In the modern day adaptation of The Frogs, lighting designer Ken Posner took 31 VARI*LITE® luminaires to hell and back.

The play follows the two main characters' journey from contemporary New York City to the underworld and into Hades via the River Styx. Written in 405 B.C. by Aristophanes, the original manuscript focused on a debate between Aeschylus and Euripides over who is the greater artist. The 21st century version has been updated by Nathan Lane and Stephen Sondheim to include William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw as the primary characters.


The Frogs and Nathan Lane. Photo: Paul Kolnik

The original production had an actual pool of water on stage. To simulate the River Styx in the current version, Posner created a beautiful water effect using primarily 16 VL3000™ Spot fixtures with custom gobos and art glass overlaid with VL2000™ Wash luminaires. Posner's automated lighting rig also included 15 VL2000 Wash units. All of the VARI*LITE fixtures were provided by PRG.

"In this one particular scene, the VL3000 Spot fixtures' major task is to provide the water effect," Posner explained. "But they are used in multiple other looks in every scene throughout the production."

One of the most intriguing scenes on the journey down the River Styx is when the two main characters are attacked by two frogs. During the sequence Posner creates lily pads across the onstage river using custom photo-realistic gobos. Half of the automated lighting rig is creating the effect of moving water, and the other half are projecting photo-realistic lily pads, which constantly recompose so that the frogs travel down the river hopping from pad to pad.

To create the constantly shifting feeling of water flowing and rippling, Posner used the fixtures' CYM color-mixing system to create varying colors and the rotating gobo wheels to offer a sense of constant motion and movement.

Constant movement is a theme the lighting design carries throughout the entire production. In another scene, the characters are in a forest where they are attacked again, this time by a flying bird. To create the illusion of a forest, Posner projects custom patters derived from the artwork of the scenery onto the floor. By vibrating the custom forest patterns, Posner creates the sensation of shaking leaves and movement in the air.


Nathan Lane in The Frogs. Photo: Paul Kolnik

"The VL3000 Spot fixtures offer three gobo wheels plus color mixing...plus the incredible brightness," Posner said. "I needed quite a bit of intensity to make the patterns really push through."

The number of gobo slots was also key for Posner in The Frogs. The play travels from modern New York down the River Styx then into Hades, through the mystical forest to the Palace of Pluto. From there it enters Pluto's lair, which is intensely driven by fire and flame.

Because the play travels through so many different environments and locations, the fact that there are 15 different gobo slots on each fixture was critical for Posner to be able to create the atmosphere and sense of being for each specific locale along the journey. The color-mixing was also important because it allowed Posner to morph between two patterns and change colors without having to fade the light out to get into a different color.

"The whole show is basically one live move after another with the cross-fading and transitioning from one look to another," Posner said. "It's very, very detailed programming. The entire show just flows from one cue to the next with these 30 lights."

The Frogs opened July 22 at the Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumount Theatre and runs through Oct. 10.