It's not every day that a correspondent for Lighting Dimensions gets to ride in an elevator with Jane Fonda, or even Linda Gray. But this day is February 12, 2001, otherwise known as V-Day at Madison Square Garden. V-Day is an annual event designed to raise awareness of, and put an end to, violence against women. This year's event was a production of Eve Ensler's Off Broadway hit The Vagina Monologues, with an unbelievably starry cast that included, in alphabetical order, Mary Alice, the singing group Betty, Kathleen Chalfant, Claire Danes, Linda Ellerbee, Calista Flockhart, Linda Gray, Teri Hatcher, Carol Kane, Julie Kavner, Shirley Knight, Swoosie Kurtz, Ricki Lake, Queen Latifah, Mary McCormick, Kathy Najimy, Cynthia Nixon, Joan Osborne, Rosie Perez, Brook Shields, Gloria Steinem, Marisa Tomei, Rita Wilson--and yes, Jane Fonda. They were joined by women from such countries as Bosnia, South Africa, and Afghanistan for a celebration of women that, according to witnesses, had the power and intensity of a revival meeting.
The scene at the Garden the morning of February 12, in which is your correspondent is traveling in such glamorous company, is one of controlled chaos, with people searching for dressing rooms, sound and light cues being programmed, and various performers running through their lines onstage. Suddenly, a loud voice rings out over the Madison Square Garden sound system, screaming a common four-letter word beginning with the letter C (think of a synonym for "vagina"). The sound is shattering, upsetting. Standing next to her lighting console, LD Beverly Emmons chuckles to herself. "That's Glenn Close," she says. "She does that all night long."
When it comes to The Vagina Monologues, Emmons is an expert. Having designed the original Off Broadway production, she has also seen it take off in every direction. "There is a tour, which has been out since September," she says. "It goes in for one-, two-, or three-night stands, with two touring cast members joined by one local actress. That will be out for a year and a half, and they're adding another one in September. In addition, there are sit-down productions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, and Boston. In Toronto, the touring company was only there for a week, but the locals demanded a production of their own." All of these have been designed by Emmons, with her associates Eric Cornwell and Joel Pape overseeing their implementation. In addition, she says, "Eve Ensler is doing it in London in May. It's running in Lahore, Pakistan and Hong Kong--and Eve just came back from the opening in Bulgaria." Other productions have opened in Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. And why not? "At last count, more than half the human race was interested in this issue," adds Emmons, laughing.
The international productions have other designers, but that's all right, as clearly the North American versions keep Emmons and company busy. It's not the easiest task to transfer a production from the downstairs venue at the Westside Arts Theatre on 43rd Street, with a cast of three, to Madison Square Garden with a cast of dozens, with a tight time frame. But with a dedicated team of colleagues, the LD pulled it off with surprising speed and efficiency.
Each person on Emmons' team had a specific skill to contribute. First off was LD Kevin Lawson, an associate of television LD Allen Branton, and a former lighting fellow at the Lincoln Center Institute, where Emmons teaches. According to Emmons, "I said to Kevin, "You've worked the Garden before. Help!" He developed the plot and talked it through the shop." The equipment specified by Lawson included 44 Vari-Lite 5B™ wash luminaries and ten Vari-Lite VL7™ spot luminaries, along with 24 High End Systems Studio Color® units, all arranged in a square truss arrangement hung from the ceiling of the stage in the center of the Garden. (Also included in the gear lineup were two Reel EFX DF50 hazers).
Next, Emmons called in programmer Laura Frank. "I roughed in what I was going to need and described to Laura how the cues should work and what colors I wanted to mix," says Emmons. "She had two days of prep time, using WYSIWIG in the shop. I gave her a cue list, showing her where various things would happen. I developed the cue-to-cue list on Tuesday; we were in the shop on Thursday and Friday. The crew loaded into the Garden at midnight on Saturday, and I met Laura at 6am. We had two-thirds of the show done between six and nine." Cues were programmed into a Wholehog® II console from High End Systems/Flying Pig Systems.
Emmons says she and Frank worked speedily because, "I made it simple. I didn't do a million cues. We didn't do a lot of internal cues in the monologues." The cast was seated on all four sides of the stage, in an area appropriately known as the vulva. At the top of each piece, followspots picked out three actresses as they walked from their seats to the stage (there were nine spots, three to a cast member). Otherwise, Emmons says, she based her work and color palette based on the show's original design at the Westside Arts Theatre. The color lineup included GAM 250 (Medium Red XT), GAM 106 (1/2 Antique Rose), Lee 002 (Rose Pink), Lee 202 (Half C. T. Blue), R80 (Primary Blue) and Lee 201 (Full C. T. Blue), R53 (Pale Lavender), R337 (True Pink), and GAM 850 (Blue, Primary).
The design may have been simple but, in keeping with the tenor of the event, was highly theatrical, too. Emmons again mentions the collaboration of her team members (which also included gaffer David Oakes). "If I hadn't had Laura and Kevin, I would have been in much deeper trouble--they were fabulous. And thanks to Eric Cornwell, I didn't even have to think about the followspots. You know, I don't like one-night stands anymore. I've gotten so that I like the preview process, because I like making the design better. Here, the work was so neat and clean, that what we tried to accomplish was big, bold, and simple, and it really worked."
It's a simple description of job satisfaction. And here's another: "In each version of this production featuring three actresses," says Emmons, "including the tour, $10 comes off the top of the ticket for violence-against-women causes. At the end of the year, they will have raised $6 million."
Once again, a woman named Eve has accomplished big things in the Garden.
Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect.