Australian lighting designer Philip Lethlean is no stranger to the shrouded world of puppetry, with his evocative images critically acclaimed as highlights of the various productions he has collaborated on. Wake Baby (pictured) was created in 1996 by Skylark Theatre Company for Brisbane's Out of the Box children's festival, and since then has toured extensively through Australia, Canada, France, Holland, and China. In the US, it ran for two weeks at the New Victory Theatre in New York in October, followed by a short run in Baltimore.
Wake Baby is a theatre piece without words, relying heavily on its subliminal images, which are set to an atmospheric soundtrack. Lethlean felt that the production was actually bigger than it needed to be when it debuted and has seen it evolve into a show that now runs on "the smell of an oily rag. When the show first opened in 1996 I used 112 channels of control; the current touring version is down to 51. You usually have to pare down once a show starts to tour, and the result is Wake Baby in a lean and hungry guise."
The mainstay of Lethlean's lighting rig is ERS profile spots, as you expect with black box theatre, where the focus has to be tight, sharp, and controllable. The production is performed with a minimal set consisting primarily of a cupboard that metamorphoses several times and an upstage gauze which Lethlean backlit with budlights. The story revolves around Orfe, the only live character in the show, and his existence in a magical world inhabited by ropes. His blissful existence comes to a halt when a pair of evil scissors hacks at the ropes, sending him plummeting into a strange new world where inanimate objects like toasters float through the air.
Much of Lethlean's design is based around corridors of light created by Selecon Acclaim condenser spots rigged on side booms to achieve a stark, isolated look. Backlight played a major part in Lethlean's design, with the main color being Lee 104 Deep Amber to create an eerie, soft look. He used open white (no color) in the rig as he plotted the show for fairly low light levels and didn't want the various states to get too warm at low levels. With around 80-100 lighting cues, Wake Baby is a fairly busy show, relying heavily on the lighting to evoke the various moods. Lethlean also made extensive use of handmade break-up gobos to create textured lighting states, saying "the more irregular the gobos the better they look."
Frontlight doesn't feature heavily in Lethlean's design as his main brief was to keep "the actor and objects lit, and the puppeteers hidden." his beautiful images achieve much more than that, with props literally materializing in front of the audience's eyes, eliciting "oohs" and "ahs" regularly.