Your lighting for Spring Awakening has been described as “an arresting mix of hanging bulbs, shafts of light, and arrays of neon tubing in the set and around the theatre.” Can you describe your concept for this production and the challenges of creating different lighting styles for each act?
Spring Awakening contains two separate narratives: the 19th-century play (the book scenes) and the 21st-century concert (the songs). I imagined that the book scenes, which are the real space of the characters, should look like a kind of contemporary presentation of a small classics play. I wanted the hardness of white work light to contrast with the earnestness of the language and the open youthful performances. I wanted the book scenes to look simple and un-detailed, and to be free of lighting that creates an illusion of place — more like a workspace than the real place where the scenes take place. I also wanted the rules to shift and become more complicated as the show progresses. The show begins simply as the actors enter into the white work light of the preset. A pretty girl in a white slip steps onto a chair, and a silent overture of 100 clear light bulbs pop on to announce the beginning of the show.
The parallel narrative is the contemporary rock/pop songs that express the interior world of the youths. This world is brimming with abstracted environmental details, saturated color, complicated cueing, and muscular lighting. I've been using electric objects (various light bulbs, fluorescent fixtures, neon) in my work for many years, and I was interested in framing the musical part of the show with an environment that contained sculptural light objects. Created through a long collaboration with the set designer, Christine Jones, we surround the actors and audience with elegant sculptures made of colored fluorescent tubes, neon lines and circles, and hanging fluorescent blue light bulbs, as well as light boxes and vertically mounted ceiling fixtures. These electric objects — as well as LED strips that illuminate the walls, which are inlaid with miniature deeply saturated audience blinders — are capable of exploding the simple white scene space into a variety of concert spaces that are surrounded by a constellation of brightly colored dots and lines of light that flash and blink like abstracted signs and signals.
The two parallel narratives run separately — one often contrasting the other's rules — until deep into Act II, as the narrative turns to montage and real space overlaps with interior space, and they intertwine and eventually become a single visual narrative.
What is the best career advice you've ever been given?
I was never really interested in a “career,” so I never really asked for career advice. I realized early on that employment as a freelancer was always going to be up and down, so I've tried to make every day less about working and more about making things that, at the end of the day, satisfy me. And if other people respond to the work I make, then great.
And what's the worst?
Probably telling myself that a “career” doesn't matter.
What idea of yours looked good on paper but did not pan out in reality?
There are a few ideas in every show I design that don't look the way I saw them in my mind's eye, but once I start putting the show together with my collaborators, there are also little accidents that occur that can be developed into larger ideas. The trick is staying open to the accidental.
What piece of equipment can you absolutely not do without?
My iBook. And Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers — I love those erasers.