1776, the hit 1969 musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, made a triumphant return to Broadway this summer in a new production at the Roundabout Theatre. It's a seemingly simple design job--most of the show takes place in the room where the Continental Congress meets. But don't be fooled--there are problems galore. For example, how do you suggest different times and atmospheric changes in a room where the only windows are placed on invisible fourth walls?
The answer, says LD Brian Nason, is window patterns projected in different combinations and styles. "I came up with a million different sets of windows," he says. "I wanted to use them mostly in transitions, because once you get the scene lights up, it's hard for windows to actually read. I planned all the transitions so that the windows would open up into each scene, so that as the turntable [containing Tony Walton's set] came swinging around, I cut those templates right in."
Nason's design was also distinguished by a warm amber candlelit glow that was appropriate to the show's period. "Tony's set was so warm," the LD says. "It had a nice golden quality to it. I had some [Wybron Coloram] scrollers, and I toned the set with as many shades as possible--I got 22 colors out of it." For the play's final scene, which takes place over a number of days, he says, "I wanted to get a different tonality every single time." At times, the lighting of the interior did change dramatically, as in the climactic number "Molasses to Rum to Slaves," in which South Carolina representative Edward Rutledge lashes out at his colleagues for what he perceives as their hypocrisy on the slavery issue; for this number Nason used Great American Market TwinSpins to create movement on the rear wall.
On the few occasions when the action of 1776 moves outdoors, Nason says, "I went nuts with tree patterns. And not just the usual templates--I always try to mix my trees, make a little forest of my own." For one outdoor scene, in which Martha Jefferson sings the ballad "He Plays the Violin," the focus widens sharply to include a window far stage left. "Because she pokes her head out that window," says the LD, "I had to adjust where the box boom was, or else nobody in the back would see it. But they've got some decent positions there, and [Roundabout master technician] Nick Lyndon has really got it covered."
To create his plot, Nason augmented the Roundabout house supply of ETC Source Fours with more of the same, rented from BASH Theatrical Lighting; BASH also supplied two Intellabeam(R) automated luminaires from High End Systems to provide followspotbacklight. The production was run off an ETC Obsession 600 board. There may be more windows in Nason's future; as we go to press, a transfer to a larger Broadway house is planned. For the moment, 1776 continues at the Roundabout through early November.