Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Mikado--Lighting Design

Jon Linford as The Mikado
The Mikado, by Sir William Schwenk Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan was produced in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho Spring Semester 2012.

Act I
The town of Titipu has not had an execution in a very long time.  The Mikado has decreed that unless there is an execution within a month the town will be demoted to the rank of village.  The Mikado has also decreed that flirting is a capital offense of which the tailor, Ko-Ko has been convicted.  The city fathers elevated Ko-Ko to the rank of Lord High Executioner thinking that since he is convicted of the capital crime, he would have to cut his own head off before he cut anyone else's head off.

Lord High Executioner was the highest rank in the town and all the other officials refused to work for the tailor except for Pooh-Bah, who then assumed all of their titles.

Ko-Ko is engaged to be married to Yum-Yum, who is in love with Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel who happens to be the son of the Mikado.  Nanki-Poo is in hiding in Titipu because his father has betrothed him to Katisha, an older woman who is not terribly attractive.  She has a very distinctive elbow, however.

Ko-Ko discovers that Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are in love and that Nanki-Poo will commit suicide if he can't be with her.  They hatch a plan whereby Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo will be secretly wed and one month later Ko-Ko will cut off Nanki-Poo's head, and marry Yum-Yum thereby giving everyone what they want and saving the town from the rank of village.

Katisha enters and threatens to expose Nanki-Poo's secret, but the crowd shouts them down and she leaves, vowing to return.

Act II
As Yum-Yum is preparing for her wedding day, Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah tell of a caveat in the law that says if a man is executed his wife must be buried alive with him.  Yum-Yum is unwilling to marry under this condition and Nanki-Pooh demands to be executed on the spot.  Ko-Ko can't perform the execution because he doesn't know how, and so he resigns himself to his fate and sends Nanki-Pooh and Yum-Yum off to be married by Pooh-Bah who is also the Archbishop of Titipu and who also forges a false report of execution.

Suddenly, Katisha and the Mikado arrive with an entourage and great fanfare.  Ko-Ko describes the execution in great detail to the delight of the Mikado and Katisha.  When they examine the death certificate they learn that the "victim" was the heir apparent to the throne of Japan.  The penalty for compassing the death of the heir apparent is death by lingering methods such as boiling oil.  When the conspirators, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing say they didn't know he was the heir apparent, the Mikado is sympathetic to them but says there is no provision in the law for not knowing.  Their execution is scheduled for after lunch.

Ko-Ko finds Katisha, throws himself on her mercy, swears his undying love to her and asks that she intercede with the Mikado for him and his co-conspirators.  The Mikado grants them mercy, Ko-Ko and Katisha are to be wed which means that Nanki-Pooh and Yum-Yum can finally come out of hiding.  The Mikado is not pleased, nor is Katisha until Ko-Ko says that when the Mikado orders someone to be put to death they are as good as dead so you might as well just say they are dead, to which the Mikado says is satisfactory.

And they lived happily ever after.

The director and set designer, Richard Clifford gave the concept for our production of The Mikado of Ukiyo-e, or traditional Japanese woodblock prints.  We studied the medium and one of it's greatest artists, Utagawa Hiroshige.  Follow these links to see examples of Hiroshige's work:
Link     Link     Link     Link

Kolby Clarke was a lighting student who was working on a portfolio to get ready for graduate school.  He had already assisted me and another designer on a couple of designs and had proven himself ready to take on more responsibility.  In fact after his work on The Mikado, we decided he was ready to solo, and assigned him to design the lights for Bielzy and Gottfried on our mainstage season.

I asked Kolby to be a co-designer on The Mikado.  The caveat being that I was still the designer of record and would have final say on anything we did.  We communicated well from the very beginning and were both striving to achieve the same goal from the same set of criterion so I didn't have to exercise my "veto" power a single time in this process.

Design and Execution
There were several conditions that I insisted on in the lighting design for The Mikado.  First, I wanted to use footlights because they would have been a primary light source for plays and operas written during the time of Gilbert and Sullivan and I wanted to express nostalgia in that way.  Second, I wished to use red, green, blue and amber downlights and mix to "white" in the air rather than in an instrument.  I had utilized this system of downlights on the lighting design of Phedre and had been very satisfied with the results.  I wished to use it again for The Mikado.  Third, I wanted to utilize strong sidelight. And fourth I wished to utilize the cyclorama in a meaningful way. 

Since this was a comic opera, there were several different types of songs.  There was recitative, which in an opera is like dialogue set to music.  In other words the recitative is the part where the story moves along.  Then there were the big production numbers.  Production numbers typically are a stoppage of time for an opportunity to explore one main idea with great music, fully orchestrated.  Typically these are the songs that everyone knows.  They sometimes are referred to as "show stoppers." 

The production numbers in The Mikado came in the form of solos, duets, trios, quartets, chorus numbers, and chorus numbers with solos, duets, trios, etc... fronting them.

As the lighting design evolved, we decided that we wished to light each type of musical number in a unique way.

We decided to light recitative in normal theatrical light, mainly frontlight and downlight.  We also used some sidelight for these types of cues.  During the recitative we also decided to show the time of day and passage of time.  We did this with color and angle of lighting on the actors, and color shifts on the cyclorama.  We also lit the recitatives in full stage light.  Sometimes bright, sometimes dim depending on the scene.  As far as color in the lighting, we chose to blend the color in the lighting to "white" light.  While it wasn't truly white light, it was less colorful than the light we used in some of the show-stopping numbers.

Recitative--Pooh-Bah introducing himself to Nanki-Pooh

Recitative--Ko-Ko negotiating with Yum-Yum and Nanki-Pooh

Recitative--same scene, closer
Recitative--Pooh-Bah, Nanki-Pooh and Ko-Ko conspiring
Recitative--Yum-Yum, Nanki-Pooh and Ko-Ko.  The bad news
Recitative--The happy couple on the honeymoon

Recitative--Early evening

Recitative--Death for compassing the death of the heir apparent

Recitative--Ko-Ko and Katisha.  The solution

Production Numbers
Kolby and I decided the main numbers needed to be lit more theatrically.  We did this with almost no frontlight, instead relying on our footlights, downlights and sidelights.  We also used the cyclorama in a much less literal way, using colors that expressed the song rather than trying to replicate daylight.

A few of the production numbers were chorus only.  Some of them were solos, duets, trios or quartets with chorus backing, and some of the numbers were solos, duets, trios or quartets with no chorus on stage.  Each of these types of production numbers were lit in a slightly different way.

Chorus Numbers
The main chorus only numbers in The Mikado is "If You Want to Know Who We Are" by the men's chorus and "Comes a Train of Little Ladies" by the women's chorus.

Still utilizing primarily footlights, sidelights and downlights, we cheated just a little frontlight into the mix, just for blending for these two numbers.  Typically these songs were lit brighter than the other types of production numbers but not as brightly as some of the recitatives.  The lighting angles were more dramatic and the colors more saturated.  The cyclorama was also lit more for the song rather than for time of day.

Chorus Number--If You Want To Know Who We Are

Chorus Number--If You Want To Know Who We Are

Chorus Number--Comes a Train of Little Ladies

Chorus Numbers with Singers Fronting
The next major type of production number were the chorus numbers with a soloist, a duet, a trio or a quartet fronting.  These numbers were lit almost identically to the chorus only numbers with the exception that we lit the "frontman (or woman)" with followspots.

Primarily footlights, downlights and sidelights in more saturated colors, as well as the cyclorama in a color that seemed to fit the music.

We have four followspots in the Snow Drama Theatre and we utilized all of them for The Mikado.  When we had solos and duets, we hit each singer with two spots each.  One from house left and one from house right.

Solo with Chorus--A Wand'ring Minstrel I

Solo with Chorus--A Wand'ring Minstrel I

Solo with Chorus--I've Got a Little List

Solo with Chorus--I've Got a Little List

Trio with Chorus--Three Little Maids From School Are We

Solo with Chorus--A More Humane Mikado

Solos, Duets, Trios and Quartets
For the solos, duets, trios and quartets with no chorus onstage we lit the stage far less and allowed the spotlights to direct the audiences' eyes.  What little light we did utilize on stage was footlight, sidelight and downlight.    During these songs we really wished the focus to be on the singers rather than the whole of the environment. 

Once again, with the followspots, we chose to light the solos and duets with two lights on each actor, one light coming from house left and the other coming from house right.  That helps round the characters, I feel.  On the trios and quartets, though we lit each actor with only one light.

Duet--Were You Not To Ko-Ko Plighted

Trio--I Am So Proud

Solo--The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze

Solo--The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze

Quartet--Madrigal:  Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day

Quartet--Madrigal:  Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day

Duet--There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast

This was a delightful production of The Mikado to work on.  From the great script and score and the execution of it by orchestra and singers, to the inspired casting and direction, the concept of Ukiyo-e and execution of that concept in a great set design to the beautiful and colorful costumes the landscape for a lighting designer was priceless. 

Working with a co-designer was very satisfying.  While it never seemed like there was less work for me to do in comparison with other shows I've designed on this scale, it was satisfying though to have another designer on the show giving ideas, giving input on ideas, and giving a different perspective on things.  I felt that we worked well together and that each of us made significant contributions to the final outcome.

Kolby was the right co-designer at the right time.  We had already worked together on several shows where he assisted me on the design and I felt he was ready to take a bigger role.  Because of his work on The Mikado I recommended him to the other faculty to take on a full lighting design of his own. 

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Musical Direction by David Olsen
Orchestral Direction by Robert Tueller
Scene Design by Richard Clifford
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Co-Lighting Design by Kolby Clarke
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Sound Design by
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Deep Love--Lighting Design


Deep Love, by Ryan Hayes and Garrett Sherwood was produced at the Colonial Theatre in Idaho Falls, Idaho in Fall of 2011.

About Deep Love
Deep Love was conceived and written by Ryan Hayes and Garrett Sherwood when both were students at Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2010.  It was produced locally at a few venues including Sammy's and the old LDS Tabernacle and developed an immediate, loyal, local, cult following.  Since that time, it has been produced and toured annually during the fall season.  Each time around, as this project gains more and more audience the production values become more ambitious.  In the 2011 season we added a lighting design.  In 2012 costumes and makeup were upgraded.  In the coming season, 2013 the plan is for a larger tour with a set.  This is a dynamic work and I am thankful to have been a part of it.

Audiences are encouraged to attend dressed in funeral attire.

Set at Old Bones’ grave, Deep Love: A Ghostly Folk Opera begins with a dead husband and his living wife, Constance, pledging their undying love to each other. Though Constance cannot see or feel Old Bones’ presence, her love for him goes beyond the grave.
Still grieving, Constance meets Friedrich and begins to see life as a possibility again. For a moment, they find solace in each other’s love. Even so, Friedrich, tormented by a history with his ex-lover (Florence), and Constance, still haunted by the memory of Old Bones, cannot fully escape their respective pasts. The entanglement of these four characters’ lives allows you to judge if their love is deep.

Tumblr Synopsis

Jon Peter Lewis is the director of the production and also plays Old Bones.  He approached me about a lighting design for the production at the Colonial Theatre in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  We discussed the venue and the capabilities of it.  We also discussed what the stage picture would be.  Essentially, there are the instrumentalists and the vocalists.  The instrumentalists included horns, strings, percussion and a rock band.  The vocalists were to be lit at four mics across the front of the stage.  As we talked, the image I had as a small boy of the orchestra when I first saw the Disney film Fantasia in the Colonial Theatre, ironically, came to mind.  The orchestra was all in silhouette against a lighted cyclorama. 

We did not have a large budget, but we did have access to a few lights and a cyc.  I pitched this idea to Jon and we decided that this was the direction we wanted to go.  I told him we could make a big statement with color splashes across the background and tell the audience how to feel at any given moment in the production.

Jon wanted to be able to isolate each member of the cast in themed lighting at different moments in the show.  Specifically, he wanted the characters who were dead to be lit with an eerie green light.  We decided that light would be the most eerie if we placed it on the ground, pointing up.  I have always liked the quality of footlights.

A limited budget doesn't mean you can't do things, it just means you have to maximize your resources.  We had access to color changing LED cyc fixtures, about two dozen Parnels and about that many Source 4 ellipsoidal spotlights.

We used the LED fixtures to light the cyc and also to be the uplights at all the microphone stands.  This allowed us to change the color on the cyc and also the actor's faces at will and without having to scroll through several other colors to get to the correct color.

The strong cyc light caused the desired effect with the orchestra lit in silhouette.

We used the parnels as downlight from the battens, all gelled with a deep blue color.  This allowed a little skim light, or halo light for the orchestra and the vocalists.

We used the Source 4's were used as strong sidelight, some gelled in deep red and deep blue from both sides of the stage.  We also used the Source 4's as frontlight from the balcony, but not straight on.  We used a warm gel from house left at 3/4's and a cool gel from house right, also at 3/4's.  Finally, we used a Source 4 as a straight downlight on each mic so we could have a defined pool of light at each location.

The strong sidelight allowed for very dramatic lighting during some of the angry music whereas the frontlight gave us a very romantic quality for the ballads.

There were a couple of numbers where a character moved from mic to mic and we used followspots to light them.

Production Shots


Again with the silhouette

More silhouette

Add the downlight

The Fantasia effect, Constance in pool of light, orchestra in silhouette

The sidelight on Frederich

The sidelight on Constance and Old Bones

Romantic frontlight on Constance

Eerie uplight on Old Bones

Eerie uplight against green cyc on Old Bones

Frightening uplight against orange cyc on Florence

Eerie uplight and strong downlight against orange cyc on Constance
It has been a real pleasure to see this work grow and to be a small part of it.  I saw it at the Tabernacle the first year it was produced.  It has grown in scale and maturity over the last several seasons.  I look for this to become a much larger and well known work of art.

If you ever get a chance to see it, do.  Production information can be found here:  (Link)

Production Details
Written by:  Ryan Hayes and Garrett Sherwood
Directed by and Starring Jon Peter Lewis
Lighting Design by Gary Benson

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bielzy and Gottfried--Scene Design

Messrs, Bielzy und Gottfried
Bielzy and Gottfried, an original play by J. Omar Hansen, was produced Fall Semester, 2012 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Bielzy and Gottfried are businessmen, or producers or perhaps they are allegorical characters representing God and Satan...

Bielzy and Gottfried get together from time to time to contend for the love of the audience and have directed five mini morality plays.  The idea is that the audience will have to decide which one they wish to follow when the evening is over.

*The first play is called Pandora and is about the creation story as told from a couple of points of view. 
*The second play is called The Stone Thrower and is about a man masquerading as Joseph McCarthy. 
*The third is called Sister Prescott and is about a woman speaking in church who has misplaced her talk and so she wings it with some rather personal information as she melts down 
*The fourth play is called Job and deals with suffering, pain, ridicule and mercy.
*The fifth and final play is called Ole and Ed and is about a soul who is lost and waiting for his son to take him to the Spirit World.

In between scenes there are musical interludes by three singers.

In the script, the playwright suggested Mr. Bielzy and Mr. Gottfried to be businessmen.  In our original concept meeting, the director, Justin Bates suggested we go with that idea and set it in modern time.  He also suggested he wanted to do it as a runway show, meaning audience on two sides and the stage in the middle.  I could tell he wasn't overly happy with the businessman concept and I felt as though I had license to conceptualize further.

I agonized over the concept for a few days.  I tried to remember everything I could about morality plays and Medieval theatre.  I thought about morality plays, cycle plays and pageant wagons and tried to incorporate some of that aesthetic into the concept.  The trick was that we had to keep it in the modern day.

The idea came to me in a shower moment.  Einstein said the best places to think were the bed, the bath and the bus.  This was one of those.  The jump-off point for me was the idea of the Hellmouth wagon in the pageant wagon shows.  At the end of the pageant, the main characters were either taken to the Heaven wagon or the Hell wagon.  Depending on how they had lived their lives.  From historical accounts, the Hell wagon was always the most interesting.  They had devils and minions jumping around, making a general ruckus whereas the Heaven wagon was quiet. peaceful and rather dull in comparison.

I wondered how I could do a modern version of the Hellmouth.  From working with Omar on several other shows including several of his original works, I knew he liked the idea of a Hellmouth.  I was committed to getting one on the stage. 

Then it came to me where I'd seen something like that before.  The funhouse at a travelling carnival often had a giant clown face with the mouth being the entrance doors.  I had my concept.  I put it together over the next few hours, found some images online and made a few sketches and then went in to discuss it with Justin.  He bit.

Sketch of the Hellmouth

Sideview of Hellmouth

3/4 view of the Hellmouth

I was very careful in my pitch to stress that I was not trying to minimalize, marginalize or trivialize the script in any way.  If anything, the carnival side-show aspect of it would serve, I thought, to allow the audience to partake of the festive atmosphere and maybe they would make decisions on the material without feeling coerced.  I believe we were successful.

I had the Hellmouth for Bielzy and I knew I would have a carnival style castle for the Heaven platform for Gottfried, but I needed the stuff in between.  I decided to keep the pageant wagon ideal and began sketching three mini stages for a progression of the play toward the Heaven platform.

Justin had been clear from the start when I pitched this alternate concept that he did not want it to be a three ring circus.  I started out by drawing different polygons, trying to maximize the playing areas as much as I could.  In the end, Justin and I decided that round would be best.  I asked him about the three ring circus ideal and he said it didn't bother him anymore.

For me, carnivals, sideshows and circuses all kind of go together.  Circuses and carnivals both travel and both of them travel with sideshows.

I started with the Hellmouth at the south end of the Snow Black Box Theatre and the Heaven platform at the north end.  Between them I designed three circle stages which were offset from each other in a zig-zag pattern and used small platforms to connect them.

Segment of drafting of the Hellmouth.  Notice the "Alice Cooper" eyes. 
I did that on purpose.

Bielzy entering from the Hellmouth

Pandora and the Singer in front of Gottfried's place

The three mini-stages and their connecting, zig-zag platforms

I also wanted each mini-stage to have something unique, something carnival like to put it in the world we were creating.  On stage number one, I designed a bottomless trunk where several characters entered and props were handed up through.  On stage number two I designed a spinning, hypnotic wheel for the scene where Sister Prescott has her meltdown.  Stage number three had pop-up tombstones reminiscent of the haunted house attraction often seen at a carnival.  We needed under the stage access to each of these platforms so the connecting platforms became tunnels for the technicians and actors to make it to their assignments without being seen by the audience.

Snake entering from the bottomless trunk gag.
Based on the old clown car gag.

Props being handed up through the bottomless trunk.

Sister Prescott melting down on the spinning, hypnotic wheel

Sister Prescott melting down on the spinning, hypnotic wheel

Sister Prescott melting down on the spinning, hypnotic wheel

Ed and Ole at the pop-up tombstones

The three singers

In addition to the Hellmouth, the Heaven platform and the min-stages, we also designed ten sideshow banners, two for each scene that depicted something from the scene in a sideshow style, such as Sister Prescott on a tightrope for one and as the Incredible Melting Woman on the other.  These were hung just behind the audience, five on each side and each side was different.  Between the banners we also hung large pennants.  In the middle of that array we painted a banner that said, "Messrs. Bielzy and Gottfried, Night of Morality Plays."

My assistant designer, Kyrie Bayles designed the sideshow banners.  She captured the essence of the sideshow very well, but unfortunately, the photographer did not take any pictures of them.  Regrettable because they were really the finishing touch to the whole design.

Topping it all off were six strands of mini pennants, 'spiderlegging' across the stage and the audience.  The banners and pennants truly did create a festive atmosphere for the whole show.

Banners and pennants

The Lighting Design
I felt the lighting design needed to be mentioned in this posting.  We invited a student, Kolby Clarke to create the lighting design.  Both Richard Clifford and I have had him assist us on other designs and we felt he was ready to solo.  He created great atmosphere and produced interesting looks for this story to be told.  Great job Kolby.

Kolby Clarke's lighting
The full stage
As always, it was a pleasure to work on this production.  I believe the scene design aided in telling this tale.

Production Details
Written by James Omar Hansen
Directed by Justin Bates
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Kolby Clarke
Costume Design by Patty Randall
Sound Design by Aimee Phillips
Assistant Scene Designer:  Kyrie Bayles
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall