Light entertainment

Michael Marlin’s ‘Luma,’ a three-dimensional experience, will shine at the Israel Festival.

May 23, 2013 12:04
‘Luma’ draws on both high- and low-tech instruments.

Luma light show rainbow colors 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Michael Marlin, who goes by the professional moniker of Marlin, will bring light to this part of the world – in abundance.

Marlin is the brains, pyrotechnical wizard and drive behind the Luma show, which is part of this year’s Israel Festival lineup.Luma has been doing the rounds on the global circuit for many years now, wowing audiences in Japan, Scotland, Venezuela, India and Italy with what has been described as “a show of unseen performers producing a swirling tapestry of light that is constantly in motion while depicting the light we see in our lives.” The fifty-something resident of Hawaii has been perfecting his lustrous act for nigh on three decades, and has been an entertainer for close to a decade longer.

His life story to date is the stuff of fairy tales. He grew up in a middle-class Jewish American family, but had itchy feet from a young age. At 18, he did the proverbial disappearing act by running away with a circus and becoming a clown. In fact, he was already into street-level entertainment before heading for the big tent. “I used to do children’s parties, as a clown and a juggler, and I was working at a cheese store, standing out in front hawking, and juggling cheese balls and salamis. A couple of clowns came by and said: ‘Hey, you’re pretty good, have you ever done any clowning?’ and I said: ‘Yes, I’ve done children’s parties,’ and they said: ‘Would you like to be in the circus?’ Who’s going to say no to that?” A positive response to such a proposal might seem a given to someone like Marlin, but one would have thought that many a “nice Jewish boy” might have responded to that kind of offer with something along the lines of, “No thanks, I’d much prefer to go to law school and get myself a good, safe profession.”

Marlin admits there was, indeed, some parental disapproval of his initial professional choice. “My mom asked why I couldn’t be a doctor or a lawyer,” he says.

However, Marlin’s circus entertaining career didn’t last long. “I got fired after three days, and when you get fired as a clown you really start to have some self-doubts about your worth.”

But he was quickly offered another job, with a distinctly pungent element. “The next day I got hired to take care of the elephants.” That, presumably, left him open to some vicious gibes. “Yeah, you know, there’s the classic joke about the guy who complains about shoveling the elephant manure, and when someone asks him why he doesn’t quit, he says, ‘What, and quit show business?’” Marlin’s first ventures toward a career path were in a very different area of expertise, although it led to his first entertainment gig. “I started juggling on a tennis court,” he recalls. “I thought I was going to be a tennis pro, because I was very good at it, and I saw a guy pull three balls out of a tennis can and start juggling them. I thought that was pretty cool and I immediately picked it up. I kept at it and learned there were other things to juggle besides balls, and I learned all kinds of other tricks. I just had a natural affinity for performing.”

The fascination with light, and the contrast between light and dark, loomed in Marlin’s life several years later when he was a big-city dweller. “I was living in Los Angeles, and a friend of mine and I would go out into the desert to look at the stars. We had to drive three hours just to get away from the city lights. That was the initial connect, and another time, I was working in Las Vegas with a friend – he as a magician and me as a juggler – and I took him out camping to the Arizona desert, and he had never seen the stars out in the desert before. To see the look on his face was one of the precipitators [of the Luma show].

“I took a burning branch out of the bonfire and started swinging it around, and all the little embers were going up into the air, and I saw the embers against the black sky, like little pinpoints of light.”

That was a personal and professional epiphany for Marlin. “I thought that we’ve lost this connection to eternity, and there’s no sense of a continuum for humans today. But, if you look up at a sky full of stars every night, you’re going to think, ‘Hey! I feel part of all this.’”

Marlin feels the light-vs-dark balance has been a constant throughout the history of humankind. “I think that people’s fear of darkness is also hooked into when we were cavemen and we learned that when we went into a cave, or out into the night without any light, we might not come back.”

Then again, there are reports that that may not necessarily be a bad thing. “We fear the dark because it represents death, but we hear from people who have had near-death experiences that when you die, you go towards the light.”

Marlin is, thankfully, still with us, and he has been drawn to light, and to utilizing it in all sorts of shapes, forms and colors, to keep his audiences – from preschoolers to adults – entranced. He also tries to keep his shows as basic as possible, but also incorporates some more advanced techniques, one of which comes from this part of the world. “Luma is low-tech and hitech at the same time,” he states. “I draw upon very simple lighting instruments, like a flashlight, and find ways to create with that, and there’s other stuff, including something that was invented in Israel – electroluminescent wire. There are some lasers in the show, but not used in the way that most people are used to seeing them. I capture a spray of laser pinpoints with a dynamic surface that lights are caught with.”

Advanced apparatus notwithstanding, Marlin says he tries to keep his audiences entertained without bowling them over with the wonders of state-of-the-art technology. “Most people, when they think of a light show, they think of flat screens and some kind of projection device. We use people. This is a three-dimensional experience. I have taken the light show off the two-dimensional plane.”

One of Marlin’s more moving discoveries during his long career trajectory to date is that you don’t necessarily have to be considered a seeing person in order to enjoy the Luma show. “Blind people can see this,” Marlin declares. “I learned this very early on, when a father and his child came to see the work when we were incubating it, and he told me his son really liked it and I said ‘that’s great.’ And he said: ‘You don’t understand.

My son’s blind.’ I asked him how he knew his son could see the show, and he said that when he took him outside at night, his son could see the stars, because of the high contrast. So, blind people can enjoy Luma because of the darkness on the stage and the brightness of the lights we use.

“I hope everyone will come along to see the show.”

Luma will be performed at Heichal Hatarbut in Modi’in at 5:30 p.m. on June 4, at Heichal Hateatron in Kiryat Motzkin at 9 p.m. on June 7, and at the Mediatheque Center in Holon at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on June 8.

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