It was a midsummer's dream come true: Legendary director Peter Hall trained American actors in Shakespearean technique, and they presented Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night's Dream in repertory at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, June 20 to August 1, to generally good reviews. One critic cited the lighting by Richard Pilbrow as "a standout performance."
The two plays, opposite in tone, were performed on the same minimal set by John Gunter. "There was a great need for visual variety to come from the lighting," says Pilbrow. "John Gunter also did the costumes, which were fabulous--they of course brought a lot of variety to it, but essentially the challenge was to make the audience think they were seeing two completely different shows. And then, to do it in repertoire, the changeover had to be less than half an hour. We set out not to have any electrics changeover, and we didn't have to move or re-rig anything between shows."
Automated equipment was invaluable to achieving this objective, especially since Hall's "approach is to bring the actors onto the stage and create the final production through technical and dress rehearsals--even previews," Pilbrow explains. "This means that blocking, scenery, and lighting are all prone to change right up to the last moment, until he's satisfied that every option has been explored and the best solutions found. For lighting, even with the most precise planning in advance, we had to be ready for anything. Indeed, that's perhaps what preplanning is for, to enable the artists to creatively ad-lib as freely as possible."
Flying Pig Systems' Wholehog II console with WYSIWYG software "made manipulating the VL5s and VL6s both fast and comparatively straightforward," the LD continues. "Preset focuses and colors, which could be set in seconds rather than hours, plus the ability to speedily refocus by dragging one or more light beams across the computer screen rather than by twiddling knobs on the desk all made it possible to keep up with the action. WYSIWYG and the Wholehog did well for the Bard."
For Measure for Measure Pilbrow used very little color, to keep the tone "stark and tough." In the several prison scenes he used multiple bar gobos, "in a completely unrealistic, almost stylized way." He also notes that "there was a lot of sidelight throughout. Underneath the very pale colors I was using richer colors from the scrollers to add depth to costumes."
The LD gave A Midsummer Night's Dream a warmer yet otherworldly quality with soft breakup gobos in blues and greens (Richard Thomas as Puck, above). "There are some hilariously funny scenes," he says, "which in a house that size you couldn't do anything else than light pretty brightly. But we tried to keep the gobos reading so that you always had the sense that you were in the forest." Two followspots on Titania and Oberon accented their faces while leaving the set dappled.
Lighting instruments included 10 Vari*Lite(R) VL5Bs(TM), 19 VL6s(TM), 26 Wybron Coloram scrollers, plus about 190 ETC Source Fours and 180 Altman ellipsoidals, six Strand Coda 500W single-cell cyclights, 29 NSP 1kW PAR-64s, and six 9-light, 3-circuit 1kW PAR-64 striplights. Rosco 1500 foggers and High End Systems Dataflash(R) AF1000 strobe units provided atmosphere; control was via an ETC Obsession II.
Pilbrow applauds his crew, including associate LD Dawn Chiang, head electrician Terry Callaway, Wholehog operator Pam Monroe, plus Scott Allison and Buddy Tobie, for enduring the grueling schedule.