Friday, May 23, 2014

People think we're automatons...

After all that hard work, there is one cue (well, one sequence) that I actually feel happy about it. Otherwise, I'm not thrilled by the lighting design I just completed.

On the other hand, I wasn't really there as designer. I was there as fireman.

So we closed a show, and immediately followed it with a remount using a younger cast (as part of our academy program.) I got the call on the day of tech, "Can you come in and help write cues?" Which I did, without having seen the show, without even enough time to read the script. So basically the director wrote the show, and I pushed faders.

Well and good. But it turns out we had to strike the plot, and re-hang for a second session. And that's when I went into damage control. I wasn't hired as a Lighting Designer per se, but without an LD, there is no way we'd be able to get a working plot and cues for the new choreography out of the limited time we had to work in. And since I didn't see an LD standing around, that meant me. I didn't take the job out of ego, or a desire to design, but out of the realization that it needed to be done and I had the skills to do it.

There's about eighty lights involved, not including practicals. So three 12-14 hour days in a row was just barely enough to get some cues into the board. Not enough time to design from scratch -- heck, I only managed to see half the show in rehearsal before I had to start writing cues. So I was stuck with the choices of the original designer, plus whatever had happened to that design due to things getting moved around by other users.

This is where you get into Total Theater territory.

It is one thing to do a design and be conscious of the needs of your design, your department, the integrity of your own work. It is another thing to be aware of how what you do impacts the other departments, and how your design integrates with the work of the rest of the design team. Whether it clashes, or whether the sum becomes greater than the parts.

And beyond that box in turn, is thinking of the production in a larger context. For me, there were two key things from that larger context. One was that I was inheriting another designer's work, and to some extent it would be a disservice to him to not use it the way he intended it. The more important thing was, however, that this was the second of two sessions. A second cast. Which meant that even though a lesser effort might have been appropriate for the production, the kids deserved to have at least as much attention on their lighting as the first group had gotten on theirs. They worked as hard with the music director and on their choreography, and they deserved that we give them a similar quality of lighting design.

The primary internal constraint was of course time. This was a reduced tech. We had an available dry-tech we couldn't use (not enough time to hang and focus and write), then one day of tech before we went in front of audience. We literally did not have enough time to paper tech an appropriate number of cues.

I was left in a rather familiar place. The place where you have to somehow make one cue, one look, cover too much ground. You get this a lot when a Director says, "I want the lights to be tight on the chair for this entire scene. I don't want any light elsewhere on the stage. ELISE spends the entire scene in the chair." Except of course for the brief moment where she gets the letter off the mantle, of course. And she only had one line there. And it is only one of the more important lines in the play.

John Byrne has talked about comic book writers who will present a similar problem to their artists; "In panel #2, Spider-Man throws a roundhouse at the cloaked figure, realizes it is Juggernaut in disguise, and turns to leap back out the window."

You shouldn't have to be a comic book artist to realize that doesn't fit in a single panel. Not even with clever placement of your dialog balloons.

Writing cues musicals in particular, you aim for key moments when you want a specific look, but if you can't have enough cues, you have to sustain these looks through bridges where they don't look so well. So you have people entering a scene in the dark because you simply can not spare a second cue before the down stage center spot hits them.

Well, mostly. The old stand-by is to rough-time the scene and build in cross-fades and auto-follows. Which I have plenty of in my current design!

But even outside of these: the lack of tech time to properly cue, having to use an existing plot, etc. I just am not that happy with my design. Oh, well. There's always next show.

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