My friend Jason Lefton has a BIG thing for lasers. And he has manifested his fascination with lasers into a very creative business called BIG SECRET, located at 308 N. Adams Street, in Jackson Ward. I’ve gotten to know Jason over the last year from his improv work at the Coalition Theater. Jason is helping to transform RVA’s creative culture with his unique approach to design, his desire (and willingness) to collaborate with other RVA businesses, and the unlimited potential of his laser. I sat down with Jason last week to talk about his laser-etching business, and the changing creative culture of RVA.
What’s the best thing about BIG SECRET?
I would say the best thing about BIG SECRET is how easy it is to get people excited about what we are doing. As soon as someone sees our work, it clicks that we are using a beam of light to disintegrate material – to etch it, or cut it, or mark it. They are instantly hooked. It makes it very easy to get people excited and I love sharing the excitement of what we are doing. Most people are not exposed to this type of work on a daily basis.
What’s the deal with you and lasers?
I fell in love with lasers about two and a half years ago when I took my own laptop to be lasered. I took it to someone who didn’t normally laser laptops, but had a laser, and I convinced them to let me put my laptop in their laser. And as soon as I saw it start to work, I realized that I had to research lasers. I had to find out how much they cost and what they are capable of doing. And something clicked, as far as being able to use this tool in a creative way. I thought this would be a cool tool to bring to people in the creative industry that might not have access to one or who have never heard of a laser before. After that, I did so research and saved (money) for about 6 months and bought a laser. It was really on a whim.
When you explain to people the capability of lasers, what is the most surprising response that you hear?
The most surprising, or random, response is the objects people ask me have I tried to put in my laser. For example, have you ever tried to put any of your body parts in the laser – have you tried to laser your own flesh? The answer is no, but I have seen youtube videos (don’t try it at home). And that is part of what excites me about lasers, the wide variety of material that you can experiment with. When you screen-print, you are putting ink on paper or ink on fabric. You can put ink on other things but when using a laser you can use such a wide variety of material: wood, paper, glass, metals, plastics, cardboard, and lots of non-traditional materials: leaves, food, grip tape , etc. And it’s in those experimental stages that I really love figuring out what’s next, what else is this machine capable of doing. There is a very short list of things that you cannot laser.
What’s the one thing that you haven’t lasered yet that you are dying to laser?
I’m really excited to laser a cake. I’m doing it this summer for a nearby gallery called Candela (Books and Gallery).
It’s an edible cake?
It’s an edible sheet cake. And lasering food is perfectly safe. People do it a lot: grill lines on a steak or their name in chocolate. I’m excited about it. I’ve never done it before. It’s for a fundraising event they are doing in August called, “Unbound!”
You moved to the Arts District (Jackson Ward) in October of 2012, what is it about being in Richmond, Jackson Ward, and the Arts District, that gets you excited?
Being here gets me excited because change seems to be happening virtually every week. Art 180 just moved in down the street. There is a new restaurant and bar coming directly across the street owned by the owner of Tarrant’s Cafe. The neighborhood has Gallery 5, 1708 Gallery, Quirk Gallery, Candella, ADA, all within walking distance. And we are right in the middle of First Fridays, which we want to be more involved with in the future. Everything is moving so fast and it feels great to be located right in the middle of it. The other major thing is the new Coalition Theater is opening later this month. That is such an awesome project to be a part of, both as someone who does improv and being involved in the new branding. The new Coalition Theater will be a half a block away.
The new Coalition Theater is schedule to open later this month, a block away from BIG SECRET
When you’re not putting things in your laser and running your own business, how do you like to spend your time in RVA?
I use improv as a big extracurricular activity to unwind from a business day. It’s a lot of fun. The Coalition Theater is where I started taking classes. They have taught me everything I know about improv and I love performing with them. Other than that, my wife Bird and I love to go to the movies, in particular the new Criterion Theater to see independent films. We eat out in town a lot. My wife just started a new food website: Block and Bar. It’s a fantastic site and it’s received a great response so far.
What’s the one Richmond restaurant you can’t live without?
If I could only go to one restaurant in Richmond for the rest of my life, I would be content with going to Edo’s Squid (411 N. Harrison Street, RVA). It’s an old standby for me. I love their Italian food, and I’ve been all over Italy. Edo’s Squid does it right.
What about music, what is the one CD you can’t live without?
You’d Prefer An Astronaut by HUM.