Who knew 20 years ago when it all started that the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in Brooklyn, NY, would be such a hot commodity 20 years later. After all, festivals come and go and one dedicated to the avant-garde might have had trouble getting jump-started with mainstream audiences. But BAM has managed to keep the Next Wave in the public eye with audiences coming back year after year to see, well, what's next.

Not all of the work is new or truly avant-garde, but it is usually very interesting in terms of stage design. This year as the Next Wave reached that 20-year mark, some of the perennial favorites were back on the roster, including Robert Wilson, whose seminal collaboration with Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach, was really the mother of them all. This year, we got to see his most recent collaboration with singer/songwriter Tom Waits, whose songs added an extra layer of interest to this musical version of Woyzeck, catapulting the 19th-century drama into the 21st century.


Woyzeck photo: Jack Vartoogian

The production opens with a large white curtain with giant cartoon-like letters spelling W-O-Y-Z-E-C-K in red. In front of the curtain is a series of miniature props that look rather like lawn ornaments, including a Ferris wheel, a tree, a bed, a dog, a house with smoke coming out of the chimney, and a woman. The miniatures light up with tiny rows of lights, casting shadows on the curtain, and eventually move offstage on a conveyor belt during the overture. The lighting, designed by A.J. Weissbard and Robert Wilson, evoked Wilson's work in the past, with bold slashes of bright color or tightly framed squares illuminating a hand immobilized in the light. As always, Wilson's work is visually arresting, and with Tom Waits' songs, accessible to a wider audience.


Woyzeck photo: Jack Vartoogian

Also on the roster this year was Mercy, a rather abstract site-specific work by singer/composer/choreographer Meredith Monk and visual/multimedia artist Ann Hamilton. I have to admit I was skeptical of a piece that promised a video camera attached to Monk's teeth. Not for the entire evening, I hoped. I spoke to Noele Stollmack, lighting designer for Mercy, hoping she could indeed shed some light on the event.


Mercy photo: Jack Vartoogian

"The concept is to explore ways and mediums to approach the concept of mercy," says Stollmack. Well, that may not clarify much, but there are moments that make sense in terms of that concept, such as when waves of immigrants walk toward a woman standing on center stage. Eventually you realize that there is a small video camera hidden somewhere in her dress and you see the faces of the immigrants as she would see them. The lighting is designed to work with the camera angles of the wireless video, as well as prerecorded video that is projected from time to time.


Mercy photo: Jack Vartoogian

"I learned what the cameras needed by the time we got to BAM," says Stollmack, as the piece had been touring for a while first, and was reliant on the instruments and console she found in each venue. She would quadruple-hang the ellipsoidals (in most cases ETC Source Fours although the first stop on the tour had Altman 360Qs) so as to be able to match the camera angles. "I would focus each special four times, very subtly from different angles," Stollmack notes. "There are not a lot of cues, so I can hand a printout to the board operator at each venue."

One of the biggest challenges throughout the Next Wave, in terms of lighting, is coming up with the equipment requested by each company. "We are a presenter," says Colman Rupp, who has been the production manager at BAM for the past 10 years. "Every company is presented as they want to be presented. There is no rep plot that we try and make the companies fit into. We ask them for their light plot and see what we can do. Each plot stands on its own, which makes the changeovers more time-consuming."

Rupp's other challenge is finding the specific equipment requested by the many European companies that come to the Next Wave. "We look at the equipment we have versus what they want and try to arrange rentals if we can find comparable equipment." Wilson's Woyzeck is an example. In this case, the plot included High End Systems Studio Colors as well as compact dimmable fluorescents that came with the production. "We just don't have that kind of compact fixture in the United States," Rupp points out. "Ours are much bigger." So the fixtures came with the production from Europe.


Woyzeck photo: Jack Vartoogian

"In addition to the High End fixtures, we also had Martin PAL 1200 and Vari*Lite fixtures this year, used with four different boards," says Rupp, pointing out there is not enough time to reprogram each show into the same board. "We rent the console they need if it's available in the United States. If not, they bring it."

Rupp notes that the most complicated production this year was not the incredible Abbey Theatre production of Medea starring Fiona Shaw, with stunning lighting originally designed by Peter Mumford (and recreated in his absence due to an injury). The lighting accented a stunning set, complete with a pool of water center stage and large glass doors creating the upstage wall. In spite of the complications with the water, Rupp found the the Ninagawa Company's Macbeth to be more complicated.


Macbeth photo: Richard Termine

"There are several reasons," he says. "First you are working with a company from a very different culture and a company that rarely tours. They had to learn to work in a new space. Secondly, the set was all mirrors, both opaque and translucent. It was drop-dead gorgeous but every light leak in the theatre, even the exit signs, was reflected." In this case the rig included Martin PAL 1200 luminaires, rented from Christie Lights, and a Compulite Saber console brought from Japan.


Macbeth photo: Richard Termine

But whatever the companies show up with, Rupp is ready. "I have adapters for equipment from all countries," he says. And both theatres, the BAM Opera House and the Harvey have 200V ETC dimmer racks so as not to have to use transformers for equipment that comes in from Europe.