At the Broadway Lighting Master Classes on Tuesday, May 24, lighting designers Beverly Emmons and Clifton Taylor will talk about their use of color in the theater. Taking on a subject that often lives in the realm of intuition and the sub-conscious, the two designers discuss ways to talk about color with your collaborators and to discover solutions to practical color problems that often arise at the design table. Here Clifton Taylor waxes eloquent on the subject of color:

"First for me, is remembering that color is a tool. It is a really important tool but we should always remember that like all our tools, color is in the service of our bigger goal, which is storytelling. So, what is storytelling for a lighting designer? It’s probably not the same story that the set designer or costume designer or the performers are telling but it is of course related. For instance, perhaps the lighting needs to tell us that that there is a storm going on. That's a story and it can be told in a million ways in light. Color is an important aspect of that story and it has to be chosen in relation to the set, the costumes and the action of the play.

So, how do we choose colors to best tell our story? I like to look at a lot of sources. Palettes can come from so many places, and it is our job as designers to sort through these possible sources and find a coherent solution in order to fulfill our story telling goals. In this case, I might begin my work by looking at the work of JMW Turner, the English landscape painter, in order to study the colors that he used in his palettes, which so beautifully depicted stormy atmospheres and light. I might ask myself how 'real' does the scene need to be? Is it a storm in a musical, a realistic drama, a comedy?

Answering this question of style often leads me to solutions about saturation choices. Because saturation can be thought of as a separate aspect of color, we can manipulate a given palette either up or down on the saturation scale to communicate information about style to an audience. After having some thought about palette and saturation, I feel I'm ready to talk with my collaborators. What are the local colors of the scenery and the costumes? Will the lighting palette choices help the other designers tell their stories? Are there changes that I need to make to better work with their color choices? In the best productions, great relationships between the scenery, lighting and costumes will lead to a unique and beautiful solution to each designer's storytelling challenge.

After coming up with a palette idea, the next step for me is figuring out how to arrange this palette into a lighting plot. Deciding how to deploy our ideas about color is often what can separate a great design from a disaster. R95 (a deep blue green) might be a part of our rainy day story, but it might not be the best choice for the acting area key light. Perhaps it could be used to color in the shadows or as part of the background. If it’s a shadow color, perhaps it should be shifted to a more recessive version of deep blue green to better help it hide underneath other colors. If it’s falling onto a sky that is painted in blues and greens, perhaps it should be de-saturated so that the painting can be better seen.

I go through each color in each system in this way during the process of coming up with a design. A great design for me embodies choices that uniquely make sense as a part of all these interlocking stories."

Clifton Taylor, April 2011

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Registration Info For the 2011 Broadway Master Classes