Not all lighting designers get to repair to the country and work with horses, elephants, and dogs in a pastoral setting. But this is all in a day's work for Sarah Sidman, who joins Big Apple Circus at its 30-acre Slifka Family Creative Center in the village of Walden, NY, for rehearsals with the performers, both biped and quadruped.
Sidman has worked with Big Apple Circus since 1995, assisting on the lighting for two shows, then designing the last three. 1999's Bello and Friends centers around the antics of clown Bello Nock, as he imagines a circus of his own. Sidman's lighting uses more movement than in the past, with five High End Systems Studio Color(R) 250 and five Studio Spot(TM) automated luminaires under the big top.
"This is the first time I use moving lights so heavily," she says. "In the past I used them more as washlights and specials with templates. You rarely saw them move. But having them move is a challenge in an atmosphere where safety is so important."
Her biggest challenge is, of course, the animals. "I need to find something they can work with," she explains. "The horses move so fast that the lights can't really move for them." The same is true for the dogs. "They can't be blinded by too bright of a light in their eyes," says Sidman, whose only technical time with the animals is during their regular practice; there are no stop-and-start rehearsals.
ETC Source Fours with Wybron color scrollers and three different color palettes light the ring, with the lightest colors coming from the cupola 45' (14m) atop the tent and across the full 32' (10m) of the ring. "This helps the horses and the acrobats see the periphery of the ring," says Sidman, who used darker tones for backlight and in fixtures hung on the supporting masts of the tent.
To light the horses, Sidman chose a muted palette with earthy colors including Lee 180 (Dark Lavender) and GAM Products 105X (3/4 Antique Rose) to highlight the dirt floor. As the scene shifts to a more mystical atmosphere, intense blues in the Studio Colors and color correction filters with templates in the Studio Spots are added.
"The idea is to shift the feeling to that of fancy and romance in the medieval world," says Sidman, who added color incrementally to get the horses used to the light. The color also changes as different horses appear. Deep orange and purple are added to complement the hide of a brown horse and its rider's costume.
The dogs in Bello and Friends are new to the circus this year, with their trainer, Violetta, changing her costume every night, wearing a variety of white, blue, green, and red. "I wanted to create a bright and warm atmosphere to focus attention on the dogs," says Sidman, who used more typical circus colors such as Lee 26 Bright Red and Rosco 21 Golden Amber. "The theme of the show is to create whatever you imagine, from the beach to the jungle," says Sidman. "The moving lights give us the possibility to do all this."