Seen in London:

One of the most popular booths at the recent PLASA trade show in London was the Rest and Relaxation area set up by Light Relief, a non-profit effort to raise money for lighting industry folks in financial distress due to illness, etc. The massages offered by Light Relief (at £1 per minute) were very popular and hopefully raised a lot of money for the cause. The poster boy for the effort is ETC's Fred Foster, who looked absolutely in heaven as he had his feet massaged.

Foster in footsie heaven

ETC is one of the Light Relief sponsors, along with various industry companies. For more information about this important effort, check out their website at Lampert-Gréaux

Also Seen in London: Anyone who likes Matthew Bourne should rush to the Royal National Theatre and grab a ticket for Play Without Words, with sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable, and sound design by Christopher Shutt. Subtitled "The Housewarming," Bourne's piece is loosely based on the film The Servant, with a lot of sexy dancing mixed with seduction and betrayal. The set is an odd perspective view of Beaufort Square in London, with three of the classic red London phone boxes in shrinking sizes, and two sets of stairs, one coming up from the Beaufort Street underground station and one representing the house. A five-piece musical ensemble offstage left adds a jazzy undertone to the work in which three dancers play each role with cool precision. The staging is very clever, as the stairway moves about the stage and the lighting adds ambiance and atmosphere to each scene. I hope this piece comes to the United States in a hurry. I can't wait to see it again.

Also at the Royal National is The Coast of Utopia. OK, I'll admit, the idea of a 12-hour theatre-a-thon (11am-11pm) the day after flying to London from New York might sound a little daunting. But when it's a trilogy of new plays by the wordmaster himself, Tom Stoppard, it was not to be missed. The three plays, Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage are packaged under the title The Coast of Utopia and are performed in the Olivier Theatre at London's Royal National Theatre. Each play could be seen alone, but they are best seen in sequential order since the action follows a group of Russian romantics and revolutionaries caught up in the struggle for political freedom in the mid-19th century, as they come of age under the Tsarist autocracy of Nicholas I. A cast of more than 30 actors plays more than 50 different roles as the action moves from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Paris to Nice and London.

Directed by Trevor Nunn with set, costume, and video design by William Dudley, lighting by David Hersey, and sound by Paul Groothuis, the production was exquisite to look at. The design concept includes large upstage panels that echo the shape of the turntable on the Olivier stage. Three video projectors provide floor-to-ceiling images that are front-projected from a steep enough angle not to hit the actors. The fluidity of the video makes for almost cinematic scenery as well as fast scene changes. At other moments, the video allows the images to literally swirl, as when the characters are ice-skating and the lakeside landscape follows their movement. Hersey's lighting helps define the actors against the video backdrop, and also adds an extra layer of textures as he uses various gobos and patterns on the floor, and occasionally against the video as well. A full-bodied design for Stoppard's full-bodied plays.--ELG

Seen in New York: Set designer Michael McGarty made his New York City Opera debut with the heart-stopping production of Dead Man Walking, with score by Jake Heggie and libretto by playwright Terrence McNally. One multi-level set creates a variety of locales, from the death-row prison with its tall guard towers on either side of the stage, to a cellblock meeting room where much of the action takes place, as well as a convent house, schoolroom, and courthouse. The opening murder scene takes place upstage with a convertible car in dark, shadowy lighting and on a raked platform behind a row of trees that flies out. Lighting designer Brian Nason later uses bold stokes of color, giving the metal prison towers and cells a metallic glow, with unusual tones such as chrome yellow to add power to an already powerful opera. Projection designer Elaine McCarthy provides a series of down-home black-and-white images that take us through the state of Louisiana as Sister Helen Prejean drives to the prison and meets the condemned man who will change the direction of her life forever.--ELG

Seen Off Broadway: Three-Cornered Moon, by Gertrude Tonkonogy, was a small hit on Broadway in 1933 starring Ruth Gordon; a year later, it was made into a film starring Claudette Colbert. That was the last anyone heard of it, until now; it is currently being revived by the Keen Company, the group that had a success last season with another vintage play, The Voice of the Turtle. Three-Cornered Moon is a very 1930s piece of work, about the Rimplegars, a screwy Brooklyn clan. Thanks to money left by their late patriarch, each is free to pursue his or her most neurotic and dilettante-ish interests--until their dizzy mother loses every penny in the stock market. This kind of period screwball comedy is a lost art and director Carl Forsman is ill at ease in the play's first half, during which the Rimplegars run amuck. The staging is imprecise and the actors are grimly determined to be funny, never the best approach. Forsman hits his stride in the last act, with his sensitive handling of the love triangle that provides the central action of the play.

Still, this is a problematic production. In the uneven cast, Nick Toren (who was also in Voice of the Turtle) has the best handle on period style, and Maggie Lacey, in the Gordon-Colbert role, improves throughout the show. The scenery, a dining room and hall, by Nathan Heverin, is surprisingly good for this budget level; however, this kind of realistic set is the hardest to bring off in an Off Off Broadway environment, and a certain level of detail is missing. The same is true of Theresa Squire’s costumes. Josh Bradford’s lighting and Stefan Jacob’s sound are both straightforward. Three-Cornered Moon isn’t unpleasant, but it needs a more skilled, confident production for its somewhat limited virtues to shine through.--David Barbour

Seen and Heard at New York City Opera: Il Trittico, a trio of one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini, with sets by Allen Moyer costumes by Bruno Schwengl, and lighting by Christopher Akerlind. Right off I want to say: If you go, stay for the third opera, Gianni Schicchi. Get some coffee at one of the two intermissions, do whatever you gotta do, because this one is the only comedy of the evening and the design is a knockout punch that's worth the wait. That said, the wait isn't exactly terrible; it's just a longish evening. Both Il Tabarro, a vignette of love and adultery on the banks of the Seine, and Suor Angelica, a study of love, suffering, and mortal sin, look swell and sound great. The trio begins with Il Tabarro, a dark story darkly lit. Moyer's set represents a boat, docks, and gangplank with a few deft touches. It's all surrounded by a forced-perspective box that narrows upstage. It certainly looks like a shadowy, treacherous dock under a bridge and Akerlind's lighting echoes the claustrophobic, murky feel of the set and the piece. The women's costumes have a 50s, Anna Magnani feel, especially on the voluptuous soprano Fabiana Bravo, but the overall palette was unremittingly brown and muddy.

Suor Angelica is set in a convent, all lit and dressed in Virgin Mary blue and saintly white. In a complete turnaround from Il Tabarro, the lighting is ultra-bright. The set looks like a 1950s school or hospital room, with a large floor-to-ceiling window upstage. The nuns' costumes are blue and white, matching the blue and white light and blue and steel sets. A costume standout is Suor (Sister) Angelica's aunt, who comes to the convent with some very bad news. She is in a tailored brown suit shot through with lamé threads, fur hat and muff, and snappy leather gloves, which the singer Ursula Ferri uses with much operatic flourish.

Suor Angelica is tough going in parts--I heard more sniffling than usual in addition to the coughing and rustling (can you people say "Ricola?")--but beautifully sung and staged. But the evening's "dessert" was Gianni Schicchi The forced-perspective box is back in this opera, completely covered in a hilarious geometric Op-Art pattern. At certain points in the action, the back of the box slides open to reveal a "window" looking out at Florence. Nearly everybody in this ensemble piece is dressed in black and white (the exceptions being the title character, his young daughter, and a small boy) to match the black and white scenery. My favorite costume was an homage to Dior's post-WWII New Look--hourglass shape, voluminous skirt, picture hat, and elegant accessories. The men's haberdashery ran the gamut from pinstriped three-piece suits to all-white wife-beater-and-pleated-pants ensembles. The scenery in Gianni Schicchi was absolutely as witty and madcap as the plot without stepping on the show. --Liz French

Seen at the Movies: The Four Feathers is a big, handsome remake of the old British Empire chestnut, directed by Shekhar Kapur and photographed by Robert Richardson with great flair, especially during a few hair-raising battle sequences. Probably not too much can be done to give the story, about a Victorian army officer branded a coward who spends the rest of the movie in the war-torn Sudan trying to make amends, contemporary relevance. Certainly the leads gathered here—Heath Ledger as the coward, Wes Bentley as his best friend, and Kate Hudson as his disappointed fiancée—are a pallid lot, who struggle to give force to their characters' passions (and accents). When Djimon Hounsou turns up as Ledger's sidekick (a relic of earlier conventions that Hounsou does his best to dignify), he wipes everyone else off the screen.

No expense was spared on Allan Cameron's production design, which subs Morocco for Sudan, and Ruth Myers' costumes run the late 19th-century gamut from English military finery to various African tribal dress. The one technical misstep is the cocoa butter-colored makeup the very blond Ledger wears to successfully pass as an Arab—it's very John Derek in Exodus. The Four Feathers has been cut down from a much longer initial cut, and it has a lurching, sometimes confusing quality. The film is not very good, but I found it fairly painless to watch.

Pain is very much to the point of Steven Shainberg's Secretary--the pleasure and fulfillment to be found in pain, that is. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the title character, a withdrawn young woman prone to self-mutilation, who emerges from her shell under the stern tutelage (and spanking hand) of her employer, played by James Spader. This is a pretty audacious movie: it says that S&M is a good thing, at least for these characters. Shainberg and his fervent performers make you buy it, and the film has a bonus in the bizarre production design of the aptly named Amy Danger--the nearly windowless office setting is full of heavy wooden furniture and orchid beds, and conveys the feeling of an exotic, insulated hothouse. For a piece on Danger, see the October issue of Entertainment Design.

For pure arthouse fun, nothing around can beat Francois Ozon's 8 Women. This tribute to those two inseparables—cinematic artifice and female glamour—is remarkable for its collection of French divas on one set: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, the legendary and seemingly ageless Danielle Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier, and Firmine Richard. There is only one set, an elegant French country house where a murder (of an offscreen male) has been committed, designed by Arnaud de Moleron to evoke the Anglo castles and manors so commonly seen in murder mysteries. De Moleron and cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie consciously went for a Technicolor palette that would relate 8 Women to its 1950s setting, and to the Douglas Sirk dramas of that period. Ditto the amazing, color-coded costumes by Pacaline Chavanne, which lean heavily on Dior. Each actress is given her moment in the spotlight, coming forward in her vibrant, corseted costume to sing a song—something Lana Turner never did.--John Calhoun

Seen and heard at Battery Park: Parsons Dance Company at the Evening Stars Music and Dance Festival, part of the Downtown NYC River to River Festival 2002, sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Parsons Dance Company was scheduled to perform on September 11, 2001, at this same dance festival, which was situated at the World Trade Center plaza. Mark Van Tassel of Prism Theatrical Lighting served as lighting designer/director for the festival last year and wrote a journal of his experiences for us. The festival is back this year, relocated to Battery Park, and Van Tassel again designed the stage and rep plot and served as lighting director for 13 different dance companies. He has also updated his personal story, a year in the life of a New York City LD, which will be featured as an online exclusive on in October.

Urban Bush Women rehearse on the stage at the 2002 Evening Stars Music and Dance Festival at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Mark Van Tassel.

Seen at the Rose Center for Earth and Space: the International Tahitian Pearl Trophy, sponsored by the Tahitian pearl board, Perles de Tahiti. Jewelry designers around the world submitted designs incorporating Tahitian pearls, which are considered the most luxurious and desirable of all pearls. Winners of 10 different categories, from rings and bracelets to wearable accessories and free design, were awarded Lalique crystal trophies by host Philip Bloch, celebrity stylist.

The venue chosen for the event is certainly fitting--the Rose Center building features an 87'-diameter aluminum-clad sphere set in a 95'-high glass cube. (The Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History houses the Hayden Planetarium.) The event took place in the ground floor rotunda underneath the sphere, the bottom of which served as a projection surface for color and patterns from six Vari*Lite VL1000s. Event producers hired Bernhard-Link Theatrical (BLT) to provide lighting for the party and awards show and to build scenic stations on which the winning designs would be displayed.

The stations displaying the winning jewelry designs had to blend with the design of the existing exhibits (above).

Six stations were set in two arcs around the rotunda and needed to blend in with the existing exhibits. Bernhard-Link designed and built small round tables of light gray laminate tilted at an angle. Graceful curved arms held flat-screen video terminals above, with two small goose-neck luminaires aimed down at the award-winning designs on display. BLT also built a half-round stage with a half-round backing piece, like a stylized oyster shell opened up.

On the day of the event, BLT had just three hours to load in before the doors opened. This event was just one of dozens that Bernhard-Link Theatrical is designing lighting and/or scenery for during New York's Fashion Week. The company is also responsible for all shows in the Celeste Bartos Forum at the New York Public Library and in the Theatre in adjacent Bryant Park. --Amy L. Slingerland

Heard From Out There: Lighting designer Willie Williams (who designed the video component for the current Rolling Stones tour) is designing the visual accompaniment for "Sun Rings," a musical composition by Terry Riley to be played by the Kronos String Quartet. Produced in association with NASA on the 25th anniversary of Voyager in space, the piece will premiere in late October at the University of Iowa. "It is a simple stage production, with a big video backdrop and lots of little light bulbs," says Williams, who is incorporating archive photographs and video images taken with the 1970s technology aboard the Voyager. "It needs to be more than a planetarium experience," he adds. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to blast off.--ELG