Saturday, June 30, 2012

Macbeth--Scene Design

Lady Macbeth, hands dripping with Duncan's blood

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare was produced Winter Semester, 2010 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The story of Macbeth is well known.  Macbeth and Banquo, heroes of the Scottish king Duncan happen upon the three weird sisters, witches who tell them that he, Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and thereafter king of Scotland.  They tell Banquo he will sire a line of kings but will not attain kingship himself.

Shortly after, a messenger arrives and hails Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor because the previous thane had taken up arms against the king and was sentenced to death.  Macbeth instantly begins to believe the witches and tells his wife about their prophecies.  Lady Macbeth has no reservations about her own ambitions and commands Macbeth to slay Duncan while he is a guest in their castle.

Thus begins Macbeth's descent into murder and madness.  He finds he has to commit many murders to cover up the first.  He is haunted by the ghost of his friend, Banquo whom he also had put to death.  Lady Macbeth does not escape the fate of madness either as she sleepwalks and attempts to rid herself of the blood on her hands.  Lady Macbeth committs suicide rather than live with the guilt.

Macbeth lives with the confidence of the witches prophecy that he will rule until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane and that no man born of woman can slay him.  When he realizes that the English army, led by Macduff is advancing on Dunsinane, concealing themselves with hewn boughs from the trees of Birnam Wood he panics.  He still does not believe he can be killed until his final battle with Macduff where it is revealed that Macduff was from his "mother's womb untimely ripped."

Macbeth is beheaded and Malcolm, Duncan's son is placed upon the throne.

Roger Merrill, the director wanted our production of Macbeth to be both simple and complex.  He wanted the overall design to be austere with little scenery and just a few furniture pieces and changes in light to indicate change of scene.  He also wanted to have trap doors and elevators concealed within the stage to provide entrances and exits for the witches.  He had an idea that the witches would come up on the battlefield through the stage and drag the fallen soldiers through the trapdoors to hell.

We also decided we could tell the story better with a thrust stage.

I suggested that we paint a map of Scotland, on parchment, on the floor with the important placenames indicated.  That way the stage could be wherever we wished it to be.  Somewhere in the discussion the idea of having strips of fabric hanging at the back of the stage as a projection surface was mentioned.  I don't remember who suggested it, either Roger or Richard Clifford, the lighting designer.

There were between twenty and thirty images we wished to project on the fabric strips.  We originally wanted to project charcoal drawn images of each of the castles indicated in the script as well as animations of the spectres and ghosts Macbeth was seeing.  We ran a few animation tests to see if this was a feasable idea and unfortunately it proved too costly and would have required five projectors as well as the purchase of a computer program to integrate and intercut them.  We also did not have the time available to make this a reality even if we'd had the money.  Sadly, we ultimately had to abandon that aspect of the concept.  Richard did make use of the fabric strips as a cyclorama though.

I made a couple of quick sketches in conté of my impressions of the set from my discussions with the director.  The first sketch was just of the set.  In the second set, I added a witch and a cauldron and tried to be a little more expressive.

First sketch of Macbeth

Second Sketch of Macbeth

The height of the stage became the primary consideration because of the traps and elevators.  I wanted the stage to be as low as possible and still accomodate actors and stage machinery.  Ray Versluys, the technical director said he needed at least four feet from the floor of the Black Box to the top of the deck for the elevators.  The compromise we had to make because of this was to eliminate the row of chairs on the stage floor because of sightline issues. 

Roger wanted the battles to erupt on stage so I added three sets of stairs at the rear of the stage and one set of stairs on the front.  This allowed a great number of people to enter the stage in a very short time.

Ray modified a design for a fast/slow trap which required stage weights, an arbor and a technician underneath the platform to operate it.  The biggest challenge was to reweight the arbors each time the traps were used.  The more weight, the slower the trap.  The witches would walk over their trap and literally disappear into the floor.  At other times they would pop up out of the floor.  That was the fast part of the elevator.  Sometimes they would shrink into the floor.  That was the slow part of the apparatus.  In addition, the elevators needed to be locked when not in use so actors on stage wouldn't inadvertantly fall through the floor.

The witches emerge from the traps

The next major element was the backdrop which I divided into five strips of fabric.  I offset them so three were in the rear and two were in front.  I staggered them in that way to make them easier for actors to enter and exit the stage.  I designed the fabric strips to be abstracted military banners, but with no color or identifying markings.  I also shredded the bottoms of each of them to give more texture to the set.

We painted the banners with washes of raw sienna paint to give them the aged feeling.  Richard lit the banners in different colors depending on the feel of the scene and then added texture with gobos.

Malcolm and army at Dunsinane Wood, texture on the banners

Lady Macbeth and Nurse, different texture on banners

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, change of color on banners

I researched medieval maps of Scotland for this production of Macbeth and used them for inspiration for designing the floor treatment.  First the scenic artists base coated the floor with an earthy yellow, then spattered and sponged in lighter and darker tones of the yellow to create a parchment effect.  They then created a scale grid on the drawing and laid out a full size grid on the stage and transferred points from one to another and created the outline of the country.  Then they painted the outline with straight burnt umber paint and feathered the insides in so the outside edge would be sharp but the interior of the map would be blended.  Each of the important place names were lettered in with a Celtic script, and lastly, the compass was added along with medieval ship icons and at least one renaissance style sea serpent.

Duncan and vassals on the map of Scotland.  Full stage view

Banquo and Macbeth, map on stage floor

For many of the scenes, we opted to use only lighting to indicate change of location and time.  For others we brought in furniture or props.  We chose which scenes needed more rendering and which ones did not based primarily on length of scene.  The longer scenes required more packaging and by default, the shorter scenes needed no scenery to convey the images and ideas we were striving for.  For some of the scenes, Richard used window gobos to indicate location.  With this convention, in my opinion, the audience was never lost when location was changed.  The biggest benefit to the Spartan use of scenery was that we didn't have to stop the show to render a scene.

Lady Macbeth, "Out damned spot":  Window gobos

Macbeth's meltdown after seeing the ghost of Banquo:  Use of furniture to change location

When we were going to use projections, the idea was to project images of the eight kings from Banquo on the fabric banners and not use a cauldron.  When we discovered that it would be way too cost prohibitive and time consuming to do the animations, Roger decided we should build a cauldron that would fit over one of the traps and would be large enough for the eight kings, Banquo, Macduff and the little boy to come out of.  We pumped fog up through the opening to give it an eerie look.

Banquo exiting the cauldron

I am glad to be in a theatre department that has a committment to producing the classics.  This was a very good production of Macbeth and it was a joy to work on.  I truly have the best job in the world.

Production Details
Directed by Roger Merrill
Fight Choreography by Amelia Bahr
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Lighting Design by Richard Clifford
Sound Design by Antonia Clifford
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director: Patty Randall

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Christmas Carol--Lighting Design

Scrooge eating his evening porridge
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was produced as the last show of Fall Semester, 2006 in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho

The story of A Christmas Carol is so well known and has become a part of the popular culture that I won't give a detailed synopsis of it here.  I will instead give a short summary.

Ebeneezer Scrooge is a miser, who hates everything about Christmas.  He has a clerk, Bob Cratchit that has been working for him for years for meager wages.  Scrooge routinely turns down any opportunity to celebrate Christmas or donate to any charities.  He insists on calling Christmas a "Humbug".

Scrooge's former partner, Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  As Scrooge is settling down to go to sleep, he is visited by Marley's ghost who is sporting an enormous chain which he describes as the chain he forged in life and tells Scrooge that his own chain was the same as his seven years earlier and has grown larger still.  In an effort to save Scrooge's soul, Marley tells him he will receive three visitors, all ghosts who will show him he was wrong.

The first visitor is the Ghost of Christmas Past.  She shows Scrooge a time when he celebrated Christmas, when he was a more tender soul.  She also shows how he became miserly.

The second visitor is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Usually played as a jolly giant.  He shows Scrooge how people all over the country celebrate Christmas and then shows him how happy Bob Cratchitt is with his family, even on the meager wage he is paid.  Scrooge is also made aware of Bob's crippled son, Tiny Tim.  Scrooge asks the spirit if Tim will live, and the ghost mocks him with his own words.

The third visitor is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  This spirit is usually portrayed as the grim reaper, and only gestures but doesn't speak.  This spirit shows Scrooge the Cratchitts without Tiny Tim and finally shows him his own future as a corpse not cared about and later in an untended grave.  This has the desired impact on Scrooge and he vows to change his ways.

The next morning, Scrooge awakes and is giddy, making good on his promise and begins to celebrate Christmas by giving himself and his riches to all the people he had previously foresaken.  He brings Bob in as a partner and vows to find doctors to heal Tiny Tim.  The narrator ends the play by saying Scrooge was "better than his word."

A Christmas Carol is my all time favorite Christmas story.  I'm thankful I had the chance to be a part of this production.

The first and fifth acts of A Christmas Carol are set in the present and follow a chronology, but the second, third and fouth acts are episodic and scenes change rapidly.  Because of this, the Director, Omar Hansen wanted to make certain that we differentiate the scenes with lighting.  We also decided that since Scrooge existed in a different dimension than the shades he was seeing that he would be lit differently than the other characters in the scenes.  I asked if there were any moments where we could have the actors' faces go into shadow.  Omar said we could, but he wanted to be able to see faces most of the time.  In other words we could do it for effect, not the overriding aesthetic of the whole piece.

Richard Clifford designed a beautiful set that was mostly background elements with a raked stage out front where furniture pieces could be brought in to change location.  There were also a few pieces that were flown, such as windows and Scrooge's apartment building fasçade.  The most striking feature of the set was an enormous working clock which was to be lit from within through most of the show.

Because the nature of this piece is episodic, and it trends to the supernatural, I chose to light it in the following ways:

Present Day
The scenes set in the present, with no ghostly intervention, I chose to light primarily from the beam positions in the Snow Drama Theatre.  The beams are the catwalks over the audience in the auditorium.  I decided to light the actors in a more realistic fashion, at least the way audiences are used to seeing them, fully lit.  Even so, the lighting was angled slightly so the actors would be more three dimensional than they would with straight on frontlight. 

I chose cool colored lighting for the first act because of how chilly Scrooge's outlook was on life.  This helped sell the fact that Bob Cratchit is cold and has to warm the ink in the well to get it to flow.  There were also a few candles in places which motivated the lighting somewhat.

In the fifth act I chose warmer colors in the light, pinks and ambers to show how the events of the night had softened Scrooge's heart and made him a more sympathetic character.  In both acts I and V, there was a large flown window that had Santa Frost on all the panes.  I backlit the windows to cause them to glow.

Act I cool lighting

Act V warm lighting

Act I Effects Lighting
I picked a teal green gel for anything relating to Jacob Marley, Scrooge's late partner.  When Scrooge goes to his home, the door knocker transforms into the likeness of Marley.  I decided to use the green gel in a pinspot, aimed directly at the knocker as a special to acheive this effect.  I used a ten degree barrel on a source four lighting fixture and that didn't create a small enough circle of light, so we added an iris to the fixture to make the light even smaller. 

Doorknocker special

Just before Marley appeared, Scrooge was eating his porridge and I lit him with a pink sidelight from one direction and a blue one from the other.  The image for is at the beginning of this post.  I wanted to heighten the supernatural aspect of the coming scene and chose to do it in this way.

When the ghost of Jacob Marley finally appeared we choreographed his movements through the scene so he would go to the exact same spot on the same word each night.  That way we could control the light on him.  I used the teal green gel as downlights and we created a cue system that led and followed Marley as he moved through the scene.  The light would slowly come up in front of him and would trail off as he left it, kind of like a spectral trail.  As much as possible, we tried to keep Scrooge out of the spectral light, or at least on the periphery.

There were two moments when Marley roared and we lit the entire stage and out into the audience when he did so.  That cue was a multi-step one that started on him and grew in three or four phases till it filled the auditorium.  Then it trailed back in reverse order.  The Marley cues were among my favorite of the show.

Marley's entrance

Marley descends the stairs

Marley in the light, Scrooge on the periphery

I am Marley, hear me roar!

Act II--The Ghost of Christmas Past
When the Ghost of Christmas Past was introduced in our production, she reminded me of an image from a Maxfield Parrish painting and I decided to use pink for her color initially.  Some of the experiences she chose to show Scrooge reminded him of happier times in his life, as well as some sad memories that give the audience a little insight into his character.  During the happier moments of his childhood, I lit the stage with more of the frontlight but as he became stingier and less likeable, I introduced side light as the primary light source.

  I used warmer light at the first of this act and finally when Scrooge chooses money over the love of his life, I used a very cool blue light from the side.  The color I chose was Lee 202.  Lee is a theatrical Gel manufacturer and 202 is a very icy blue.  It was so blue it almost made the image on stage appear black and white.  I have added it to my pallette ever since this play.

The Ghost of Christmas Past pink entrance light

Warm lighting during the Fezziwig scene

Lee 202 as sidelight

Act III--The Ghost of Christmas Present
The Ghost of Christmas Present is usually portrayed as a jolly giant.  He spoke his first lines offstage into a microphone with some effects layered in.  I used a 9 light directly behind him to give a giant shadow across the stage that would make him larger than life.  Unfortunately, I don't have any images of his entrance.  For the rest of the act, I tried to keep the light on him reasonably warm, and I also tried to keep the lighting on Scrooge and the Ghosts a little different than it was on the shades the ghosts were showing him.  It worked out fine mostly, but Scrooge would go into the scenes with the other characters (as almost all Scrooges do) so he'd be lit with the shades.  Most of the time, though he'd exit that light and go back to the other light when he addressed the ghosts.

 At the end of this ghost's life, when he introduced Ignorance and Want, I used a much cooler light to signify his passing.

Scrooge and the Ghost in different light outside the Cratchitt home

Scrooge in the scene lighting, Ghost on periphery

Ignorance and Want

Act IV--The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
The scenes with The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come were mostly dark and in cool colored lighting.  Even in the Cratchitt home, the light was icy around center stage with some warmer light Stage Left where the fireplace supposedly was.  During these scenes, Scrooge kept his distance as a spectator and stayed on the outside of the circle.

In the graveyard, I used very cool, dark light at the beginning, but as he made his discovery and as he vowed to change, I introduced a lighting effect that I called "the fires of Hell light".  I used a very primary red gel in an instrument that I fitted with a gobo rotator and had two gobos in opposition to one another to create a fire effect that started small and as it gained intensity, it literally filled the stage.  I have still images of this effect but not moving ones, unfortunately.

Scrooge and the spectre outside the light at the Cratchitt home

Scrooge makes a grisly discovery in the cemetery

Scrooge in the Fires of Hell light

The enormous working clock was used as a punctuating device during some scenes.  It became more important as the story went on, getting brighter and brighter, letting us know that Scrooge is running out of time.  The movement was devised by Ray Versluys, our technical director by utilizing different sized pulleys and a belt.  It worked flawlessly throughout the run of the show.  It was a large disk, made of wood with an open front that we covered with muslin and painted transclucently to allow for it to glow.  The light bulbs inside were C-7's, the kind you'd find on an older string of lights for a Christmas Tree.

The clock

I also used sidelight alot in this production.  Probably more than I had ever used it before.  I think to good effect.  Sidelight allowed me to create more dramatic lighting.  For example, lighting from one side allows for part of the actor to descend to shadow.  Lighting from two sides creates very interesting modelling on the faces of the actors.  

Use of sidelight

More use of sidelight

Saturated sidelight at end of Fezziwig's scene

.A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite plays.  I've had opportunity to be involved with five different productions of it in my career.  I hope this one is not the last.

Production Details
Directed by James Omar Hansen
Scene Design by Richard Clifford
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costme Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Life is a Dream--Scene Design

Clarin in the prison
Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, was produced Fall Semester, 2011 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Basilio, King of Poland has a secret.  He has kept his son, Sigismundo locked away in a tower, unaware of his royal lineage since birth because an astrologer told him his son would rise up against his father and bring chaos to the country.   Calderón uses the Sophoclean idea that in trying to avert ones fate, the person ensures that the fate would come to pass.  Very similar to Oedipus where his father and mother pierce the young prince's ankles and leave him on a hillside to die because the oracle told them he would rise up against his father and marry his mother.  By attempting to avoid their fate, they set the wheels in motion that caused it to be.

Sigismundo in prison

Rosaura is a jilted woman, dressed as a man coming to kill the man who has spurned her, Astolfo, the Duke of Muscovy.  Rosaura and her squire, Clarin stumble across Sigismundo in his prison by accident.  They are discovered by Clotaldo, Sigismundo's jailer and taken for questioning.  They are to be sentenced to death, but Clotaldo recognizes Rosaura's sword as being the one he left for his son.  Rosaura does not know that Clotaldo is her father and Clotaldo does not know that Rosaura is indeed a daughter, not a son.  Clotaldo is torn between his duty to his country and king and his duty to his family.  He takes Rosaura and Clarin to stand before Basilio.

Clotaldo recognizes the sword he left for his son

Basilio is approaching the end of his reign and must declare an heir.  Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy and Princess Estrella are children of Basilio's sisters and together they would present a strong case to be King Basilio's joint heirs.  Astolfo has come to Poland to woo Princess Estrella, his cousin.  She questions him about the woman's likeness in the locket he wears.

Princess Estrella question's Duke Astolfo about the woman's likeness he wears in a locket around his neck

King Basilio, in an effort to clear his conscience announces to the court that he actually has a son and heir named Sigismundo.  He conspires to drug Sigismundo, bring him to the palace, dress him as a prince and wake him, telling him the years in the prison were a dream brought on by some dementia that he has been miraculously healed from.  Sigismundo is disoriented and angry.  He lashes out and kills a servant, attempts to rape Rosaura (who is now dressed as a woman and going by the name Astrea, attending the Princess), and injures an attendant.  Basilio determines that Sigismundo is too violent and commands Clotaldo to drug him again and return him to the prison and to convince him the time in the palace was just a dream.

Sigismundo forces himself upon Rosaura

Sigismundo awakes in prison and grieves at his behavior in the dream.  In the very famous soliloquy from this play, he resolves that whether awake or in a dream one must live a moral life and make correct decisions.

For Basilio, though it is too late.  The people have discovered he has an heir and wish to be liberated from his tyranny.  Soldiers from the army take the prison to free Sigismundo and make him their de facto leader.  Still unconvinced that he is awake and not dreaming, Sigismundo decides to lead the army against his father the king.

Rosaura, no longer masquerading as anyone else, dressed as a woman yet armored, pledges her sword to Sigismundo provided he allows her to slay Astolfo to restore her honor.  Sigismundo ponders what she would do if he attempted to take her honor and she tells him she would kill him.  Sigismundo agrees to her terms.

Sigismundo and Rosaura negotiating

The battle breaks out and Basilio's forces, led by Astolfo are defeated.  Basilio throws himself at his son's feet and begs for mercy.  Sigismundo forgives his father in a declaration that free will trumps fate.  In typical renaissance fashion, there is a deus ex machina ending.  Sigismundo declares that Astolfo will marry Rosaura whom he jilted because she wasn't noble, Clotaldo reveals that she is his daughter and is indeed noble so the match would be acceptable.  Sigismundo then decides that he and Princess Estrella should marry.  He allows Basilio to keep his crown while he learns how to be a just ruler.

Richard Clifford, the director said in the early concept meetings that he wanted to explore the idea of astrological and astronomical devices because Basilio was so obsessed with what the stars had told him of his son's future.  As Richard was talking, I remembered seeing Tom Bliese's design for Galileo and showed it to him.  We were both inspired by it.  Bliese's design ended up being the jumping off point for my scene design of Life is a Dream.

I began researching maritime navagational equipment, such as astrolabes and sextants.  My research led me to 3 dimensional astronomical maps called orrerys as well.  As I researched, I found a very interesting, medieval astrological clock located in Prague, Czech Republic.  The clock became the most important image for me in designing this play.  I showed it to Richard and told him I wished to use the clock face as the stage floor, set it on a rake and have the different circles in it revolve.  Essentially he said, "Show me."

We decided to set the stage against the North wall of the Snow Black Box Theatre and have audience on three sides as a thrust stage.  I built a white model out of blue styrofoam to illustrate how the platforms would revolve.  Unfortunately, the white model no longer exists so I can't photograph it to show how it worked. 

There were three parts to the stage, we gave them pastry terms.  There was the doughnut around the perimeter, the smaller circle from the Prauge clock was the biscotti and the other piece was the croissant.  Originally I wanted all three pieces to revolve, which would have created some interesting engineering, by the way.  We settled for the doughnut and the biscotti to revolve with the croissant being fixed.  Since the stage was going to be raked, each time the turntables were to be moved, it would create a different world for our characters to exist in.  Our concept quickly evolved to say that because of Basilio's actions, which were intended to cheat his fate, the whole world was thrown out of whack, and finally at the end when Sigismundo has his moment of clarity and forgives his father, all the pieces of the world came back to perfect harmony. 

It took a bit of engineering to figure out the turntable within a turntable, but ultimately it worked out and was very effective.  For the ease of the actors and to facilitate the storytelling, we chose to only use one turntable at a time to increase the acting areas until the final battle which was to be the most chaotic.  Then we moved both of them.

Groundplan of the set

There was another aspect of the design which was more important during the design phase but became less important during the execution phase.  I designed an orrery to go around the stage, complete with planetoids here and there.  As this piece evolved through the process it became less and less satisfying to me for a couple of reasons.  Because we set this production in a thrust I had to scale back the orrery for sightlines.  Because of the material I suggested, ABS pipe, it was difficult to get the graceful curves in the orbits of the planets.  If I had this show to do over, I would probably cut the orrery.

The world of the prison

Basilio's palace

Back to the prison

Basilio's throneroom

The battlefield

Will triumphs over fate, the world is restored to order

A Note About the Costumes
The costumes for Life is a Dream were designed by Susan Whitfield.  Susan has been the primary costume designer at Ricks College and later Brigham Young University-Idaho for forty-one years.  This year (2012) she retires.  Over the years she has specialized in period costumes, she does them very well.  Life is a Dream was her last big period show.  I think it was her best work.  I am inspired by the fact that after forty-one years Susan is still doing her best work.  It is amazing that after all that time she is retiring at the peak of her career rather than so many who mark time and rely on tricks for the last ten years of theirs.  Susan, you will be missed.  Susan was honored with an exhibit in the Spori Gallery, Spring Semester 2012.  A photo-essay of that exhibit can be found here.

King Basilio's costume.  My favorite of Susan Whitfield's costumes, all time.
This was a very gratifying production to be involved with.  I am thankful to belong to a department that is focused not only on entertaining the masses but educating them as well.

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Lighting Design by Ray Versluys
Technical Director: Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director: Patty Randall

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Night of Medieval Theatre: The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac and The Summoning of Everyman--Scene and Lighting Design

Abraham and Isaac

The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac (author unknown) and The Summoning of Everyman (author unknown) were produced on a double bill in Spring Semester, 2010 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho

Synopsis of The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac
The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac is a medieval mystery play.  Medieval mystery plays were not so much about mysteries in the modern sense, but rather were plays that focused on the miracles of the Bible.  Such is The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac

The play begins with Abraham praying to God for his good fortune, in particular his son Isaac.  God hears Abraham's prayer and decides to test him.  He sends an angel to give Abraham the commandment to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  Abraham is distraught but makes the decision to be obedient.  He and Isaac begin the journey to the place of sacrifice.  Abraham's grief is made worse because Isaac does not yet know he is to be the sacrifice.  When Abraham finally tells him, Isaac does not wish to be sacrificed but when he learns that God has commanded it, he tells Abraham to strike quick so he doesn't have to feel the pain.

Moved by the obedience of Abraham and Isaac both, God sends an angel to stay Abraham's hand and provide a ram for the slaughter instead.  At the end, God speaks a monologue telling Abraham and Isaac that He will bless them with great posterity.

Synopsis of The Summoning of Everyman
The Summoning of Everyman is a medieval morality play.  Morality plays evolved from mystery plays and often were done allegorically with characters being named for different moral attributes, who try to convince the main character to live a Godly life rather than an evil one.

The Summoning of Everyman begins with a prologue by a messenger telling the audience to pay attention to the things they will learn during the play.  In the next scene, God describes humans as being obsessed with material riches and laments that they have turned away from Him.  He sends death to Everyman to tell him to get his life in order because he is about to die.  Everyman attempts to bribe Death and begs for more time but death refuses.  Finally Death capitulates on one point and allows Everyman to find one person to travel the road with him.

Everyman first asks Fellowship to accompany him but Fellowship refuses, preferring to stay and party among the living.  Kindred and Cousin are the next to refuse him.  Everyman surmises that he spent so much time loving Goods in his life that she would go with him.  She refuses as well.

Finally Everyman turns to Good Deeds who says she will go with him but she is too weak because he didn't love her enough in life to give her the strength to accompany him.  Good Deeds calls her sister, Knowledge to go with them to see Confession.  He offers Everyman the opportunity to make Penance and Everyman accepts and scourges himself, praying for forgiveness.

At the end of Everyman's penance, Good Deeds is now strong enough to accompany him on his journey.  Knowledge and Good Deeds are the only attributes to follow Everyman to Death, and finally Everyman succumbs and dies, whereupon he enters God's presence.

At the end, the messenger returns and sumarizes the story.

Richard Clifford, the director approached me about the idea of doing this night of medieval plays as a runway type show with audience on two sides, opposite each other.  He also said he wanted to put cushions on the floor and allow the audience to sit there if they so chose.  We also discussed the necessity to have a platform for God at one end of the theatre.

I pondered this idea of the runway show and came back to him with the idea of building the stage as a Swiss cross.  With a heaven platform at one end and an earth platform at the other.  Eventually we decided on a Latin cross instead, and Richard said that conceptually this design would say, "The only way to heaven is through the Cross".  That statement became the guiding principle of the scene and lighting designs for these two plays.

Additionally, for The Summoning of Everyman, Richard wanted to make the play a little more contemporary at first and transition it to medieval by the end.  That would be done mostly with costume and lighting.

Execution of the Scene Design
The set design was simple and I felt very elegant in the simplicity.  There was a 6" raised platform in the shape of a Latin cross.  The cross was 32" long (tall) by 24" wide at the widest point.  The "timbers" were 8" wide.  That was the acting area.  We did place cushions on the ground in the corners of the cross and encouraged audience members to sit there if they wished.  Some did.  We also used this as a device during The Summoning of Everyman to bring characters from the audience up on the stage. 

I asked Scotty Bateman, a scene design student to assist me on this project.  She was taking a drafting class at the time and I asked her to draft the show.  She did a terrific job for me on this show.

The Latin cross

The earth platform was faced with wood and made to look like it was growing out of the floor, while the heaven platform was taller and open underneath with iron pipes for legs and stairs that seemed to float in the air.  The heaven platform was also shrouded with a curtain of theatrical gauze from Rose Brand.  The theatrical gauze worked very much like a scrim, allowing God and the angels to be seen behind it when they were lit.

The earth platform with the altar on it
The heaven platform with gauze scrim

We outfitted the guaze with cabone rings and eleven pic points so it would gather up in a disorganized Austrian style to suggest clouds.  We used this for a few moments when God had a soliloquy or as a door when He was going to walk the earth.  The gauze was really pretty when it was lit in the up position.

The gauze as clouds

Execution of the Lighting Design
Because the set was so simple, this evening of medieval drama was really more about the lighting design than the scene design. 

For the lighting design I divided the cross into six lighting areas roughly 8" by 8" and had another area for the heaven platform and one more for the earth platform.  Each of the areas on the cross were lit from eight directions plus downlights.  I designed the lights to come from the compass points, N, E, S, W and from the mid compass points, NE, SE, SW, and NW.  The lighting angles were fairly steep for two reasons, first I wanted to confine the light to the stage as much as possible and I liked the way a steep angled light caused deep shadows on the actors faces.

  The earth and heaven platforms could not be lit the same way as the cross because they were close to the edge of the theatre and there weren't hanging positions available for all of the same lights.  It was okay, however because I had always intended to light those platforms differently than the cross.

In addition to the regular lights, I also used two intellibeam fixtures for moving lights and other effects and three source four lights equipped with follow spot rigs from City Theatrical.  I also used several lights as specials, some of which I'll talk about further in this post.

The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac opens with a scene in heaven, where God and the angel discuss Abraham's obedience and God decides to test him.  This was done behind the curtain with heavy downlight to create a scrim effect.  The image for this moment is shown above.

  The next scene is Abraham and Isaac working together to establish the love they have for one another.  I lit this as a fairly standard scene, warm key light, cool fill light, side light, downlight etc...

When the angel comes to Abraham and tells him of the task he must fulfill, the lighting became more dramatic.  The angel was lit with a followspot and I allowed Abraham's face to fall into shadow.  I did this to help the audience realize how contemplative Abraham must have been during this time.

Abraham contemplates sacrificing Isaac

Abraham committs to be obedient to God's will

The play continues with Abraham and Isaac travelling.  There are two or three mini scenes where they travel, make camp, sleep, awake, and travel again.  In all these scenes, the angel was travelling with them in the followspot.  During the daytime scenes I used warm downlight for a halo effect and the rest was lit in a fairly standard fashion.  In the evenings I went with the stereotypical blue light.  I guess we keep doing that because it still works.

Travelling with warm downlight

Nighttime with stereotypical night lighting, angel in spotlight

Finally they reach their destination and build the altar.  Abraham then tells Isaac he is supposed to be the sacrifice.  I lit that moment with strong face light from the heaven side and almost no light from the earth side.  Isaac's face was lit but Abraham's was not.  The image is above for the earth platform.

Isaac submits before the Lord and Abraham binds him to the altar.  He wrestles with sacrificing Isaac even then, attempting and pulling back several times.  Finally he is fully committed and the angel appears and intervenes.  She then provides a lamb for the sacrifice and Abraham blesses God for his mercy.  Isaac has a poignant scene with the lamb before the sacrifice is made.  I lit this sequence as an evening cue, getting darker but introducing a pink sunset light that was fairly direct and softening.  As the cue progressed, I also began introducing lavender light as well until the moment of the sacrifice when most of the stage was dark.

The angel intervenes in harsh light

The sun is setting as Abraham prepares to sacrifice the lamb

Isaac's moment with the sheep in lavender and flame colored light

The last major lighting effect was the burning of the lamb at the altar.  This was a combination of lighting and set design since I designed the earth platform with an expanded metal grate on top.  We put several lights down in the hole, focused up and programmed them in a random chase. Then we introduced theatrical fog which we shot across a fan which was blowing straight up.  The altar and the faggots of wood under it served to hide the grating while allowing the light to come through and it also dispersed the fog and made it appear as smoke.  I used a straight down light gelled with a flame color for the rest of the light in this cue.  This was the effect.

Abraham sacrificing the lamb

The Summoning of Everyman opens with a lamentation by God about the state of humanity and how they worshipped riches instead of remembering Him.  At the end of his soliloquy he calls the Angel of Death to summon Everyman to him for his day of reckoning.  Death does as she is commanded and goes to Everyman who attempts to bribe her.  She allows him to invite a friend or an attribute to come with him and the rest of the play is about him trying to get someone to come with him.

We set our version of this play in modern times and had God give his soliloquy while the characters were dancing in the club scene.  I used heavily saturated blues and purples for the clubbers in the lighting as well as gobo rotating effects from the intellibeams.  All the while, as God was walking around and through the dancers, we held him in a tight white followspot.  The spotlight operator was under strict orders to not allow the light on God to spill over onto any of the revellers.  God then went back behind the veil and summoned Death.  I used a scrim effect for this moment in the play.  The theatrical gauze is a different weave than true scrim and we had it loose rather than taut so the scrim effect was best accomplished when the rest of the theatre was black and only the heaven platform was lit with downlight.

God walking through the revelers

God walking through the revelers

God summons Death behind the veil

After the club scene, Everyman was then going home on a subway, where he encountered Death for the first time.  I attempted to keep Death's face in the dark for as long as we could, until she removed her hood.  I also kept Everyman spotted while he was on the subway and the rest of the patrons in lower light.  We also wrote an effects cue for the subway which was meant to replicate a subway car going past the lights in the tunnel, window after window.  This was done with the strobe in the intellibeam.  We flashed the strobe, reset the mirror to the next spot, flashed it again and so on and so forth.  Coupled with the subway sounds, it worked pretty well.  Unfortunately it didn't photograph particularly well.

For The Brome Play of Abraham and Isaac, I worked on more realistic lighting, with key and fill lights so that the actors would be well lit for most of the play.  For The Summoning of Everyman, however, I was much more interested in harsh lighting with faces emerging from shadows.  I accomplished this by shooting light from a single direction at times.  As the play progressed, and Everyman grew closer to making his reckoning with his Maker, I added more and more fill light to show that he was becoming more and more optomistic.

Death comes to Everyman

Death comes to Everyman

 Each time Everyman asked one of his attributes to accompany him to the afterlife, I chose to light the scene in a different way.  This was mainly acheived by using different color and different lighting positions for illumination of each scene.  For Fellowship, I wanted a cool light so I chose a blue gel that verges on green.  I'm not sure what the gel number was because it was a standard color on our color scrollers.  For Kindred and Cousin, I chose to light the scene with pink gel.  Finally, for Goods, I chose to light her scene in cool colors, blues and lavenders.  Inbetween each attribute, Everyman had a soliloquy and I lit him with a followspot on those.  The pictures don't show it, but for every scene with the attributes, the scene started off fairly normal and the color grew more saturated as the attribute rejected Everyman.


Kindred and Cousin


Everyman's soliloquy

The only attribute that didn't abandon Everyman was Good Works.  When he met her, she was weak and couldn't move for herself.  I lit her in a teal green spot at first and as she grew in strength as Everyman repented and humbled himself, I lit her more and more in white light.  The scene with Everyman and Confession was nicely lit I think.  Lavender and blue light onstage but white spotlights on the two main characters in the scene.

Everyman and Good Works

Everyman with Confession and Knowledge

Finally, Everyman is escorted to his grave by his Five Wits, Good Works and Knowledge.  I had a special focused at the center of the cross and shuttered to the dimensions of the actor playing Everyman to create a symbolic grave.  When Everyman finally was laid to rest, his arms went straight to the sides and I added a crosswise special to create a cross in life, symbolizing that Everyman had finally taken up the cross and therefore able to enter into the presence of God.  It really was a powerful moment in the play.

Everyman and friends at his grave

Everyman takes up the cross

This was a special set of plays for me to do.  I love working with what I call 'high concept' which is what I consider this one.  The idea that 'the only way to heaven is through the cross' was a great motivator for me in all aspects of the design process.  I am also thankful to work in a theatre department that is focused not just on entertainment but also on academic theatre.  Our department came to a crossroads several years ago where we had to decide if we were going to merely entertain the university community or if we were going to educate them as well.  We voted for academics.  I'm thankful for that.

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Sound Design by Troy Hinkley
Assistant Scene Designer:  Scotty Bateman
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall