Friday, May 8, 2020

Antigone--Scenic and Lighting Designs

Tiresias, the blind seer
Antigone, original script by Sophocles, adaptation by Richard Clifford was produced in Winter Semester, 2016 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Prior to the events of the play, Polynices and Eteocles, sons of Oedipus have fought each other in the Theban Civil War.  Each brother dying at the other's hand.  The war was fought over succession.  The brothers were supposed to share the rule of the city with each brother taking turns for a year.  Eteocles refused to yield the throne and Polynices gathered his followers and declared war.

Creon, the brothers' uncle has assumed the rule of Thebes.  Angry that Polynices would declare war on the city, he decrees that Eteocles will receive a heroes funeral and in punishment, the body of Polynices will lay out on the field of battle where he fell and be fodder for worms, vultures and carrion animals.  This was about the worst thing you could do to a dead person in that culture.

The play begins with the sisters, Antigone and Ismene talking about Creon's decree and Antigone asking for help to bury the body.  Ismene refuses because of the heavy guard Creon has placed around the dead body, and Antigone has harsh words for her.  They leave and the Chorus sings of the war and the end of the war.

Creon speaks with the Chorus and asks them to back him in rule and especially in the disposition of the brothers' remains.  The Chorus accepts him.  A sentry then enters and tells Creon that in the middle of the night, someone crept up to the body of Polynices and given him his last rites and had covered his body with a thin covering of earth.  Creon, outraged, threatens the sentry with death if he doesn't find the culprit.

Between each scene, the Chorus comments on the action of the previous scene.

The body of Polynices was uncovered and the guard doubled, and Antigone is caught trying to bury her brother's body a second time.  She is brought before Creon and they argue over the morality or immorality of Creon's decision and Antigone's action.  Creon believes Ismene to be complicit and orders both sisters to be imprisoned.  Ismene tries to take credit for it but Antigone refuses to allow her to do so.

Creon's son, Haemon enters and greets his father.  They talk and Haemon tries to persuade his father that Antigone should be set free.  Haemon is engaged to Antigone.  Creon is angered.  He believes everyone is in a conspiracy against him.  Creon and Haemon argue and then fight.  Haemon exits, vowing to never see his father again.  Antigone is sentenced to death.

Creon doesn't want Antigone's blood on his hands so he orders her buried alive in a cave to slowly starve to death.  He decides to spare Ismene.  The Chorus praises Antigone on her way to the cave and compares her to the heroines of mythology.

Tiresias, the blind seer enters and speaks plainly to Creon.  He tells Creon that the gods are displeased and he needs to bury the body of Polynices immediately and release Antigone.  If the worst thing in Greek society was for a body to be left unburied, the second worse offense against the gods was to bury someone alive.  Creon refuses and is angry with Tiresias and tells him he is a false prophet.  Tiresias begins to prophesy.  He warns Creon that he will soon lose his son, all of Thebes will despise him and that the gods will not accept any offerings from the people.  Creon is frightened by this show of prophetic power and decides to repent and bury Polynices and release Antigone.

True to Greek theatre, a messenger arrives and tells the Chorus that Antigone is dead by her own hand.  Eurydice, Creon's wife enters and asks the messenger to spare no details.  When Creon arrived at the tomb he had discovered Haemon who was grieving over the loss of his love.  Haemon had attacked his father with a knife.  Creon deflected the attack and in grief, Haemon had turned the knife on himself and he was also dead at his own hand.  Eurydice leaves and enters the palace.

Creon returns, grieving, carrying the body of his fallen son.  As he grieves for Haemon, another messenger enters and tells Creon that Eurydice is dead.  She killed herself and with her dying breath cursed him.  Creon is broken.  His power is empty as he has gained the rule of Thebes but it has cost him everything that is important to him.  The Chorus ends the show by saying that while the gods punish people, their punishment brings wisdom.

As a design team, we had decided that this play would be served best if the scenic and lighting design were one design.  The justification for this was that the director was very interested in using projections and multi-media in the show, which both bridge scenery and lights.  I was chosen to design them.

Richard Clifford, the director said he wanted to do a post-apocalyptic Antigone, set in Thebes about thirty years in the future.  He further suggested that the majority of the play take place in the war room of the presidential bunker.

I asked if we were going to follow the Greek Unities, unity of time (play done in realtime), unity of place (single location, no scene changes), and unity of action (violence and sensuality takes place offstage and messengers report it).  He said no.  His adaptation allowed for passage of time and change of location.  His adaptation did not include visible violence, so we did honor the unity of action.

It was either in this meeting or in a subsequent meeting that I suggested modernizing and abstracting a traditional Greek theatre.  Richard agreed to consider the idea.

The Scene Design
For the scene design, I asked Patrick Johnson to assist me.  We also hired Porter Justus and his team to design and create projections.

I was very interested in designing the bunker as an abstracted Greek theatre.  A Greek theatre consists of several parts and actually still influence theatre architects to this day.  I will set a link here to blog that describes Ancient Greek Theatre design.

The final design consisted of these parts of a Greek theatre.

  • Theatron:  Which is the seating area for the audience in a Greek theatre.  
    • Since this was performed in the Black Box Theatre, I designed it to be as a thrust with audience on three sides because that was the closest configuration to a Greek theatre I could simulate in that theatre.
  • Cavea:  Greek theatres were built into the side of a mountain or a hill and excavated so the Theatron would be shaped like the horn or bell of a trumpet.  This was for the acoustics.  
    • The risers we have in our black box theatre have a 14" rise, so they replicated the cavea quite well.
  • Orchestra:  In a Greek theatre, the main playing place for the chorus was called the orchestra.  It was situated in the middle of the thrust seating.  Dancing and choral odes were performed in the orchestra.  
    • Our orchestra was an 18" raised rectangular platform in the center of the room.  Since the orchestra was raised and we needed actors to be able to enter all around, I designed a platform and stairs downstage right and a wheelchair ramp downstage left.
  • Skene:  Or skene house.  This was a building at the back of the stage.  The skene house provided a backdrop for the action as well as providing masking for actors and places for entrances and exits.  
    • Our production utilized the skene house as the video wall of the bunker and as the multi-media center of the train station.  We also had a door with "Star Trek" doors and stagehands who opened and closed them invisibly.
  • Paraskenion:  Columns on the side of the Skene House that could hold a frieze.
    • Our Frieze was a large video screen set on top of the concrete support pillars that supported the weight of the city above the bunker.
  • Parados:  Entrances on either side of the orchestra.
    • There were stairs up to the orchestra platform on either side adjacent to the raised platform in front of the skene house.  One set of stairs was a standard staircase and the other was a series of platforms that raised up to the orchestra level.  At first glance the scene design appeared to be symmetrical but there were asymmetrical elements such as these stairs and others on the set that helped to send the message that their world was still out of balance in the aftermath of the civil war.
  • Periaktoi:  Triangular columns that could have different scenes painted on each side and rotated during the production for scene changes.  These were typically on either side of the door on the skene house.
    • Rather than having moving periaktoi, we decided to use the video screens as a modern analog.
  • Logeion:  The logeion was a raised platform behind the orchestra and in front of the skene house.  Performers would often give monologues there.
    • As with the parados, our stairs to the logeion were not symmetrical to each other.  One side was a standard set of stairs and the other consisted of two steps and a platform all the way up.
  • Eccyclema:  The eccyclema was a wheeled platform that could roll out from the skene house.  Because of the unity of action that prohibited violence on stage, the aftermath of the violence was often shown on the eccyclema by way of rolling dead bodies out for the audience to view.
    • Our eccyclema was a rolling platform that was part of the logeion for the majority of the show and only rolled out at the end when the bodies were placed there in preparation for burial.
Below is an image of the stage which shows most of these parts.

The stage for Antigone

With the cast and projections
The parts of the Greek theatre were in place, then we needed to consider how to make them work as a bunker in a post-apocalyptic world.

I asked Patrick Johnson to design a Theban logo which would be placed upon the door.  He designed a post modern dragon.  Ancient Thebes also had a dragon motif.

Richard Clifford had stated early on in the process that he would like to use projections for some of the exposition and that he would like to have television screens where the periaktoi would normally go and have many of the chorus scenes done as more of a video conference much like we are doing now in the age of zoom classes in the wake of COVID-19.  Originally we were going to have scenes in the greenroom set up with each of the chorus members in their little room and a separate camera for each one.  

We wanted to perform those scenes live initially.  Logistically that was prohibitive.  That would have meant six additional mini-scene designs, one for each of the chorus members, a few wranglers to handle the video feed, additional lighting set up in that room and it would have to be struck every night and reset every day because that room also had to function as a classroom.  We ended up taping those scenes and creating video loops for when the actors weren't speaking.  Then in rehearsal, Creon had to have his timing perfect so the dialogue would be seamless between he and the taped chorus.  Basically he had to perform those scenes to a click track.

On each side of each video screen we designed a place for Antonia Clifford, the sound designer to hang a visible speaker.  These were standard theatre speakers, but when mounted in the set wall, they appeared to be industrial speakers made for video conferencing.

I tasked Patrick Johnson with creating digital content on the television screens for scenes such as the train station and Porter Justice designed the digital rooms for each of the chorus members for those scenes.

The opening scene between Antigone and Ismene was to be set in a train station.  Patrick designed images for the screens that imagined what video monitors would appear like in a public transit station.

We also needed a large projection screen above the skene house.  There were some mini-movies shot and edited by Porter Justus that were used for exposition for the first part of the show.  The mini-movies showed war and the propaganda of war.  That was our paraskenion.

Patrick also designed some "news feeds" for state run propaganda which were used in scenes that were set in the bunker. 

Greek theatres are very symmetrical, but because of the approach we were taking, I wanted to design the environment to be visibly symmetrical when first seen but with asymmetrical elements to create a feeling that their world had been altered and there was no going back to the way it was before.

The skene house was symmetrical, but the entrances on either side of the parados, the logeion and orchestra were not.  One side of the logeion had regular stairs and the other had stairs and platforms.  The parados had the same treatment but on opposite sides from the logeion.  Downstage, the entrances to the raised orchestra had a platform and steps on stage right and a ramp on stage left.  The ramp also functioned as a wheelchair ramp for Tiresias. 

Richard Clifford decided to set the last scene between Antigone and Creon in the "cave" which we really treated as a solitary confinement cell in another part of the bunker.  Because of Antigone's sensory deprivation which is ultimately what drove her to take her own life, I decided that we would designate that scene atmospherically with lights and sound and no projections or other scenery.

In the last scene of the play, when the bodies of Eurydice, Antigone and Haemon were being dressed for burial, we wheeled them out on a wagon which until that time had been a section of the logeion.

The overhead lights were a scene design element that does not have an analog in the Greek theatre.  I wanted an industrial look for the overhead lights that would also be useful for stage illumination.  I used ETC Selador fixtures for this element.  Seladors are used primarily for lighting the cyclorama at the rear of a proscenium stage.  They are rarely used to illuminate performers.  I needed them to help me define the space physically as well as providing an illumination source.  They were suspended by wires and all the cabling was visible.  Most of the audience had to look through wires and cables in order to see the projections on the paraskenion.  This was intentional.  It was discussed and agreed upon before the instruments or the projection screen were ever hung.  It created the feeling that we were not in a public space, rather a military industrial space.

The video screen, acting as frieze on the paraskenia.  Note the exposed wires and cables on the lights

The selador lights overhead as industrial fixtures

Digital content on the television screens as designed by Patrick Johnson

The chorus on the video screens, also the dragon motif

Interacting with the click track

Dragon motif done as a digital image on the television screens

Newscast on the television screens

An example of digital content on the screens by Porter Justus.  These were propaganda news clips for Creon

Tiresias: an analog man in a digital age

The center part of the logeion became the ecclyclema

Another view of the ecclyclema

The Lighting Design
I asked Kat Scichilone to assist me on the lighting design.

At some point, in the early portion of the design process, we realized that this play is really about Creon rather than Antigone.  She is technically the protagonist in the play, but the story is really about Creon's character arc.  Antigone doesn't change, doesn't evolve.  She has the resolve at the beginning of the play and doesn't waver even to the moment of her death.  Creon begins the play with all the power.  He is autocratic and becomes paranoid.  He begins to lose the love of those closest to him and then the people.  After his encounter with the prophet, he tries to perform damage control but it is too late.  Those closest to him are dead and he is the bearer of an empty crown.  By the end of the play he is broken.  So Antigone is the Heroine of the play but Creon, even though he is her antagonist, he is really more of an anti-hero for the purpose of the play.  His character arc is the one that teaches the moral to the audience.

For this reason, we decided to design the lights from Creon's point of view throughout the play.  Many scenes were designed fairly straightforwardly, even scenes that Creon was a participant in.  As Creon descended into paranoia or rage, we designed the cues to reflect his emotional responses.  That being said, there were scenes that Creon was not in that also received that treatment but based on the emotions of whomever the main character was in those scenes.

As for the light hang, we already had the industrial down lights which were also part of the scene design.  For the rest of the lights, we used source 4's with Seachanger dichroic color changing lenses around the periphery of the theatre.  Our black box theatre has a four foot wide catwalk all the way around and we were able to hang and focus almost every light from those positions.  Every light except for the down lights which were already focused.

Some of the source 4's had a  very steep angle and some of them had a shallow angle.  The lights from the wall opposite the skene house had a fairly shallow angle but the lights on the sides of the orchestra were focused with a steeper angle.  Part of that choice was artistic and the other part was intended to keep the lights out of the eyes of the audience on those two sides.

The Selador down lights had two different kinds of lenses.  One lens would create a fan shape of light which bent the light parallel to the instrument, and the other lens would bend the light in a fan shape perpendicular to the instrument.  If you used both lenses on the same fixture it bent the light into an oval pattern on the floor.  It also created cone-shaped shafts of light that actors could walk in and out of.  Typically, in a lighting design this is frowned upon.  In this play, however it was desirable.

For some scenes we needed moving lights and rotating gobos.  We used several Varalites for these effects.

Because of the tragic nature of this play, and because it takes place at the end of a brutal civil war, we chose to use a haze fog to create dust and smoke and other ambiance in the environment.  Haze fog causes shafts of light to be almost architectural sometimes.  When you use haze, you have to design for the shaft of light almost as much as you do for where the light falls on the stage or the actors.

With the down lights and the periphery lights and a few specials, I believe we did the entire lighting design with less than 70 fixtures.

The Cues

  • First Choral Ode
    • This scene takes place during the waning moments of the war.  The chorus, as refugees have been fleeing the carnage when the announcement comes via cellular telephone that the war has ended.  
      • During the chaos of the war, we used moving lights with rotating gobos to create a feeling of unease and uncertainty.  
      • We also lit the stage asymmetrically with the fixed lights and the down lights.  We wished to create a jarring effect.  
      • When the war ended, the lights held still.  
      • There were also projections on the big screen for this scene.

State run television reporting the war via propaganda

Bombs dropping, buildings shaking, moving lights and asymmetrical use of down light

Rotating gobos in moving fixtures


A ray of hope

The war is over

I like this picture because it shows the use of the peripheral lights as well as the halo effect of the down light
  • Antigone and Ismene, Train Station
    • As the sisters reunite in a train station after the war, Antigone tells her sister what they need to do for their brother.  Ismene refuses to help, and their joyous reunion turns sour.  
      • We began this scene with the down lights and also pink light coming from stage right.  There was no fill light.  
      • As the scene darkens, we crafted a slow dissolve from pink light stage right to a harsher straw colored light from stage left.  
      • During this scene, we collaborated with the sound designer and created a chase in the stage left down lights to simulate a train passing.  The sound designer created a doppler effect that coincided with the light chase.  Still photos do not show this effect very well.

Transition from Choral Ode to the Train Station

Sisters first meeting after the war

All of the light is pink from stage right and cool white from above

As the scene degrades, all the top light disappears and the lights shift to harsh straw from stage left.  This was about a forty second cue
  • Creon and the Chorus in the War Room of the Bunker
    • The Chorus congratulates Creon and he addresses the people (the audience).  A messenger comes into the bunker and explains that Polynices' body has been buried.
      • The scene began on the logeion and the light was isolated there.  It was fully lit, meaning key light, fill light, accent light, down light, etc...
      • Creon makes a victory lap down into the orchestra and we lit that in the same way as he moved down.
      • When the messenger began telling his tale, we began gradually subtracting light until it became stark and one sided.  This was to reflect the change of Creon's mood.
      • The room became darker and we shrank the acting area until we ended the scene in a pool of backlight.

Creon receives the endorsement of the Chorus.  Isolated light on the logeion

This is the way

Victory lap, addressing the citizens of Thebes (the audience)

The scene darkens as Creon is told news he doesn't like

Mostly backlit

Light is becoming uni-directional

More of the same

Face in shadow

mostly backlit

Until the lighting descended to this

  • In the War Room
    • Creon is confronted with the perpetrator of the crime and discovers it is his beloved niece.  He believes Ismene is also complicit and wants to condemn her as well.  Antigone takes full credit and repudiates Ismene.  Antigone is imprisoned
      • We began the scene with a projected choral ode on the screen above with Creon backlit with a single light in the DSR corner
      • As the scene advanced, we began adding light, but only from the four corners and the top light.
      • As the beats of the scene changed, so did things like color in the light and also which corners the light was coming from.  Sometimes the light was from opposite corners, sometimes it was all from one side.  Sometimes it was from all corners, sometimes from three sometimes from two.  All of the transitions were subtle and the cue changes were often up to a minute long.  We didn't want these transitions to be jarring to the audience.  We wanted the audience to feel the shifts rather than see them.
      • The scene ended with Creon and Antigone back lit from opposing corners.

Choral ode on the big screen.  Creon in the corner

More of the same.  Special light on motif on door



Antigone is revealed.  Down light and back light from the corner

Down light and backlight from DSL corner

Ismene arrives, lights transition to a little pink and also direction changes.  All periphery light coming from two corners

Dissolves to a single special 

End of the scene, Antigone 

and Creon in opposite corners backlit

  • Haemon Confronts his Father in the War Room
      • We lit this scene with minimal top light and a pinkish light from one corner and a harsh straw light from the diagonal corner.  USR and DSL.
      • At the end of the scene, we lit Haemon in a special backlight DSR
Pinkish light from USR, straw light from DSL.  Minimal toplight 

Modeling of the figures

More of the same

pink and straw

Haemon backlit

  • The Cave
    • Creon confronts Antigone for the last time.  He offers her one more chance to confess her guilt.  She confesses to the crime, as she always has but does not confess guilt.  Creon follows through on the final sentence.  Death
      • The chorus ringed the orchestra and were lit barely with blue down light from the Seladors
      • Antigone was lit with a single strong front light
      • Creon was backlit with a special that was cropped to look like light spilling from a doorway
      • When Creon left, and the chorus filed out, the blue light was eliminated.
      • The leader of the chorus closed the door and the the door light went out which was coupled with the sound of a door clanging closed with finality
      • Antigone's light faded out as she shrieked

Blue down light, strong front light

From a different angle

Creon backlit

Antigone pleading in front light

The chorus lit with blue downlight 

  • The Bunker
    • Tiresias arrives at the bunker and tells Creon he has made grave errors.  Creon accuses Tiresias of conspiracy.  Tiresias prophesies against Creon and tells him he will only have bitterness and all who once loved him will die or turn against him.  Creon is shaken and determines to set things right.
      • We started the scene with mostly downlight and peripheral light from the corners
      • During the prophecy, we collaborated with the sound designer for lighting and sound effects.  Porter Justus also designed interference on the video monitors.  The lights were moving and the downlights had a random chase programmed into them with sickly green light.  We also had gobos rotating
      • When the prophesy was done, the stricken Tiresias was helped to his wheelchair and taken off in a pool of downlight, nothing more.  The other characters were bathed in shadow

Downlight, light from the corners

character modeling 

character modeling

Character modeling

About to get real for Creon

Moving lights, rotating gobos, overhead lights chasing randomly

The green light

The monitors with interference

The prediction

Downlight only

Only Tiresias and his acolyte are lit as they leave the stage

  • The Bunker
    • The chorus sings an ode.  A messenger arrives and tells Eurydice that Antigone is dead by her own hand.  She also tells of Haemon's death by his own hand.  Eurydice goes into the palace as Creon arrives with the bodies of Antigone and Haemon.  A messenger from the palace tells him that the queen is dead by her own hand.  Just before she passed she condemned her husband.  Creon, broken helps the priests prepare the bodies for burial
      • The chorus presents their ode in downlight only from the Seladors
      • The messenger arrives from the audience on the downstage side of the orchestra in backlight.  The rest of the stage is lit barely from corners
      • Creon enters in harsh top light with minimal peripheral light
      • This scene is heavy on shadows
      • Eurydice's body is revealed with a special from the interior of the open doors of the palace
      • The leader of the chorus gives her message in harsh light from both downstage corners as Creon prepares the bodies with the priests

Chorus in downlight only

More chorus
The messenger arrives with backlight.  Chorus is lit from above and the corners

Eurydice receives the message in downlight

Eurydice in harsh light

Messenger and Eurydice in harsh light

Creon enters in downlight mostly

Heavy shadows

As in all Greek tragedies, only when you are blind do you begin to see.  Creon in the dark sees clearly for the first time

The reveal of Eurydice's body in weak light

Broken man with Eurydice's body bathed in light

Palace special lights

Leader of the chorus giving warning to the audience in sidelight from two directions

Anointing the bodies in mostly downlight 

Leader bathed in sidelight

Creon in mostly downlight

I am blessed to work with creative colleagues.  This was a very good show.  The adaptation of the script, the direction, the acting, the costume, scenic, lighting, sound and projection designs all helped to tell the story and bring relevance to a modern audience.  I was fortunate to work with exceptional assistant designers who cared about the show and cared about the process.  

I am writing about this production four years after we produced it.  I decided to write about this one as we are sheltering at home due to COVID-19.  As I viewed the photos and remembered the chorus dialing in via video monitors this production seemed especially relevant to our current situation.  Almost inspired.

In fact I have received much inspiration from this production as I have learned to navigate remote learning through platforms like zoom.  This production and it's concept gave me hope, ideas and the confidence to teach in this way.

Thank you to all of my friends who worked on this show with me.

Production Details
Directed by:  Richard Clifford
Scene Design by:  Gary Benson
Assistant Scene Designer:  Patrick Johnson
Costume Design by:  Kathie Schmid
Lighting Design by:  Gary Benson
Assistant Lighting Designer:  Kat Scichilone
Sound Design by:  Antonia Clifford
Original Score by:  Antonia Clifford, Hayden Allred, Camilla Martinez, David Martinez
Projection Designs by:  Porter Justus
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall