The 10th Prague Quadrennial was held this summer, running from June 12th-29th at the Vystaviste Exhibition Grounds, in Prague, the Czech Republic. Conceived in 1967 to showcase the best in scenography and theatre architecture from around the world, the event has grown to the point where this year it hosted a record-breaking 50 countries. Also this year, for the first time ever, lighting design played a major role in the proceedings.
PQ03 was divided into three major components: the National Exhibition and Exhibition of Theatre Architecture, the competitive section with juried awards; the Exhibition of Theatre Schools, which is non-competitive and for the first time included OISTAT Scenofest (which is where lighting came in), and an interactive exhibition directed towards the investigation of the human senses titled The Heart of PQ: A Cardiac Arrest to the Conventional!
ADDING LIGHTING AND SOUND TO THE MIX
Scenofest PQ03 was organized by the Education Commission of OISTAT under the leadership of Michael Ramsaur. OISTAT (the acronym for the International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects, and Technicians) is the international equivalent of USITT. Ramsaur, professor of lighting design at Stanford University, agreed to oversee the creation of Scenofest but insisted that lighting and sound be included as fully recognized design disciplines. To this end, an exciting program of exhibits, workshops, performances, design presentations, and design talks “enlightened” audiences, making this a PQ unlike any other.
OISTAT invited a select group of schools from around the world to create an exhibit that would not only showcase the work of students but which would be an example of lighting design in its own right. The only US institution to respond was Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. Graduate students Jen Alexander, Bryan Miller, and Brant Murray designed a high-tech truss look, in keeping with Carnegie-Mellon's reputation as a technology university. Their design included photographic modules suspended from the truss and a flat screen monitor, hung in the center of the exhibit, on which ran a continuous show of student lighting designs. Behind the screen was a cyc on which Color Kinetics LED units provided an ever-changing background. At timed intervals a light show explored the range of design choices available from the LEDs.
MOVING LIGHTS AND KING LEAR
Students from around the world signed up to participate in the King Lear moving light project. This event was born at OISTAT's International Lighting Design Symposium, held at the 2001 USITT conference in Long Beach, CA. Markku Uimonen and Kimmo Karjunen, lighting design professors from The Theatre Academy of Finland, met with educators and students to discuss common themes and topics, one of which was the need for students to have hands-on training with moving lights. This is, of course, a problem since most academic institutions are not equipped with the proper gear. Working with Ramsaur, Uimonen and Karjunen donated their moving light rig at the Theatre Academy for use in Prague.
Each school was given a copy of a moving light rep plot and access to Cast Lighting's WYSIWYG and MA Lighting's grandMA 3D previsualization programs, and Flying Pig System's Hog PC, the PC-based version of the Wholehog lighting control program. Each student was told to create a lighting design based on the theme of King Lear. He or she could either create a soundscape or choose a piece of music that supported his or her conceptual ideas about the play. Students used one of the previsualization programs prior to coming to Prague. At the PQ, each had approximately one hour to run the cues live, make some adjustments, and then present his or her in-process work to an audience. Discussion followed each presentation and students were able to compare notes with each other.
Participating in the project were the Bavarian Theatre Academy, Carnegie Mellon University, Hong Kong Academy, Theatre Academy of Finland, Tufts University, and Stanford University. Most of those involved would admit that the ambitiousness of this project created quite an adrenaline rush for the participants. (There is never enough time when using moving lights!) However, all would agree it was a great learning experience.
DESIGNING TO SCALE
In another design opportunity, a group of Dutch LDs held a series of three-day workshops giving students the chance to experiment with shape, space, and color in 1:4 model stage design. Groups of 12 students, comprised of dramaturges, directors, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, actors, dancers, singers and technicians, formed teams to work together on design projects. Henk van der Geest led a team working on the theme of “Autonomous Light as Concept.” JanChris Duijvendak headed a team whose theme was “Light as Scenery, What More Do You Need?” He also supervised another team on the theme “Theatre Lighting vs. Television Lighting: How the Model Stage Can be of Help.” Kees van de Lagemaat and Niki van der Kluge led a team with the theme: “The Invisible of Light — Concept and Spatial Design.”
The 1:4 scale theatre stage was 3m × 5.5m (12m × 22m in reality) with 48 lighting fixtures on a grid, 40 fixtures on the floor, and assorted materials, a white backdrop, and black-box settings for the student teams to use. At the end of three days, students presented a finished design for discussion and critique. Van der Geest explained, “The advantage of the 1:4 scale is that it refers to human scale. Standing, one can hang and focus the lights from a grid. It is closer to the real stage look and is more convincing than a 1:20 or 1:25 model that remains a model. But the biggest advantage is the process. In very little time an artistic team can play and experiment with the elements of a show that becomes reality in front of their eyes. In a real theatre one needs time and a crew to ‘play,’ which takes much more to afford.” This process generated a lot of interest at PQ; pre-registrations of sessions were overbooked by five times the capacity.
Under the Great Partnership series, the German LD Max Keller spoke with Herbert Kappmuller from Switzerland about how light, sound and direction can and should be totally integrated. Wolfgang Goebbel, also from Germany, made a special lighting design excellence presentation that showed images from his many renowned productions and explained the technical and artistic innovations he has developed. Norm Schwab of the US design firm Lightswitch presented “Designing Theme Parks and Themed Environments.” From Austria, Siegwulf Turek presented “Lighting and Sound Design for Water Spectaculars”; his work includes the use of moving lights, lasers, and projections against a background of moving water fountains. I presented “Theatrical Architectural Lighting Design,” showing how theatrical approaches to design are being incorporated into how we light our environment. Kimmo Karjunen presented “Designing with Moving Lights — Movement,” while Henk van der Geest discussed “Designing with Moving Lights — Color.”
All of these presentations took place on the Scenofest Stage. The intimacy of the environment allowed for interactive exchanges between the audience and presenters. Having a light plot available encouraged hands-on demonstrations, with audience participation. Perhaps that was the major contribution that Scenofest made to this year's PQ: Lighting was not something in the background in photographs of scenery and costumes, but a living, breathing design energy.
Plans are already underway to expand the integration of lighting in PQ07. A working group of interested LDs from around the world met to discuss shared concerns and topics that transcend cultural boundaries and professional practice. Ideas ranged from creating a lighting performance piece, with students from various countries collaborating on the design, to strategies for elevating lighting design to the status of scenery and costumes, with equal pay and equal recognition for designers. Some participants talked about the struggles they face in their own countries where no lighting-design training exists and, therefore, lighting design isn't recognized as an equal contribution to the theatrical experience. Also discussed was the need for a worldwide forum that happens more than once every four years. Van der Geest invited everyone to the Netherlands in 2004 while in 2005 Toronto will be host to World Stage Design.
All in all, PQ03 was a visual overload if one didn't take time out to enjoy the excellent Czech beer — which was cheaper than the water! I found the Prague Quadrennial to be a wonderful celebration of the arts. There was some very exciting work in both the professional and student exhibits and some work that was not so inspiring, but the product is less important than the process. I was especially pleased to see the inclusion of lighting and sound and hope that this will continue to grow and expand.
Cindy Limauro is professor of lighting design at Carnegie Mellon University.