Lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer are nothing if not versatile. Last year, they designed two musicals that could not have been less alike. First up was Victor/Victoria, the stage version of Blake Edwards' crossdressing film farce, with Julie Andrews and playmates bouncing through the boites and boudoirs of 1930s Paris. The LDs' work here was in the best tradition of the conventional Broadway show. They lent a soft romantic glow to Robin Wagner's towering Paris streetscapes; they made an art deco, red-and-gold hotel interior shine like a pre-Depression penny; they gave a sizzling pink aura to the leading lady's big first-act number, "Le Jazz Hot." Their work was about glamour, style, razzmatazz.
Then came Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover's "tap/rap discourse on the staying power of the beat," which combined stunning tap dance, rap poetry, and soul singing to present a thumbnail history of blacks in America. Sharp and angular where Victor/Victoria was warm and sumptuous, the LDs made bold use of sidelight and hot colors to carve out the bodies of Glover and his fellow dancers from the dark confines of Riccardo Hernandez's abstract setting. The LDs won a Tony Award for their work on the show.
Now, get ready for Ragtime. Like Victor/Victoria, the Terrence McNally- Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical has the look, shape, and feel of a big Broadway event; like Noise/Funk it takes a probing, skeptical look at American history. Based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel, it blends fictional characters and historic figures in a kaleidoscopic vision of social upheaval at the turn of the century. In its grand scale, emotional reach, and intellectual ambitions, Ragtime, directed by Frank Galati and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, is the most daring musical theatre event in several years.
As in Doctorow's novel, the story concerns a series of characters whose lives collide and intertwine as staid, Protestant, rural America races into the 20th century, becoming a harsher, more exciting, industrial society teeming with immigrants, the noise of new machines, the clash of new ideas. As in the novel, McNally's libretto focuses on three sets of people: a prosperous New Rochelle family whose members are known only as Mother, Father, Mother's Younger Brother, and The Little Boy; a black musician, Coalhouse Walker, and Sarah, the woman he loves; and Tateh, a Jewish immigrant, and his daughter, The Little Girl.
In one way or another, each character's life is changed forever. When Coalhouse is involved in an ugly racial incident and Sarah dies violently, Mother takes in their child. Mother's Younger Brother, inspired by the rhetoric of anarchist Emma Goldman, joins Coalhouse in a wave of terrorist violence against New York. Tateh escapes from a labor riot and reinvents himself as the Baron Ashkenazy, a silent film director. Father returns from a voyage with Admiral Peary to find his family deeply estranged from him; Mother, though faithful to Father, finds herself increasingly drawn to Tateh, who she encounters in Atlantic City. (These are only the narrative highlights; much, much more happens).
Mixing in with these fictional characters is a parade of historical names from the era. Chorus girl/scandal queen Evelyn Nesbit gets on her famous red velvet swing to describe how the crime of the century (the murder of her lover, architect Stanford White, by her husband, Harry K. Thaw) launches her career in vaudeville. Harry Houdini performs his sensational escape routine, which makes him a national icon, the very model of an immigrant's success story. When Coalhouse buys a new Ford to woo Sarah, Henry Ford himself arrives to sing about the glories of the assembly line. When Mother's Younger Brother offers his help to Coalhouse, Emma Goldman is on hand to comment about their meeting. Booker T. Washington and J.P. Morgan show up, too.
As a result, Ragtime is a fluid, cinematic experience. Characters step out of the story to explain what happens to them next. Historical figures interrupt the action to comment or take part. The show is a montage of the moment in which so many of the defining issues of our times--labor struggles, racism, feminism, the birth of mass media--came to the forefront of the national agenda. It closes with The Little Boy announcing the end of the era of ragtime; yet, in some ways, the era of Ragtime continues to this day.
Ragtime is a complex work that makes big demands of its designers, who have responded by creating one of the most stunning-looking musicals in several seasons. Eugene Lee's scenic superstructure represents New York's Pennsylvania Station, a spacious industrial construct with staircases on the sides and a clock without hands posted on the proscenium. Within this space, dozens of set pieces, large and small, take the audience from Ellis Island to Harlem, the Atlantic Ocean, the Polo Grounds, Atlantic City, the Morgan Library, and elsewhere.
Among the designers, Fisher and Eisenhauer arguably faced the most difficult challenge of all. Throughout its running time, Ragtime constantly shifts focus, from one or two characters picked out of the darkness to vignettes teeming with actors and scenery. The show's moods range from savagely satirical to deeply romantic to starkly dramatic. On the one hand, it takes place in the harsh mechanical world of Lee's setting, a world defined by metal, machinery, the assembly line. On the other hand, scene after scene recounts the characters' hopes and fantasies--their competing visions of America. In short, there's very little that the lighting design for Ragtime doesn't have to do.
Therefore, one might suppose that Ragtime is lit by a king-size rig. "You'd be surprised," says Eisenhauer. "There's less overhead and sidelighting than in most other shows. In fact, I compared the sidelighting from Ragtime and from Noise/Funk; Noise/Funk actually has more. [Ragtime's light plot] seems infinite, but it's really made out of a fairly reasonable number of building blocks.
"But," she adds, "because we had so little space, we had to make the most of the space we did have, using the most versatile and powerful lighting equipment we could get."
"We had to come up with a design and a system that could allow us to have many different changes, many different looks, many different qualities," adds Fisher. "This show needed dozens of scenes, and they were all over the geography, all over the time span--day and night span, and seasonal spans. We needed a system without a great amount of equipment because we weren't given much space. Over the acting area onstage there are only three light pipes.
"That was why we chose to use automated light fixtures," he says, "so the same lamp could be used over and over, throughout the evening, and you wouldn't recognize it, because it would come up in a different color, a different beam size."
Ragtime's conventional light plot is a mixture of instruments, including Altman, Strand, and ETC products. For their automated lighting plot, Fisher and Eisenhauer took a two-pronged approach, using both Vari*Lite and Clay Paky instruments. "The entire overhead moving-light system is made up of VL4s(tm)," says Eisenhauer. "One of the most daring choices that we made was to fill Lee's setting, a hard-edged industrial steel rectilinear surround, with soft light. We really grappled with scale within the overall width and depth of the picture. We also didn't have the space or the money for both types of systems--hard and soft--from overhead. So the weight of the design fell on a soft moving light."
"The overhead system could also be a backlight system," continues Fisher, who adds that the Clay Paky lights were "more for architectural use. In the corners, or interstices, of the design, were the hard-edged Clay Paky Golden Scan HPEs, so we could make a volume that was soft-edged; in fact, we could not make it hard-edged--it could only be pierced by the hard-edged Golden Scans entering the picture on a diagonal." The Golden Scans are used to give shape and definition to the overall dimensions of Lee's setting. Also, the architectural use of beams cutting across the stage frequently adds another layer to the stage picture. The Golden Scans are also used for certain special effects, one of which will be discussed later.
On either side of the set is a series of staircases on which appear, at different times, members of the chorus, or some of the historical figures, who offer commentary on the action. To pick them out, Eisenhauer says, "we had a small number of VL6s(tm) out front, to get the kind of focus that we needed." Interestingly enough, there are only four followspots used in the production.
The key to Ragtime's diverse lighting design is in the long, complex title number, which opens the show. The very first moment is a stunning effect. A giant stereopticon hangs above the stage, with a regular-sized counterpart sitting on the floor below. The Little Boy enters, picks up the little stereopticon and looks through it. Onstage are two scrim panels, with identical views of a large suburban house in front of which is gathered a crowd of picnickers dressed in summer whites. These panels slide together and are pierced with light; behind them is revealed the chorus, dressed in white, standing in front of a house--the living replica of the stereopticon image. "It was kind of complicated," says Eisenhauer about this moment. "Everyone comes in with an idea and you work out the timing, the reveals, the staging, and organization of it several different ways until you find the one that really seems to work. Then you spend a lot of time doing it over and over; we did it for half a day, I'd say."
The chorus, which represents the citizens of New Rochelle, then begins singing the number "Ragtime." They are joined by another chorus, of black people, followed by a chorus of immigrants, then various historical figures (Houdini is lowered in from above). Each group is lit in its own individual type of light. As the number progresses, various different looks are deployed. The opening number is, in effect, the reference book for the rest of the show: Virtually every kind of look that will be seen at greater length later on is contained in it.
"To open a musical that way," says Eisenhauer, "with a prologue to excite the audience with what the evening is about, is also a great way to teach them how you're going to tell it. You're introducing your own language." She adds that the creation of this sequence was a "back-and-forth process. We took a stab at the opening, then we learned what all of the full-blown themes were, then went back and added them in."
In addition, Fisher notes that the use of massed groups on stage facing each other in distinct kinds of light underscores the number's (and the show's) sense of "confrontation. I think that's something that [choreographer Daniele] did so well: to show you that these are three worlds and they're at odds with each other. They don't get together. There's one moment when they face off as three huge groups; then the groups circle each other and stop, with two groups facing, and a third group comes in between and splits them. We tried to have the light support that."
From there, scene after scene has its own distinctive look. The opening features pastels, an approach grounded in one of the early lyrics, which refers to the colors "lavender, pink, lemon, and lime." The next scene, in which Father heads off on his expedition with Admiral Peary, features a gorgeous orange sunset effect. The sardonic musical number "Crime of the Century," in which the White-Thaw murder trial is recounted as a burlesque routine, features lots of color, and a star drop that spells out the name "Evelyn Nesbit." With the number "Getting Ready Rag," in which Coalhouse prepares to meet Sarah, the lighting picks bodies out of the darkness, focusing on music and movement. This number is followed by "Henry Ford"; the lighting takes in the whole volume of the stage, with the shadow of the assembly line seen against the back wall. "We have a device of cutouts or opaque wheels of a fairly large scale, which are rotating," says Fisher. "And we have two large 10kW fresnels behind it, which project the image of the [auto] shop. We used the doors of the factory as a projection surface."
For the appearance of Emma Goldman at a hall in Union Square, the LDs used amber filters to create a warm gaslight interior effect. Other key moments include the number "Wheels of a Dream," in which Coalhouse and Sarah, on a picnic, sing about the promise of their future together. The designers' sensitive lighting of the beautifully painted sky drop helps make this moment one of the show's lyrical high points. A second-act sequence at Atlantic City is set, Eisenhauer says, "into a period postcard scheme. It's like a giant, life-sized postcard that then animates."
One moment that makes particularly evocative use of the Golden Scans is in the number "Justice," in which Coalhouse goes to various lawyers and police agencies to find satisfaction after he has been attacked. "There are templates from the Golden Scans, making a whirl around him," says Fisher. "They move, then come together. Coalhouse comes running into Penn Station. Sarah has been murdered, and this pattern of light that comes through the bars and the metallic structure of Penn Station is falling on the floor. Then, as he runs down center to get Sarah, all these patterns move to tighten around him, to press, which causes him to scream."
Tateh's first-act number "Success" is an early indicator of a leitmotif that runs throughout the show: the development of imagery, from the stereopticon to crude moving-image flip books to motion pictures. Speaking of "Success," Fisher says, "There is a rear-lit drop of the Lower East Side, which is meant to look like a sepia photograph. The idea of imagery in technological development is clear throughout the story. It starts out with cutouts and silhouettes--Tateh sings about his career in cutting out silhouettes--and it goes all the way up through motion pictures."
This idea is also used in several instances featuring the suggestive use of shadows and silhouettes. While Tateh sings "Success," says Fisher, "[Daniele] thought of having the immigrants go by in front of the drop, dancing in one scale, with their shadows appearing from behind them twice as large, moving in the opposite direction." The shadows actually belong to other dancers moving behind the drop, lit from the back. Later, Fisher and Eisenhauer make evocative use of silhouettes, in the shocking sequence where a gang of bigoted firemen destroy Coalhouse's car, and in the finale, where members of the company parade in silhouette against the backdrop, with individuals stepping forth to inform the audience about their ultimate fates.
As one might imagine, Ragtime was an enormous undertaking for the designers. Fisher and Eisenhauer spent eight weeks in North York, a Toronto suburb, working on the show prior to its opening there last December at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Still, Fisher says, "What we drew six months earlier is what ended up onstage. We did a lot of careful planning, careful coordination. We had a wonderful team to work with."
Speaking of the advance planning, Eisenhauer adds, "It's kind of scary, because you're recommending a lot of fancy hardware and it all needs to work when you get there. I mean, we sort of locked into our system early on. There was an intense technical side to the project, in terms of planning the space--making every inch right, making everything clear, programming computers, putting the moving-mirror lights onto what type of control, integrating the languages of the various moving lights, figuring out how to map the show--because we knew going into it that we were going to try to make something that we could recreate. It was a huge lighting task after the ideas and concepts were figured out."
Another wrinkle: "Many of the people we normally turn to in a major production, the people we've worked with for a long time, were engaged at Madison Square Garden for A Christmas Carol," says Eisenhauer, referring to the annual mega-spectacle version of the Dickens favorite that features lighting by Fisher and Eisenhauer. "We had to turn to new people. And it was one of the best parts of the job. It was like a miracle--we found ourselves in Toronto, getting along and working well together and being able to read each other quickly, with no hassle and no stress. We were all working so flat-out hard that we would look at each other and say, 'I don't know what I would be doing here if you weren't here.' " The key personnel on the lighting side of the production include assistant lighting designers Edward Pierce and Michael Baldassari, supervising production electrician Salvatore "Sal" Restuccia, head electrician Scott Tucker, Vari*Lite programmer Doug Gentile, assistant Vari*Lite electrician Dave Nicholson, assistant electrician Norman Robinson, scenic electrician Thomas Rekuc, and house electrician John Bierne, as well as Lee Magadini of Vari*Lite New York and Peter Rogers of Strand Lighting. Westsun Show Systems was the lighting contractor, except for the Vari*Lite equipment.
Indeed, with its varied equipment list, Ragtime is a logistical puzzle. The conventional lights are controlled by a Lightpalette 530 from Strand. The Vari*Lite equipment was controlled by an Artisan(r) console with VLQ(tm) dimmer interface; the Golden Scans were also controlled by the Artisan. Speaking of their experience with Strand over the Lightpalette 530, which they had not used before, Eisenhauer says, "They gave us a lot of support and it was just grand. It's very scary to move onto another type of console with another hardware platform; you want your regular, guaranteed-not-to-have-a-problem stuff. Yet we're in a business where we can never afford that luxury, because we're always moving on to the next application. We made sure that we had everybody's cell phone, pager, beeper, home, and 24-hour numbers, and we got wonderful service from the people who provided equipment and service."
The next stop in Ragtime's journey is Los Angeles' Shubert Theatre, when a second company of the show opens in June. New York previews begin this December for a January 1998 opening. Although the designers say that no major changes are likely, refinements are possible: "We are of service to the production from now until Broadway," says Fisher.
Just to add a bit more excitement, Ragtime's opening will take place in what is in effect a new Broadway theatre, the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, which is being carved out of two existing 42nd Street playhouses by Ragtime producer Garth Drabinsky. "Luckily," says Fisher, "[his firm Fisher/Dachs] is one of the theatre consultants. Therefore, we have an 'in' in knowing about the electrical input to the building, so it won't be a total surprise." Adds Eisenhauer, humorously, "We're peeking at what's going on."
Overall, Fisher and Eisenhauer stress the value of their relationships with the other designers. "We had a great collaboration with Eugene Lee," says Eisenhauer. "He was fantastic, supportive, and gave a lot of good input about how the show looked, because he's a lighting designer as well. Also with [costume designer] Santo Loquasto--you always hope, when you go into such a major project, that it's going to work out, and that it did is great." It looks like the era of Ragtime is just beginning.
Lighting designers: Jules Fisher, Peggy Eisenhauer Assistant lighting designers: Edward Pierce, Michael Baldassari Supervising production electrician: Salvatore "Sal" Restuccia Head electrician: Scott Tucker Vari*Lite programmer: Doug Gentile Assistant Vari*Lite electrician: Dave Nicholson Assistant electrician: Norman Robinson Scenic electrician: Thomas Rekuc House electrician: John Bierne
Equipment List: Conventional lighting: (85) Altman162 6x12s (126) Altman 6x16s (110) Altman 6x22s (11) Altman 6x9s (15) ETC 10 degree Source Fours (10) ETC 5 degree Source Fours (6) Strand 10k fresnels (4) MR-16s (34) Thomas short-nose PAR-36s (72) PAR-64 NSPs (34) PAR-64 MFLs (14) PAR-64 WFLs (31) ACLs (73) 6' ministrips (68) L&E Broadcycs (8) PAR-56 9' striplights (14) PAR-64 9' striplights (124) Wybron Colorams for PARs/lekos (7) Wybron Colorams for Source Fours (1) Wybron 8-light Colorams (6) Wybron large-format Colorams (31) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000 PAR-64 strobes (2) Lycian Starklite 1272s (2) Lycian 1290 XLT xenon long-throws
Automated lighting: (42) Vari*Lite VL4s (7) Vari*Lite VL6s (12) Clay Paky Golden Scan HPEs
Control and dimming: (1) Strand Lightpalette 530 (1) Vari*Lite Artisan (12) ETC Sensor 96x2.4k (1) ETC Sensor 48x2.4k (1) Strand CD80 6x6k (1) Strand CD80 12k
Special effects: (6) Rosco 4500 foggers (4) Reel EFX DF-50 hazers
One of Italy's leading experts in artistic lighting is the multifaceted Fabrizio Crisafulli, who is also a noted producer, set designer, and university lecturer. Commentators have described events staged at his students' workshops and by the theatrical group he founded as the "new 20th-century avant-garde." Lighting Dimensions caught up with Crisafulli at one of his Italian "installations"--Polvere (Dust), staged in an overgrown, rubble-filled garden and an abandoned sculptor's workshop, but filled by a constant flow of visitors.
Born in Catania, Sicily, in 1948, Crisafulli received a degree in architecture from Rome University in 1975, with a thesis on town planning entitled "The City and Spectacle." Upon graduation he was part of the university's architecture faculty for several years. He switched to the Catania Fine Arts Academy from 1982 to 1992, where he taught stagecraft and set design. In 1992, he was appointed a lecturer in stagecraft and set design at Urbino Fine Arts Academy. Crisafulli has also taken his talents abroad, designing sets and lighting for theatre and cinema. Since 1995, he has been holding lighting seminars and workshops at the School of Architecture and Landscape at the University of Greenwich in London.
"My interest in lighting began almost instinctively as a boy," Crisafulli explains. "I used to criticize how streets and the interiors of homes were lit. But my passion for theatrical lighting began in the 70s when I met up with members of Rome's avant-garde theatre." By the early 1980s, he recalls, this underground or "image" theatre was experimenting heavily with light.
"Nowadays, lighting plays a very constructive role in my shows: not just as far as vision and space are concerned, but also for the actual dramaturgy, rhythm, and movement. Lighting virtually redefines the script onstage," Crisafulli says. "When I design and prepare an event, the lighting often comes first, followed by all the rest." Crisafulli's audio-visual performances are far from the "effects for effect's sake" policy of some son et lumiere projects, and closer to Vasili Kandinskij's "scenic compositions": When people appear onstage, in some cases it's only to move the material used for the event, or to act as screens onto which light or images are projected.
Crisafulli's Urbino Academy Theater Workshop, one of Italy's most interesting experimental theatrical groups, gives him and his students the opportunity to take their ideas on the road. In 1993, they were invited to stage their Scena in scena at the Experimental Audio-Visual Festival in Arnhem, Holland. The show was divided into two parts: The first (Pictures at an Exhibition) was a tribute to Kandinskij, the second an entertaining piece in which the material used for the set was gradually dismantled onstage.
Under Crisafulli's direction, the lighting's relationship to the set's surfaces and materials is dissected and studied; indeed, the lighting is sometimes the only "performer" in a staged work. In 1990's Fog-Malevic, the lighting's interaction with the stage components achieved an almost magical condensation of shapes and colors, creating abstract geometric forms that reflected Russian artist Casimir Malevic's Suprematist theory.
Besides organizing his students' workshops, Crisafulli also directs an experimental theatrical group called Il Pudore Bene in Vista, which he founded in 1991: This was also the title of a performance staged for the first time that same year, a highly entertaining combination of theatre, sound, images, and dance. Its fusion of live action, projections, and other lighting effects produced some wonderful visual tricks, such as making various body parts of its three actresses seem to disappear or multiply.
"I always tend to consider two types of light, and combine them," Crisafulli says. "One is normal, 'functional' light, involving the set and the actors; the other is what I'd call 'positive' lighting. The former enables things to be seen, while the latter is designed to be seen: strips of light, projected images, and laser beams are all positive light. My use of light as an active component in a performance very frequently involves profile spots and gobos used to shape the beams precisely."
Crisafulli is particularly interested in the relationship between theatre, architecture, and visual arts, a topic on which he has written a great deal and is considered an expert. He collaborates with professional lighting manufacturer Fly srl, for whom he is technical consultant for experimental lighting fixture production, and with domestic lighting manufacturer I Guzzini.
La Memoria che si vede, a show staged by Crisafulli during the Habitat & Identity show/workshop, "starred" no less than 17 products from the Guzzini range of fixtures. The various scenes were futuristic geometric compositions in which Guzzini products were not only used as light sources, but also became the protagonists of the show. Thanks to their reflecting and translucent material, the products were brought to life with spectacularly dramatic visual impact.
"For me, darkness has the same importance as light, and should therefore be calculated and designed in the same way. When a scene is being lit, what is illuminated and what is not must be taken into consideration with the same precision," Crisafulli says. "I work a great deal with what I would describe as graphic, architectural, 'figurative' light, all one with the form and dimension of the area in which the show is staged. Although I've used over-lighting to make objects seem to disappear onstage, having a great quantity of fixtures at one's disposal doesn't necessarily ensure better, more effective lighting. I've seen really well-lit shows using a lot of equipment, but also some great stuff in which there was just one spot onstage, and the movement of the actors changed the effect the light had on them."
As far as external influence on his work is concerned, "I've learned from Fredegiso of Tours that darkness and light are degrees of the same phenomenon, and from John Cage that silence can be heard, therefore darkness can be seen. From the 19th-century Swiss set designer and theorist Adolphe Appia I've learned that shadows are the substance of vision, and from author Italo Calvino that the most effective images are those that let people create their own mental view of what they're looking at."
Reactions to Crisafulli's work vary. "People who follow experimental theatre have quite similar responses in most of the countries I've visited. But there have been some exceptions, particularly where the culture is very different from Western Europe's--there was great curiosity in Uzbekistan, where a heated two-hour debate took place after the show. In Egypt, the public's enthusiastic reaction was quite different from Europe; warmer and more direct. I was struck by the fact that several people said they'd related the changing light in my work with the endless nuances in Africa's natural light, not so much for the quality of the light, but for the delicacy of the variations."
Crisafulli frequently uses non-theatrical lighting fixtures in his productions and lighting setups, from simple lamps to overhead projectors used along with custom handmade glass gobos. "I even used electric element heaters to create a 'closed-in,' warm atmosphere in a performance inspired by a story by Nobel Prize-winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, The House of the Sleeping Beauties. [Le Addormentate and Sonni, by Crisafulli and actress Daria De Florian, are both based on this story.] Although I don't deliberately avoid modern technology, non-theatrical sources of light offer a real mine of possible theatrical applications that haven't yet been fully exploited. I find traditional technology (such as film projection) very useful when a strong link with the past or a touch of irony are required--this isn't so easy with more impersonal new hardware."
In In Cerca di Frasi Vere, staged for the first time at Edinburgh's International Fringe Festival in 1993, Crisafulli projected a variety of different clothes onto De Florian, in the role of Austrian poetess Ingeborg Bachmann. A startling contrast was generated between her tension-wracked poetry and her delicate "garments," representing the more mundane, feminine aspect of her character. "The area in which images are normally projected (a screen) is not a theatrical element, so I prefer to use something else (Daria's body, in that instance), or find a coherent way of including the geometric shape of a screen in the set."
Crisafulli has also recently directed and designed a series of site-specific performances, with his work becoming part of the surroundings and architecture, not just using them as a set. Versions of his Citta Invisibili (Invisible Cities) have been staged in Italy, Klagenfurt, Malta, Rio de Janeiro, Unterach, and Liverpool in collaboration with the Center of Applied Theatrical Science and Teatro Potlach. "In this kind of event, the sites' features interact with the text, action, and dramatic presentation, and I use lighting to reveal details which might normally go unnoticed, or forgotten aspects of the venue. One of the main problems in these cases is creating darkness (for example, switching off street lighting) to 're-invent' the area using my own lighting, which has included lasers, underwater and UV fixtures, strobes, slide and film projectors, TV monitors, luminarie, and fireworks."
The LD is designing permanent lighting for two of Formia's most famous Roman monuments, St. Remigius' fountain and Cicero's tomb. "Many Italian cities and monuments are lit disgracefully," he says. "The trend is to use discharge lamps, such as low-pressure sodium, for financial reasons. These are the same lamps used to illuminate freeway intersections and industrial areas, and thanks to their very low color rendering, they turn everything yellow. This means that after having spent large sums restoring buildings to their original colors, after sunset the work is thwarted thanks to the flattening effect of the sodium lighting. The excuse of having to save money is unacceptable; I think in the long run these places lose their attraction, which leads to financial loss."
Other unique venues have included a Maltese castle, a soccer field, antique wine cellars, a classroom (where the extremely effective Aula was staged, again with the students of his set design course), and the sumptuous, frescoed Hall of Mirrors at Rieti's Flavio Vespasiano Theater. This was the venue for Acuta di coscenza, amara di nostalgia, in which Crisafulli dimmed the hall's chandeliers and wall lights, achieving a poetic starry sky effect. Rome's old Felice aqueduct was the setting for Bandoni, with scenes installed under its arches and in nearby streets, along which the audience walked for over an hour among the ruins of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Rome.
Crisafulli's recent collaboration with dancer/choreographer Giovanna Summo has resulted in two shows to date, Canto Sospeso and Centro e Ali. In the latter, the audience at Rome's Galleria Sala 1, a converted church, was divided into three sections. Each section had an arch of one of the venue's walls in front of it; Summo and two other dancers interacted with the lighting, creating an elegantly simple but breathtakingly symmetric and asymmetric show, according to the viewer's position.
Crisafulli often uses lighting to make a set, or the objects on it, appear weightless. This ethereal and mysterious effect has been seen in pieces like Citta delle Ombre. During this spectacular event, an endless number of chairs evidently defied the law of gravity, and even managed to reach the tops of trees, in an enchanted garden through which an actress floated, aided by a hidden cord.
The LD has collaborated with Isabel Rocamora and Sophy Griffiths, the UK "aerial dance" group Momentary Fusion, on unique multimedia projects. Precise lighting cues, illuminating only the area below a trapeze when it is used by the dancers, have resulted in striking effects during their performances. Crisafulli and Momentary Fusion have so far collaborated on two shows, Shifts and High Vaultage. The latter, a project by Crisafulli, Momentary Fusion, and Gareth Williams, won the English National Opera's Stephen Arlen Award in 1995 as "Most Imaginative Project" and the Live! Show's 1996 Silver Award as "Best New Event." The show, involving five dancers and three musicians, was held in the vaulted Victorian Turnhall Building where, besides a series of profile spots for lighting the trapeze work, Crisafulli also used two conference-style overhead projectors fitted with gobos to project images onto the set. While Rocamora and Griffiths danced on the walls, even the flown speaker boxes swung around, adding to the performance's gravity-defying atmosphere.
Crisafulli has recently worked with Kit-Yin Snyder, a Sino-American artist living in New York City who creates wire-mesh sculptures. Last year they collaborated on It is so (if you think so), a Luigi Pirandello work adapted by Snyder. The sculptures were translucent reticular structures, so when the lamp the LD placed moved, it projected constantly changing "perspectives" of the wire modules on the walls. The transformation of the sculptures from solid, ice-like structures to airy, ghostly forms was related to Pirandello's search for the absolute truth, stimulating viewers to form their own interpretation of what they saw. The LD continues to find new ways to challenge audiences.