Paul Rudnick's Valhalla is a madcap romp through two centuries: 19th-century Bavaria and 1930s-40s Texas. The stories of two gay men, King Ludwig II and James Avery of Dainsville, Texas, are intertwined with a large serving of wit. Directed fluidly by Christopher Ashley at New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan's East Village, the designs by Thomas Lynch (sets), William Ivey Long (costumes), Mark Bennett (sound) and Kenneth Posner (lighting) help move the action and the audience between centuries.
“In our initial design meetings, it was decided that no single element would carry the entire weight of the play. We created a collage of ideas to draw from,” says Posner, who used a very saturated rig for his end of the bargain. The set gave him an interesting canvas, with a gold-leaf floor under clear Plexiglas, an upstage brick wall with faded signs and words from old billboards, and a fancy gilded column straight from a 19th-century castle (that revolves to reveal a gym locker). Posner added four booms, two on each side. “These define the space and make it more intimate,” he notes. Two dozen ACLs are used as low side-light to blend and fill, as well as punctuate a gunshot with a crisp, bright flash.
“Each era has its own lighting vernacular,” says Posner. “Texas has Southern hues such as amber and lavender, and the lighting comes from a lower angle, as if the sun were just coming up or setting behind the horizon.” In contrast, the 19th century is very lush, with deep gold, green, and purple — a look Posner calls “diamonds on a velvet cushion.”
The house rig is primarily ETC Source Fours, with an ETC Obsession II console. Posner augmented the rig with two City Theatrical Auto Yokes, six High End Systems Studio Color wash luminaires, and 16 Wybron scrollers. He also tested two new ETC Revolution fixtures (borrowed directly from ETC and given a big thumbs up by the designer).
The brick wall was lit with mini-strips to accent its texture, while L&E baby broad cycs were placed in a trough recessed into the deck at the bottom of the wall to create the sense of the horizon, with orange, amber, and dark blue gels for the Texas lighting vocabulary.
For an underground grotto scene in Bavaria, the Studio Colors make fast color changes possible: as the actors name a color, it happens. Posner used crushed glass dichroic filters from Apollo and Rosco in Source Fours. “They create a rainbow, kaleidoscopic effect,” he explains.
Another big lighting moment is in the Hall of Mirrors, where two-dozen gobo rotators in Source Fours with crystallized glass patterns make it look as if the light is reflecting off the various surfaces. “The lighting is carved out for each of the smaller scenes,” says Posner, as the action moves rapidly between locales. “Choices were driven by the characters and their social standing, and the color palette in the lighting was informed by what was happening in the costumes.”
Eventually the two worlds collide. “The design vocabulary was set up early,” says Posner. “This way the audience would understand where we were in time and place later in the play.”