Sunday, April 23, 2006

Young Choreographers' Showcase

I recently designed lights for Young Choreographers' Showcase 2006 (YCS), which is a biennial dance show that WashU puts on to, well, showcase the works of student choreographers. Earlier this year, I designed lights for another dance concert, Style/Form, which was a senior thesis performance for Justin Huebener and Allison Califano. I didn't get a chance to write a post about it, but that show was a really great experience for me; I learned many valuable lessons about designing dance shows (see the post below this one). Style/Form also took place in the same performance space as YCS, which meant that I got to leave most of my lights hung. Since I already had most of the equipment already in the space, tech for YCS was a very pleasant process; there were no late nights in the theatre, and since I had tech support (in other words, warm bodies to do my bidding, and a budget), I didn't have to do everything myself. At least in part because tech was so nice, I think the lights for YCS turned out very well, and I just got hold of some pictures of the performance, so I'm excited to get those posted and discuss them a bit. I didn't take most of these photos; I believe I am within my rights to post them, since this size is freely available from David Marchant, the photographer, but don't ask me if you want to copy them or something--ask him. I did take the shots that are from Style/Form, however, and those are Creative Commons licensed, so do whatever you want (so long as you follow the license). Also, if you have access to a CRT monitor, I recommend it for viewing these photos--the colors will be much nicer on a CRT than they would be on an LCD.


Allison Califano

This piece was a repeat from Style/Form, and it was very fast-paced and angry. Allison wanted a leafy, foresty look, so she asked for patterns on the dancers, and in Style/Form, I wasn't able to get it to work very well. However, with a second chance at it, I used more saturate colors and changed the instrument focus a bit, and the leaf patterns showed up quite well this time, I think. An unexpected side effect of the bright green cyc is that whenever the dancers were in silhouette, they left weird blue streaks as they moved. It was clearly a trick of the eyes, but it still looked very cool. Picture 9 IMG_2136.JPG

Decompose. Recompose

Heather Wigmore

Heather didn't really have any clue what she wanted in the way of lighting, so I took the opportunity to play a bit, and use a lighting technique that I've seen Charlie Chapman use from time to time: having intense complementary colors from opposite angles. Where the lights blend, they create white, and the shadows cast by each light are actually the areas illuminated by the other color, so it actually makes all the shadows colored rather than black, which I think looks neat. I don't think I was completely successful in mimicking Charlie's work in this piece, but I still like the overall effect, especially on her face. Picture 1

Alone Everybody

Laura Vilines

This dance was divided into three sections; I am posting pictures of the first and last section. This dance discussed themes of solitude and becoming part of a group. All of the lighting is very saturate because Laura wanted bright colors (look at the accents on the dresses). The first section is the orange one, and it was a short solo section for Laura; she stood in that pool of light and considered breaking out of it, but never really managed to. That's the solitude part. The second scene was blue, and involved lots of group work. That represented the group--what everybody else was doing. The third section is the red photo, and it involved similar choreography to the second section, except this time it told a story about a girl going from solitude to becoming part of the group. My lighting for this dance very closely mirrored the music; it was bright and fun and happy, and for the last piece ("It's Oh So Quiet" by Björk), I went with the mood changes almost exactly. This seemed to work, because the choreography was very open and forthright. Picture 10 Picture 3

Drifting into Focus

Patricia Engel

The lights for this happened by accident--because of the white floor, any lights that shine on the floor are very visible. When I turned on the side lights with an intense blue color in them, I created those really nice-looking symmetrical scallops on either side of the stage. Because this was a very symmetrical, structured piece with music that sounded a lot like Philip Glass or Brian Eno, I immediately had a "eureka!" moment when I saw those scallops on either side. As you can see, Patricia's costume is pink and purple, so I used the blue scallops to accent her costume, and then I used pink in the mid and high side lights to make the costume and her skin seem warm and mellow. The eureka part was when I realized that her dance enters from the upper-right corner of the stage, moves downstage, and then goes back out that part of the stage. I followed the dance by turning on the alleys of side light one by one, from upstage to downstage, and then turning them off in reverse order, and I think it looked great. This was probably my favorite piece of the show. Picture 4

Sorrows of the Past

Marquita Redd

This piece was about black people in the South getting lynched. It was a repeat from Marquita's thesis, but I didn't design lights for that, so I essentially re-created the lights from scratch, based on what she told me her original designer had done. I didn't really enjoy this piece, just because I thought the theme was overdone, but the lighting came out quite nicely; I've noticed that reds and yellows do a good job of accenting dark skin. Picture 2

You Must Meet My Wife

Justin Huebener

This was another repeat from Style/Form, and I'm really glad I got the chance to re-do it--I just wasn't happy with the lights for it the first time, and I think they were much improved this time around, even though all I really changed was that I used more saturate colors. The picture, however, isn't from YCS, it's from Style/Form, so you don't get to see how much better things looked, sadly. Basically, this piece was about sexual repression in the 1950s, I think. That makes it sound rather pompous and dreary, but it was actually just a heck of a lot of fun; the dancers maintained expressionless faces throughout most of the dance, making robotic sexual gestures and movements, and everyone was cracking up the whole time. It was set to "Hey Big Spender" from Sweet Charity, and the dancers were pretty much acting out a weird robot version of that in big frilly dresses, so you can probably imagine how strange it was. IMG_2171.JPG IMG_2167.JPG IMG_2172.JPG


Meredith Wilensky

This dance also included a eureka moment; when Meredith started asking for lights that kept her in a pathway up and down center stage, I realized that a rectangular path from the back would look great, so I added that as a special. Then I saw her costume, and things got even better, because as you can see, the fabric of her shirt was a translucent red material that glowed just beautifully under the backlighting that I had. Picture 8


Jenny Boissiere

No, you're not imagining things; the dancers really are wearing blindfolds. Luckily, the blindfolds were thin enough that they could see through them reasonably well--so long as the lighting was bright enough. My first priority with this dance was clearly to prevent collisions, so I just picked colors that I thought went well with their costumes, and then turned everything up full blast. Not particularly creative, but it still came out nicely. The music for this was really cool a cappella beat-boxing. Throughout the dance, one by one, most of the members of the company took off their blindfolds. I thought it would be really cool to make them go dark as they took their blindfolds off, to kind of invert the audiences expectations of what happens when you remove an impediment to clear sight. However, that ended up being not really possible given the choreography, and it would have been semi-dangerous for the dancers who were still blindfolded, so I settled for just changing the color on anyone who wasn't blindfolded. By the end, only one dancer was left with a blindfold, and you can see in the second photo that I got my chance to make the blindfolded person light, and the un-blinded dark, which I was happy about. Picture 7 Picture 5


Rebecca Hutt

This was a cute little piece that I really enjoyed. It had already been performed at the American College Dance Festival, so someone designed lights for it there, and I mimicked what they did based on description. I admit that I probably wouldn't have come up with this particular color scheme on my own, but I really liked it, and I'm going to add this type of look to my bag of tricks. I only wish the floor weren't so reflective, because the red on the back wall kind of turns into purple near the bottom, as it blends with the blue from the stage wash. Picture 6 And, that's all the dances in YCS 2006--I hope you've enjoyed reading about them! Just for fun, here are some shots that I took myself from Style/Form. My camera isn't great though, so these aren't of the highest quality. IMG_2132.JPG IMG_2147.JPG IMG_2155.JPG IMG_2163.JPG IMG_2161.JPG

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Some Light Designing Lessons

I've done a lot more light designing over the past few months, and I've learned some useful rules of thumb:
  1. Make sure your top lights are soft-edged, otherwise people will look like they're getting darker when they walk in and out of them.
  2. When designing a dance concert, use VERY saturate colors. If you ever say to yourself "that's too saturate," then you're probably wrong, and it's just right.
  3. Also when designing a dance concert, pick a palette of side light colors before you start tech with the choreographers, and stick to it. That way, if the designer wants green, or blue, you'll already have the gels sitting nearby, and you know they'll look good with the colors you have for your top and back lights. It's usually good to have a darker and a lighter shade of everything too.
  4. Always make sure to hang, or have enough circuits available for hanging, a smack-in-the-face front wash. It'll flatten everything out when you use it, but directors and choreographers will inevitably tell you "I need to see their eyes". If you can bring the front wash in at a low level, it'll fill in the shadows under the brows, without compromising the modeling from your main lighting. This will make the director/choreographer happy, and keep you from looking stupid.
  5. During the rehearsal process, arrange with somebody (probably the stage manager or assistant stage manager, or your assistant light designer, if you have one) to make a note of every time somebody stands on something. Unless the actor is really short, the extra foot or two of height will make most actors' heads disappear above your light if you don't compensate for that action.
  6. Likewise, especially with plays and sets that have highly localized scenes where the action tends to be limited to certain subsections of the set, arrange to have yourself notified whenever the director blocks a scene that breaks those boundaries. This will always happen; 75% of the play will occur within your nicely-defined lighting boundaries, but at some point during wet tech, usually in Act 2 when everyone is tired and wants to go home, the blocking will call for an actor to cross between two areas, and it will look like they walked into a black hole for a second. If you're aware of the areas whose boundaries are broken often, you can smooth out their blending so that those dark spots don't have to be fixed later.
  7. Make sure you know what your director wants. At least at my school, lighting designers are not necessarily encouraged to work as closely with the director as the scenic or costume or props designers, and I think that's a mistake. Even though most directors feel less comfortable with lights, you as the designer at least need to make darn sure that you're on the same page as the director as far as your concept of the play, and it wouldn't hurt for you to go to plenty of rehearsals too. That way, you'll design something that the director feels comfortable working with, rather than lights which the director feels hamper his or her vision.
  8. Contrast can create the perception of darkness. If you have a VERY bright key light from a shadowy direction (side, top, back), it will tend to override some of your fill lighting and make the scene look like there is darkness where there isn't, because the eyes adjust to the brightest part of the scene. The solution here is not more light, because you will end up with everything at 100%, and it'll still look shadowy. The solution is to take the key light down a bit, and as it gets closer to the level of the fill light, suddenly those shadows will get filled in, and the scene won't look so stark.
I'm putting these down partially for my own benefit, so that I can remember them until they become internalized, but I figured that it's a good idea to have them out on the Internet in general as well, so that other new lighting designers can benefit.