overall sense of hope. It was good for the soul for sure. I got that event through a production company that I do a lot of other work with.

You used Elation Paladin™ and SixPar 100 IP™ fixtures on that project and have often turned to Elation gear in your career. What are the main reasons why you continue to use Elation?
Elation has a great line of dependable products – I know I can count on them to keep working throughout the gig and get the results that I need out of them.

I read that in 2013 you hung up your touring boots after years on the road, which is a natural progression for many designers. Is there something about being on the road though that you miss?
Absolutely….the adventure…new friends, new places, great food. I am fortunate though that I still do a good bit of traveling, just not in the typical “tour” method. I visit a lot of my clients’ shows when I can, and still do a lot of festival work – which keeps me out and about. I love travel…I will always want to keep that as part of my life!

Does a designer need to be a fan of their client’s music?
I think it helps, but also I have found that even when I have the chance to light a genre or song that I am not particularly a fan of, it helps me to broaden my horizon in terms of treatment. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing….

Is there something you’d like to accomplish in this industry that you haven’t already?
I have never had a chance to design a stadium tour, so I would love the chance to do that at some point in my career for sure. Past that, there are certain artists I would LOVE to light….but I think we all have those 

What do you like to do when you’re not doing lighting?
The simple things: time with my wife and kids. taking a walk or jog, cooking, time on the water.

What’s something about Chris Lisle that people might find surprising?
I have been called a “Type A” and live by my iCal. Like, its ridiculous. Everything is scheduled….well not EVERYTHING….but lots of stuff. I just like having and knowing “the plan”!

Source: www.elationlighting.com/