Thank you Jesse Portillo!



VIRTUE (2017)








MAMA (2015)


3 (2014)




ERIC(A) (2013)









AMERIGO (2010)


BLOCK 8 (2009)

EXPOSED (2007)

Jesse Portillo has been designing lighting for Plan-B since in 2007. He became our resident lighting designer in 2010, having designed all but one Plan-B production since.

He’s heading east to join the faculty of the College of Charleston in South Carolina, but we’ll see him back at least once next season.

Above are images from most of Jesse’s Plan-B designs.

Below are thoughts from his collaborators about him and his work.

Break a leg in South Carolina – we love you and will miss you; we’ll miss your eye and especially the catty things you say from the top of the genie!

Read more about Jesse on Howlround.

We have worked together a helluva lot over the past decade. I should have realized that all those letters of recommendation would result in you actually moving on. Here’s the most recent one – the last paragraph says it all.


I will miss you tremendously.

Jerry Rapier, Artistic Director (and director of many a Plan-B show lit by Jesse)

I’m very sad to lose another long-standing member of our core design team. When I think of working with Jesse, several notable things come to mind:

– Jesse is very good at getting the best lighting effects out of the rather limited options in the Studio Theatre. Right from the beginning, when he joined us during Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED, he “got” Plan-B’s simple, yet highly impactful design aesthetic. He knows that almost always, and especially with Plan-B, less is more.

– Jesse is pretty much unflappable. On the outside, at least, he always remains calm and steady. I don’t know if he knows how helpful and reassuring that is when rehearsals get a bit stressful.

– Jesse pulled double-duty for us a few times, working as the lighting designer while finessing projections (MAMA, A/VERSION OF EVENTS, BASED ON A TRUE STORY).  I knew we were stretching him thin during those times but he always offered solutions to problems, got the job done while remaining…unflappable.

Thank you Jesse. I thought the last two shows you designed for Plan-B were especially beautiful (VIRTUE and NOT ONE DROP).

I’ll really miss you. Best of luck to you in your next adventure.

Cheryl Cluff, Managing Director (and director of many a Plan-B show lit by Jesse)

An interrogation cell, edges sharply delineated by light, stark, impersonal, terrifying. A warm summer night in England, the rooftop of a cathedral punctuated by falling bombs. A used car lot, run down and defeated, but stirring with hope and possibility. Purgatory, where sinners expiate misdeeds. A domestic hell, jealousy and abuse and rage, but mitigated by a piano and violin. Your designs have done more than illuminate my plays at Plan-B. They have created the atmosphere in which those plays could thrive. You’re just extraordinary.

Playwright Eric Samuelsen, whose plays AMERIGO, BORDERLANDS, NOTHING PERSONAL, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 8: FAIRYANA, CLEARING BOMBS, 3 and THE KREUTZER SONATA (not to mention the Script-In-Hand Series readings of his Ibsen translations of A DOLL HOUSE and GHOSTS) were lit by Jesse

When I was writing ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, I knew how essential the lighting design would be to the pacing and clarity of the storytelling. I breathed a major sigh of relief during tech week as I saw Jesse’s brilliant work bringing my words to life.

Playwright Matthew Greene

Jesse, I’m so glad you lit NOT ONE DROP. I remember coming into rehearsal and wondering if that was the lighting and you hadn’t even started yet – and then when it was added in, it made a completely different atmosphere. You lit the show perfectly, including the part where there was no lighting, and really made the bizarre world icy and angular. Thank you so much.

Playwright Morag Shepherd

Thank you, Jesse, for lighting our made-up worlds. I was lucky to have you light two of my plays at Plan-B, including BASED ON A TRUE STORY, where you made time travel magical and nearly real.

Playwright Elaine Jarvik, whose Script-In-Hand Series reading of MARRY CHRISTMAS was also lit by Jesse

Jesse does his work without really letting on that he’s there. Then when the lights are added, the play looks done, professional, beautiful. I could thank him for a dozen productions, but SHE WAS MY BROTHER and CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS are two favorites, very different from one another, yet Jesse plugged in as if he’d been there for the crafting of each page.

Happy trails, you genius, you.

Playwright Julie Jensen

When I’ve written a play knowing it will open at Plan-B, I don’t imagine exactly what the lights will look like — but I have imagined them being amazing, knowing that Jesse Portillo would be designing. The piece most dependent on lighting that I’ve ever done, probably, was A/VERSION OF EVENTS, which Jesse made sublimely three-dimensional and intimate in all the rights moments. The slow ethereal transition into the final scene, and the last fade out, are still fresh in my memory.

What I loved about Jesse’s work on BLOCK 8 was the contrast, including, of course, the silhouettes, which underscored the hell of the internment camp and the beauty found between Ken and Ada. That show — especially as my first with Jesse — stands out as a rare, great example of fusion between the lines of the set, the spareness of language, the cleanness of the direction and acting, and the spartan but emotional lighting.

Remembering luminous punctuation of MESA VERDE makes me miss him already. I know wherever he goes that he’ll make playwrights happy.

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, whose plays DI ESPERIENZA, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 7: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNCLE, ERIC(A) and RADIO HOUR EPISODE 9: GRIMM were also lit by Jesse

I love how I can feel the light in a show Jesse has designed. His work on PILOT PROGRAM was subtle, substantial and beautiful, guiding your eye as the story unfolded. He makes light a character, vibrant and necessary but never distracting.

Such a talented gent. Plus, he appreciates a nice pen.

Best of luck to you, Jesse.

Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson

Folks who’ve read my plays may notice that I am not good at adding detail regarding the environment in which my stories take place. I’d like to think it’s because …

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m bad it it, really bad, and I rely wholly on Plan-B’s team of designers and experts to build the world around my talking people. I absolutely depend on their creativity, vision, and execution to bring the play to life – to somehow discern from my sparse suggestions the specificity about when and where and how the characters are living, and make those things real for the cast and audience. Jesse has done that in three of the four plays I’ve been lucky enough to have had produced in the Studio Theatre. With light he created texture, a sense of time (the period and passage of) and place, and a depth that invariably made each story clearer and better. For that I am so thankful.

I’ll miss his work more than he’ll ever know, but truly wish him well.

His students are so, so fortunate.

Playwright Jenifer Nii, whose plays THE SCARLET LETTER, SUFFRAGE and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN were lit by Jesse

Congratulations on the new gig. I consider myself very fortunate that I had your talents as part of my first show. Your lighting design was integral to the realization of a vision of BOOKSMART far superior to the one I initially imagined. Thank you for your collaboration. You will be missed.

Playwright Rob Tennant

When you’re an actor who’s been around for as long I have, you have the blessing and opportunity to work with a lot of people and experience a lot of kinds of work ethics. The best thing I can say about Jesse is that I never really noticed him. I know how that sounds, but he is so talented and so good that everything always just looked and felt great. And I felt that even more on my play MAMA. He’s like a ninja designer, in and out before you know anything. (hahaha) But honestly, he’s the nicest most professional and talented designer I know and he will be severely missed.

I hope you are met with the same and hopefully greater success in your new position.

Playwright and Actor Carleton Bluford

Jesse has always been the type of designer who’s lighting becomes another character – a living aspect of the performance.

His belief in social justice and passion for advocacy are inspiring.

He’s a guy who really can “fix it with lighting.”

I’m going to miss him.

Fellow designer Arika Schockmel

Jesse’s talent for manipulating light adds immeasurably to the experience that is live theater. The most dramatic example of this talent was the execution scene in ONE BIG UNION: a harsh and unforgiving special on a blindfolded Joe Hill, with the firing squad in shadows and silhouettes, created a powerful and unforgettable image of the play’s climatic moment.

Playwright Debora Threedy, whose play THE THIRD CROSSING was also lit by Jesse

Jesse has designed lights for my sets throughout my career. His thoughtful approach to texture, color, and timing, as well as his attention to the sets architecture have made him an invaluable collaborator for my work with Plan-B. I’ve always appreciated the questions he has for me about my set and its place in storytelling. On of my favorite pieces we have worked on was VIRTUE – Jesse’s lighting felt ancient, clear, and heavenly.

He will be sorely missed!

Fellow designer Thomas George

The word that springs to mind when I think about Jesse doing his job is “unflappable.” If I knew more about the art and craft of lighting, it would probably be “brilliant” or “can make any concatenation of stray lighting instruments into a million-dollar, nuanced, powerful plot.” But I don’t, so I’m going with “unflappable.”

He came to the relevant rehearsals of VIRTUE, watched who was doing what on stage and what challenges my script set him and, with zero flapping, made it all beautifully, emotionally, clarifyingly perfect. Without, it appeared, saying a word. So I think he designs lighting with his sly smiles.

For a guy like me who can’t stop talking, fretting, and re-thinking, Jesse appears magical. I’ll never forget the perimeter of celestial light kindling Hildegard and Richardis holding each other and gazing into heaven, an unspoken moment of mutual bliss far more powerful than the words of the script.

Thank you.

Playwright Tim Slover

Jesse is that rare combination of great attitude and exceptional skills. I was always trilled to find out that he is involved in a production. He knows how to contribute, collaborate and how to not step on toes.

Best of all, he can be very funny.

Whoever gets him next should know how lucky they are.

If they don’t they will.

Fellow designer Randy Rasmussen

I had the great fortune to work with Jesse at Plan-B (once as an actor and twice as a director) and every time I was amazed by his thoughtful and beautiful talent. His skill is great but, more than that, he naturally knows how to navigate the world of the play and what is called for within scenes.

He is a wonderful artistic partner and I will truly miss his voice.

Director and Actor Jason Bowcutt

When you work with Jesse Portillo, you’d better bring your “A” game.

As an actor and costume designer at Plan-B, I benefitted from his brilliant work onstage; as a student, I was fortunate enough to take his course in Queer Theatre at the University of Utah. Jesse is a remarkable teacher—lucid and knowledgeable, with a ruthless and unsparing intelligence that he brought to bear on his critical analysis of both play texts and our scholarly writing. He’s an exceptional critical thinker, with a dramaturg’s appreciation for historical context. Collaborating with him always meant not only integrating your work with his, but also elevating your own engagement with a piece of theatre. He made me work smarter and harder.

It was a great privilege to work with him as a teacher, as a collaborator, and as a lighting designer.

He always knew how to make my work look better than I deserved, and for that I will always be grateful.

Fellow designer Aaron Swenson (oh, and Hedwig!)

I am proud to be one of Jesse’s theatre wives?

Looking back on his designs, BLOCK 8 is still one of my favorites. It showed us what would follow as Jesse’s career moved forward – subtle, poignant lighting; easy changes to color and shade; realistic.

Stage manager Jennifer Freed

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