I haven't done any lighting design work in ages. And I find myself missing it. I'm not actually first rate at design. Don't get me wrong, I'm damned good at my job, and I *can* design, but I'd much rather be Production Managing or Stage Managing; I'm much better at those jobs and I get a lot more out of them. But way way way back in the day when I was first learning all the various bits of stagecraft, I did a lot of design work, I was designing a different show (or more) every week.
The last major bit of design work was now a year ago, for a show that launched January 2011. So I miss design; in fact as much as I love PMing, I love going back to the other roles of crewing every so often, LD, LX/SX op, flies, even simple set building and painting; I feel it makes me a much better PM by going back to these roles once in a while, and I do honestly love looking at a lit stage, or a piece of set, or a particular effect and thinking "I did that, I made that happen" and sure PMing allows you to do that about the entire show, but sometimes its nice to have something distinctly tangible or demonstrable to do that with.
When I see a show, like most technicians, I spent most of the time not looking anywhere near the stage; i'm looking around at the rig, mentally noting how they've done certain cues, what jarrs with me, what i'm impressed with... directors seeing shows tend to do the same in terms of the blocking, deliverance, and well, direction. They just have the advantage that they can do the actors the courtesy of looking in the direction of the stage whilst doing so.
So I decided to do a fantasy design, which are just another way of doing practice - it involves going through almost exactly the same steps as when designing for a show that actually goes up; most of the design you never actually SEE until a few days before the production, most of it has to be in your head. If you're lucky you might have access to some powerful and expensive visualization software, or you might just draw it out and colour it in. Unfortunately I'm not that good at drawing, I can envisage it in my head just fine, and I can write out all the technical information to translate that into a lighting plot, but it does mean I won't be able to post any nice pretty pictures of what I've come up with on here.
So instead, this is more a series of blog posts about the process I'm going through in my head. Maybe other LDs out there totally disagree with how I go about it - design is a very individualistic process and everyone does it in different ways; by and large most designers respect this fact about each other, though of course it does make it difficult if you have to work with opposing styles and methods. At the very least it should serve as an interesting record for my friends that read the blog as to the sorts of things I get up to in my working life.
I started by looking for ideas, if I'm going to do an imaginary design I'm going to need some kind of show to do it about. I see no point in trying to design for one of the big name things, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Evita, A Streetcar Named Desire, etc unless I happen to have some outstanding unique never before done idea, I am not afraid to admit there are far far better designers out there than me (for the record, the 2 LDs I have the most admiration for and go to see shows just on the basis of their involvement are Max Keller and Neil Austin) and they are probably already working on the big shows (in fact, Neil Austin is the LD for the current Broadway production of Evita), that's not to say I don't want to work on them, just I know what I'm good at, and I know what I'm ok at, especially at a high end professional level. So I asked twitter for some ideas, and a friend suggested the musical Assassins, which so far is a distinct possibility for me, though it has its problems as I'll go into. From my own ideas, I would love to work on a Dario Fo play, so am rereading through some of those that I have, however due to the performance space Fo had access to, they are generally single settings with no scene changes, and have very scripted lighting design, naturalistic indoor room scenes, or special spots etc for phone calls etc, which brings me to my next point...
The beauty of design is you can completely let your ideas run away with you. Anyone creative in whatever sphere they work and however they create will always tell you it's better to dream big and tone it down, than be trying to cover inadequacy with greatness elsewhere. And yes you can completely ignore all scripting, and all stage instructions, and all suggestions or hints that a performance should be conducted in a certain way, but at the end of the day, tropes exist because they work; their familiarity means we understand what is being conveyed through certain information and why it has been put into that particular place in a specific manner. So yes I could redesign a Fo play to be completely different, but a lot of the design that is scripted is what most designers would do anyway, because purely and simply, it makes sense. The idea of lighting design, of any design, is to instill certain ideas in the mind of the audience, and evoke certain responses from them as a result. Lighting is used to demarcate the boundaries of rooms, to show the passage of time, to reflect mood, to highlight a out of character moment or foreshadow future events. If you do it right it should be so unobtrusive the audience doesn't even realise the lighting is part of what is evoking their reaction, they will put it all down to good acting. Such is the manner of being a theatre tech that we all accept and embrace as part of the job description, if you've done your job well, no one should know you ever exist. At the end of the day, you could work very very very hard to create a sense of danger, aggression, anger, heat, with some unusual design, and if you've got a good idea, then go with it, but red is a warm and angry colour to most people, just as blue makes things feel cold and stark, and green makes people look ill if used in a period drama piece. Standard design techniques, like stereotypes, exist because they work, so don't try and reinvent the wheel.
So a Dario Fo would be lovely to work on, but possibly quite dull to work on when I have the whole realm of theatre to imagine a design for. Assassins is a musical which allows me to be a lot more creative, but suffers a serious setback in that I do not have access to a copy of the book, whereas I do have copies of the scripts for multiple Dario Fo plays. This isn't necessarily a HUGE problem as there are detailed synopses available online and I can of course listen to the soundtrack as much as I like which is where a lot of the interesting design work would be and where most of the important plot points happen, but it does rather complicate matters. For most Dario Fo plays, and Assassins, I have not actually seen a staged version of the shows, which in some ways limits me, but also means I'm not constrained by preformed ideas other than what the script/music suggests to me in and of itself. The major downside in this is I have to give a basic consideration to all the other areas that would normally be covered by other people, that a LD works in conjunction with, but it means they can focus purely on the lighting without needing to come up with ideas such as blocking, set design, costuming etc all of which affect the lighting. I don't need to plan these thigns out in detail, but I do need to have a basic concept of what the show might look like staged in my head in order to do the lighting plot and that's harder when you're starting at square one. At least my PM experience means I do know the basic concepts of all these different areas, as that's sort of my job as a PM, to pull all the different strands of the technical requirements together, get them working with each other, and orchestrate presenting the whole thing as a single uniform project.
So that's basically where I'm at at the moment. I'm thinking about Assassins, doing a lot of work listening to the soundtrack, which tends to be the starting point of design for any musical, and rereading my Dario Fo plays to see if anything jumps out. Basically I'm in that great and fundamental starting point of design work - sitting there looking like I'm doing nothing, throwing things at the wall inside my head, and seeing what sticks. Design is a long process that never finishes and is generally kept in check by things like deadlines and budgets. Probably some time next week I'll pull out some sheets of paper and start drawing some very rough sketches (which is advanced as my draftsman skills get and like my handwriting, tend to be fairly indecipherable to anyone except me, but if you're lucky I might post them) of sets, stages, things like that, and post some more thoughts on how the whole process is going.
Comments muchly appreciated. Is anybody reading this? Is this in the least bit of interest to you? Did most of this not make sense to you because I'm talking about things which tend to only make sense if you work in that industry? I know its a blog mostly written for me and my random thoughts, but it is nice to know you're all out there and what you think occasionally.