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

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