How the Rotunda Light Show Came Together for Lighting of the Lawn


A Rotunda light show set to music was one of many memorable moments during the 2013 Lighting of the Lawn. Though the light show was over in minutes, it was actually the product of months of planning and work by some U.Va. students and faculty. The finished product:

Engineering School student Kevin Seitter, a double major in physics and biomedical engineering, worked on the light show and designed the portion featuring the Rotunda Christmas lights.

The second part, which features the colored lights, came courtesy of R. Lee Kennedy, an associate professor of lighting design in the Drama Department of the College of Arts & Sciences, and a team of graduate students.

Seitter became involved with Lighting of the Lawn last year after a friend noticed a video of a light show he’d done in his first-year dorm. For last year’s Lighting of the Lawn, he used equipment he’d built himself to turn on and off the Christmas lights in synch with music.

Jake Kenneally, a student on the Lighting of the Lawn committee, worked with Seitter last year and had also taken Kennedy’s course on lighting technology. He introduced the two this fall.

“I knew how skilled Lee and his team were in lighting design, how many lights were available through the Drama Department, and I just hoped for the best response,” Kenneally said.

The three met in September, and Seitter and Kennedy collaborated on the final product.

“The idea was that more dynamic stage lighting could be incorporated into the show as well, to really give it that extra bump that a lot of people probably hoped for, and ideally exceed their expectations,” Seitter said. “I worked closely with Professor Kennedy to work in his stage lights in as big a way as possible; we discussed possible equipment, timing, ways to synchronize our controllers, and more.”

Seitter also credited Dave Roberts from Facilities Management,  who helped them refine the setup.

“That included completely re-wiring the column lights to be able to operate independently rather than as a block, which took several early morning meetings in a workshop,” Seitter said. “He was another person without whom the show wouldn’t have been what it was, and we have him to thank for a great many things.”

Seitter designed and wrote the first portion of the show and sent a preview to Kennedy. “He and his grad students then put together the colored portion of the show, which has undoubtedly gained the most recognition, and really came to define the whole thing,” Seitter said.

“I’m unbelievably excited about the response the event got, and it’s been an amazing experience to be a part of. I never would have imagined playing a role in such a big event at the University, but I’m so glad I’ve had this opportunity.”

Kennedy worked with graduate students Jake Kvanbeck and Jonathon Hunter, as well as a professional assistant to help with electronics and programming. The team used LED technology donated to the Department of Drama in 2007 by a former Architecture student, Brad Koerner, who was then the marketing manager for an equipment manufacturer, Kennedy said.

“The project presented a great opportunity for my students and I to be involved with designing and building a lighting system for a non-theatrical event and then to work out all the logistics of how to get it set up on-site,” Kennedy said.

Kenneally was thrilled with the results.

“I actually had not seen the light show until the night of Lighting of the Lawn, and what I saw truly amazed me,” he said. “The show was a closely-guarded secret from the beginning, and even though the Lighting of the Lawn committee knew it was going to happen, many did not know what it would look like until the night of the event.

I’m so thrilled the event went well. It couldn’t have been possible without the hard work from Lee, his awesome team of students, John Foster, Jonathon Hunter, and Jake Kvanbeck, and Kevin. If you had asked me back in September, when I thought of asking Lee to help out, if this was the sort of show I expected, I would have never believed that this could be the result. It was just too cool. I’m so happy to have been a part of this tradition, to have played a part in bringing our community together, and I’m looking forward to what’s next for future Lighting of the Lawn events.”


6 Comments on “How the Rotunda Light Show Came Together for Lighting of the Lawn

  1. The light show was one of the coolest things I have ever seen at UVa. I love the creativity and innovation of the people who put it all together. Jefferson would have been proud.

    thank you so much, and I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

  2. It was my first time to see the Lighting and it was amazing. Thanks to all involved for your hard work — it was really appreciated!

  3. I’m a musician and creative
    film maker.
    I’d like to help orchestrate next years lighting of the lawn.

    • Lisa, I’m one of the students on the Lighting of the Lawn Planning Commitee from this year (and the planning committee is actually all students). Please email me at jkenneally AT virginia DOT edu, and I’ll be sure to give next year’s committee your contact information. Thanks!

  4. After singing “where all is bright and gay”, what did the girls shout out? Not the “not gay” chant again right?

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