By Manus Hopkins
Dougal Dolhagaray was always playing with electronics as a kid. Now the lighting director for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, he found his way into lighting through music. He grew up playing guitar, but was always more interested in adding speakers to his amps and figuring out how to have his cassettes and radio play through them so that he could play along with songs. Electronics was his thing and he was constantly opening up devices to see what he could do to make them better.
“I got into car stereos when I could drive and always added different 12-volt lights to the speaker cables so they would go to the music,” Dolhagaray tells us, looking back on his teenage years. “I used to take apart anything I could to get LEDs to plug into my car stereos when LEDs were first emerging.”
Dolhagary went to electronics engineering at NAIT in Edmonton, then moved to Vancouver in 2003, and began working at Caprice Nightclub in 2008. He averaged five shows a week there, and says that’s where he learned the ropes of LightJockey 2 and developed some MIDI mapping skills.
“The company that owned the club I worked at also owned several other clubs, and one was getting renovated to become a live music room, so I got to help design Venue Nightclub,” he says. “That was my intro to lighting live bands, and this quickly became my passion. This is where I started with my first real console, the Road Hog.”
Dolhagaray worked an average of four to five shows a week at Venue for a few years, then things started to die down a little when the DJ scene really took off. Dolhagaray then got to help design Celebrities Nightclub, which was the DJ club in town, and worked many EDM shows. He learned to use a GrandMA so he could work at bigger rooms in the city like The Vogue Theater and The Commodore Ballroom, which he says is his favourite venue.
“I started doing more tours and festivals and working with local production companies, which brought me to work with Electric Aura on a few projects,” he says. “I became friends with Jason Mckinnon and Robert Sondergaard, who recommended me to Canucks Sports & Entertainment, with whom I am now the lighting director for the [Vancouver] Canucks.”
Dolhagaray’s career highlights are varied. He’s had some big gigs he’s particularly proud of, but being able to pass on his skills to aspiring lighting directors is another part of his work he enjoys.
“I was invited to speak at Capilano University in the Film department about my career and did a studio demo for the class this summer,” he says. “I was proud to be on a level that I can help to inspire the next gen a little bit.”
Some of Dolhagary’s bigger recent credits include lighting Justin Trudeau, as well as comedian Dave Chappelle. As he explains, appearances like these stand out to him because they are high-profile names and “require a certain level of skill to succeed.”
Music shows are some of Dolhagaray’s favourites as well. He says he’s gotten to work with some of his favourite artists, such as doing the video and light for Wu-Tang Clan for a show this past summer. He also recently toured through Tunisia, Egypt, and Dubai for the first time this year with rising Canadian star Faouzia.
Though some might find having to adapt to constantly changing technology challenging, for Dolhagaray, it’s a welcome challenge and something he enjoys.
“I love seeing how great the concert production keeps getting,” he says. “It’s fun to watch the industry push ahead so fast and to be part of it.”
As far as work goes, Dolhagaray is busy with the Canucks now, but was able to pick up a few summer gigs, including working for hugely-popular stand-up comedian Bill Burr and the FVDED in the Park festival. He’s excited about the new programming for this Canucks season, and happy to be back with his team.
“I work with a great group of people who always try to push the boundaries and come up with some really creative concepts, so I am looking forward to helping come up with some of the in-game entertainment and activations,” he says.
These days, Dolhagaray lives in downtown Vancouver with his partner Olivia and their chihuahua, Yoda. When he isn’t working, he tries to travel as much as possible and likes to do long exposure photography.
“I’m always trying to improve my skills in my free time, so I often study lighting or watch great light shows to try to pull some inspiration,” he says.
Though he has many interest and other hobbies, it’s lighting production that is Dolhagaray’s true passion, and despite all the highs of his career, there is always more he can learn.
“I was never that great at playing music, but when I figured out that I could make the lights flash in time with the music and actually do an impactful show with it, my console became my instrument and that's where my passion really started to take hold and grow,” says Dolhagaray. “Then I just got better at it, and am still trying to get better every day.”
Manus Hopkins is a freelance writer based in Toronto.