LD JAMES F. INGALLS SEES THINGS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT Twenty-two years ago, while working as stage manager for choreographer Twyla Tharp, James F. Ingalls (called Jim by those in the know) wondered if anyone would take him seriously as a lighting designer. Fortunately, he was willing to take the risk, and since then many people have taken him more than seriously. He has become one of the most talented and well-respected designers in the field today, with a nonstop career that keeps him girdling the earth in Puckish fashion. [An annotated designology will appear on our website in November.]
Ingalls began his career as resident stage manager at Yale Rep in New Haven, CT (where he was a student at Yale Drama School), and moved on to stage-manage Tharp's dancers in 1978. It was there that he continued his interest in lighting: His responsibilities included the recreation of Jennifer Tipton's work when the company was on tour.
Working with Tharp marked Ingalls' first non-theatre job, and he loved her do-it-on-the-spot nature. "I learned that choreography was like writing and directing a play at the same time," Ingalls recalls. "It was wonderful to watch. Everything I learned at Yale about company and repertory was true at Twyla's, and I got to study Jennifer's lighting. It was my barre."
His first lighting job as a full-time designer came in 1980 for Slim Goodbody's Celebration of Yourself young people's concerts. "I was stage manager and lighting designer," says Ingalls, in one of his rare moments at home in New York City, "so it was a perfect bridge." Since then, Ingalls has developed long-term collaborations as lighting designer for theatre/opera director Peter Sellars and choreographer Mark Morris, as well as with scenic designers Adrianne Lobel and George Tsypin, among others.
"It's all about people and collaboration," says Ingalls, the lighting designer who thrives on his relationships with directors, designers, electricians, and even wardrobe people. "The basic notion is that five people sitting in a room working on a production get further than one person working alone."
This kind of collaboration seems to stoke Ingalls' inner flame. "I designed often at the Guthrie Theatre under Garland Wright and he created an entire body of work. When he directed The Devils at New York Theatre Workshop, it was like a reunion. Years of understanding each other made the work better."
In The Devils, the sets by Douglas Stein allowed several planes of action at the same time as a series of windows, stairways, and platforms filled the depth and width of the stage, creating a warren of small rooms with found objects such as window frames, doors, and beams. "We clued into each other right away," says Ingalls. "We had done so many plays together."
The lighting was monochromatic, with bare lightbulbs to emphasize a sense of paranoia and human isolation. "The bare lightbulb followed the action through the maze of the set," notes Ingalls, who also used ellipsoidals and fresnels overhead, and a series of small 3" fresnels (in open white or with color correction) and MR-16 birdies under a bridge center stage to help light the central platform.
"I couldn't get the exact angle I needed," Ingalls explains. "So I used a flat angle from the back of the theatre which matched the presentational style of the piece, almost as if we were voyeurs." The LD also played with the sculptural quality of the set, using fresnels to throw shadows of the staircase onto the backwall. "That added a foreground/background complexity."
Ingalls has a similar understanding with Sellars, as their collaborations began 20 years ago with the director's first production in New York, A Day in the Life of the Czar, or I, Too, Have Lived in Arcadia, at La Mama. "We had met at a brunch in Cambridge while I was on tour with Twyla," he recalls.
Among Ingalls' favorite Sellars collaborations is a production of Handel's Theodora first produced in 1996 at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England. Sellars set this spiritual love story in modern dress designed by another frequent collaborator, costume designer Dunya Ramicova, with a set by Tsypin consisting of a large empty box of three rear projection screens and giant sculptures of faux-glass bottles made by Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd. "The space was highly light sensitive - the smallest change in light changed its dynamic." The RP walls were lit using Lee 201 and Lee 161 filters in striplights on the floor behind the walls, and 5k fresnels in clear.
At Sellars' suggestion, Ingalls added a square of light onto the floor within the square set to create the confined space of a prison. "It was as abstract as the space," he says. "The look was very simple, and this simplicity reflected Theodora's Christian world of hope and optimism. We were able to manipulate the space emotionally, so that it felt like many different places. The color temperature ranged from warm white to cool white and steel blue.
"It was an incredible collaboration between glorious Handel music, great rehearsal conditions at Glyndebourne, and wonderful singers," Ingalls points out. "Peter's work is so strong when he's dealing with spiritual themes."
Ingalls also singles out the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas he lit for Sellars in the mid-80s: Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and Cosi Fan Tutti. Developed over five summers (1985-89) at Pepsico Summerfare on the Purchase campus of SUNY, Sellars tied the three operas together as a trilogy, imagining each one in a modern context.
Ingalls created a fluorescent look with traditional fixtures (primarily in Lee 218) for Cosi Fan Tutti, which Sellars set in a diner designed by Lobel. "The lighting was harsh but modulated into softer and more dramatic looks that mirrored the characters' inner thoughts," explains Ingalls. "The set featured 18th-century-style soft cloud borders, and tree wings, as an homage to Mozart's time to contrast with the modern, realistic diner."
Don Giovanni was set in Harlem, where Ingalls simulated the lights of the city, complete with blinking construction lights, security vapor lights, and practicals in the doors and windows. A large garage door rolled up on stage right, and Ingalls focused a large HMI fresnel through the set. "It added high energy, like an expanded version of a street light, for the Commandatore's entrance."
The third of these productions was The Marriage of Figaro, set in the Count's apartment in Trump Tower. When Act III called for a huge sunset, Ingalls suggested to Sellars a chemical look. "Peter said, `No, Jim, we need a passionate sunset to match the Countess' emotional state during `Dove Sono,' " recalls Ingalls, who then used reds, purples, and blues to light the sky.
Ingalls made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997 designing Berg's Wozzeck, directed by Mark Lamos, with impressionistic sets by Robert Israel. He used broad strokes of cold HMI light against three solid walls with a glossy metallic painted texture. "We decided it was a single-source space," says Ingalls in reference to his use of large sources. "The huge scale of the walls made the people seem small and compressed by the emotional world of the opera. The lighting needed to follow Wozzeck's downward spiral."
The use of footlights (MR-16 strips and ETC Source Four ellipsoidals) helped enforce the idea that Wozzeck's world has been turned upside down with light coming from an unnatural angle. In addition, three Arri 1.2kW HMI PARs on stands offstage sent strong shafts of light from down right to up left and vice versa, slashing through hallways and doorways. In an encounter between Wozzeck's lover Marie and an army drum major, a blast of HMI light bounced off the reflective surface of the wall with blinding effect. "It seemed right for the violence of the scene," says Ingalls.
In other scenes, the light came from four Arri HMI fresnels (two 4kW and two 6kW) hung in galleries above the stage, while one Robert Juliat 2.5kW HMI zoom profile added a hard shape to the light in the doctor's office. "The palette was mostly monochromatic, centered around steel blue," says Ingalls, who responded to the color temperature of the HMI light. To suggest the ambiance of a tavern, he played with light levels to give the feeling of interior/exterior in a non-realistic setting, with an HMI PAR creating bright light for outside, and contrasting with the low glow of the footlights on the inside.
Using Lee 161 and clear in Swoboda lights, Ingalls created a fluorescent, pre-dawn look for a confrontation in an army barracks. "I had originally thought about orange sodium lights for this scene, but we decided the color was too far outside of the world we had created. Also, the sodium light was too scattered for a tight interior space." Only in the murder scene is there any real color on stage, as a blood red moon hovers in the background. Here a scrim was hung in front of a translucency, or seamless plastic drop dyed an orange-red and lit from behind.
Ingalls created the moon effects by using three 5kW Mole-Richardson fresnels gelled in blue (Lee 68 Sky Blue), Strand Quartzcolor cyc units in yellow and red, and two Pani BP4 4kW projectors with a double cloud disk and a ripple disk. The sources were placed 10-15' (3-5m) directly upstage of the drop. "With a rear projection screen background you don't see the sources," says Ingalls, "and the light is richer and less flat than if frontlit. The blue light made the red look even redder."
In another debut, Ingalls lit Mark Morris' production of Rameau's Platee last spring at New York City Opera. Morris is another of Ingalls' long-term collaborators, as they have worked together for over a decade. The lighting was fanciful, as the action of this love story with an amphibious heroine was set in a terrarium, rather than a natural swamp. The animal characters wore delightful costumes by Isaac Mizrahi, and the sets were once again by Lobel. "The terrarium freed Jim to go artificial with the light," says Lobel.
Lobel and Ingalls also collaborated on Morris' full-length dance piece L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, which is set to music by Handel, and has toured all over the world since it premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels in 1988. "It is perhaps our most spectacular collaboration," says Lobel. "Jim is truly a great artist, which is why he has trouble talking about his work. He is not impressed with the show business, but is there to do good work. It's a moral stance.
"L'Allegro is so pure and so abstract," Lobel says. "It's really about space, light, and color. The sets are made of translucent scrims that move like a musical instrument throughout the piece. The scrims have colors themselves and the light washes on top of them like a painting."
The movement of the scrims created the biggest challenge. "They move in and out to create different senses of space. It is like a constantly moving box, and the set has its own cues," says Ingalls. "I worked with a sectional magic sheet to see what was in when, and what was cutting off what in order to determine which lights could be used in each set." At La Monnaie, fluorescent tubes and Lighting & Electronics Mini-Strips accented the drops and white portals.
Lobel and Ingalls collaborated again last spring on The Cherry Orchard at Princeton's McCarter Theatre. Once again the set had various planes of space created with gauze, scrims, and empty frames. "Jim has imagination," says Lobel. "I can say, `Let's not see that plane but the plane behind it,' and he can think metaphorically and deliver even beyond that."
Lobel adds that she has a certain confidence when she knows Ingalls is lighting a production. "If I know early enough in the process, then I design it for him," she admits. "For example, I can make a set all white if I know Jim is lighting it. He can control it and get as much out of it as possible."
Stepping back into the New York theatre scene last season, Ingalls designed Lee Blessing's Chesapeake, a funny one-man show featuring actor Mark Linn-Baker as a character who becomes a dog. "We didn't want to indicate all of the locations literally, or have the lighting tell the story. Rather, it moved in a way to match the character's emotional moods," says Ingalls, who lit the set by Lobel which evoked a gallery installation complete with a dirt floor. "The set looked fantastic in the new Second Stage Theatre, which has a contemporary museum-like quality." The production was first produced by New York Stage and Film at Vassar College before moving into Manhattan.
Ingalls kept the light tight on a chair that was a featured element on the bare set. By doing so, he could create different looks, from a dark night inside a house to a scene underwater. "I created an underwater feel in an abstract way by using cool [Lee 200 and 201] shin-busters at the downstage sides of the set to put shadows on all three walls. Return to clear light represented coming to the surface."
ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (no scrollers) with an ETC Obsession console were also part of the Chesapeake rig, as well as L&E Mini-Strips and MR-16s hidden in the dirt. "The light manipulates the space to match the feeling of the piece," Ingalls adds. "I tried to avoid anything that was a literal indication of place or locale. The lighting worked on a spatial and abstract level."
For Ingalls, who moves as effortlessly as Lobel's scrims in and out of dance, opera, and theatre, lighting acts to "amplify and support the emotional journey of the work. There are textbook differences for each discipline," he points out, indicating in a nutshell the use of sidelight for dance, bold strokes for opera, and the need to see faces in theatre. "But for me it's all about one group of people trying to communicate something to another group of people. The tools are the same. You can use anything that is available in all the forms."
Ingalls has rarely used automated luminaires, the few exceptions including Sellars' St. Francis of Assisi at the Paris Opera, where he used them as refocusable specials. He also used them in the rig for Le Grand Macabre in Salzburg and at De Nederlandse Opera for Oedipus Rex. "Most shows I do don't have budgets for moving lights," he claims.
Ingalls' extensive travels have taken him all over the United States and Europe as well as to Russia where he designed War and Peace and The Flying Dutchman for the Kirov/Maryinsky Opera. In the past year, his many projects also included The Invention of Love at ACT in San Francisco, Valparaiso for Steppenwolf in Chicago, a revival of Nixon in China for the ENO in London, and The Four Seasons for Boston Ballet, just to name a few. Later this year comes the world premiere of El Nino at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.
Besides his busy design schedule, Ingalls has also guest lectured at NYU, University of Connecticut (his alma mater), California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California San Diego. He reports that the subject of collaboration comes up often in conversations with the students. "When I applied to drama school I said I wanted to do good work with good people in good places," says Ingalls, reinforcing his belief in the collaborative effort. "That is exactly what I do. I'm the luckiest guy I know. And I enjoy it."