Eastchester's Jeff Croiter exults after Tony win
A day after winning a lighting design Tony Award for "Peter and the Starcatcher," Jeff Croiter basked in the triumph and recalled how his experiences at Eastchester High School and Purchase College contributed to his victory.
Croiter -- whose Broadway credits include "Newsies," "The Pee-wee Herman Show" and "Next Fall" -- said that he's working through lots of text messages and a few phone calls. When his name was announced for the award, he said he immediately feared giving an interesting speech in front of thousands of people. But he also had another concern.
"The first thing that goes through my head was, 'Get up to the stage, because they're going to cut you off,' because I'm one of those people who will get the music [cue to wrap up]," said Croiter, 40.
On the way to the stage Sunday night, he showed some love for "Starcatcher" writer Rick Elice and co-director Roger Rees. "I grabbed them, and I think I hurt them both as I was running past them," Croiter said with a laugh. "I forcibly grabbed them and pushed them."
Leading with "I share this honor with so many people," Croiter spent all of his 98-second acceptance speech thanking people who helped him succeed. In addition to commending Elice for a "beautiful and inspirational play that is a designer's dream," and directors Rees and Alex Timbers for their "precision, heart and true theatricality," Croiter thanked his parents, who "introduced him to theater" when he was a kid growing up in Eastchester, as well as his brothers, Mike and Andy, and his wife, actress Kate Wetherhead.
Also mentioned in the speech was one of his professors at Purchase College, the late Bill Mintzer, who not only taught Croiter but also two of the other three nominees in this year's lighting design category: Croiter's childhood friend, Eastchester native Kenneth Posner (nominated for "Other Desert Cities" and a Tony Award winner for 2007's "The Coast of Utopia") and Brian MacDevitt (a five-time Tony winner who was nominated this year for "Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman").
On Monday, Croiter said there was a moment when he considered other careers, but Mintzer persuaded him to stay at Purchase.
"We weren't there to hang lights, or to turn lights on and off," Croiter said. "We were there to learn how to read the play, and learn what dramaturgy was. That was the beginning of my understanding of what lighting designers actually do."
Croiter said he really started getting into theater in the late '80s, when Posner helped Croiter get an internship at the Berkshire Theater Festival.
"That is when I really realized that I love the idea of lighting design," he said. "That was my first experience with professional theater and professional lighting design."
Around the same time, the refurbishing of the Eastchester High School auditorium, which had been damaged in a fire, included state-of-the-art tech equipment that helped Croiter hone his craft at an early age. The 1989 EHS graduate worked on the tech crew for school productions of "The Sound of Music," "Guys and Dolls" and "Bye Bye Birdie."
"There was a computerized lighting system, brand-new lighting equipment, and it was like a real-deal theater," he said. "And obviously, that was an important step in my development. At that young age, when they say that the mind is so impressionable, I was starting to learn the tools of the lighting trade, that kids at that age weren't [usually] able to use."
In the afterglow of his Tony triumph, Croiter continues to work on several projects, including a touring production of "Jekyll and Hyde." Winning a Tony Award, he said, gives him more exposure and establishes a sense of credibility.
"I've been doing this for 19 years, so I've been around for awhile," he said. "I've met everyone along the way. It was a reminder to people that I'm around and doing this. 'Now, we can say that he knows what he's doing, because he's won a Tony Award.'"