Vari*Lite(R) automated luminaires made their debut this season at London's Royal National Theatre in a revival of the 1941 Moss Hart/Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill musical Lady in the Dark. Directed by Francesca Zambello for its London premiere in the Lyttleton Theatre, Lady in the Dark has sets by Adrianne Lobel, costumes by Nicky Gillibrand, and lighting by Rick Fisher, who animated his rig with 18 Vari*Lite luminaires.
Lobel's set presented a challenge to the lighting designer, with an array of movable sails that shifted to a different place for each scene, and which prompted Fisher's choice of Vari*Lite units. "They seemed the right response for the musical," says Fisher, "but it was a financial consideration as well, as there is a repertory plot in place and not much of an electrics budget." The eight VL5B(TM) wash luminaires he used will remain at the National as part of a long-term lease agreement for the Cottesloe Theatre. He also added 10 VL5Arc(TM) luminaires to help tell the story of a magazine editor who enters psychoanalysis.
"The six sails are panels of sharkstooth gauze scrim on metal frames which track and pivot," says Fisher. "I needed color-changing options." For the musical's dream sequences he used a dichroic palette of deep saturated colors, moving from open white in the more realistic scenes to deep reds, purples, blues, greens, and yellows as the action becomes more nightmarish. "It's like a play with three mini-operas in it," Fisher observes.
He hung two VL5B luminaires on the proscenium arch as "refocusable people lights. I used very little of the repertory rig," he says, "and no overhead specials." The additional six VL5B luminaires are hung on electrics pipes over the stage, downstage of the set portals. Just upstage of the portals eight of the VL5Arc luminaires are hung, four each on two bars, to light the set, with the other two hung on the top of the proscenium arch, also to light the performers.
The two most realistic sets, for Allure magazine and for a doctor's office, have scrim walls and are also stylized and theatrical in design. "These are not musical scenes," Fisher points out. "The lighting is open white with natural tones and tints. Most of the conventional lighting is used in these scenes, which are naturalistic in terms of color and shape." As the action dissolves into dream sequences, the furniture trucks off, the back wall flies out, and Fisher pumps up the color.
Each of the dream sequences which she describes to her doctor has its own nightmarish quality. The "glamour" dream, with bright blue representing the high life of Hollywood and Broadway, is set against a painted abstract drop with skyscrapers that fly in against it. As the glamour recedes into the horrors of the night, the color changes to acid yellows and greens. A "wedding" dream begins with pale blue in a church. As the black backcloth reveals three stained glass windows, Fisher bounced light off of a white wall upstage. This changes to hot desert colors as our heroine is pursued by a Rudolph Valentino-type on a tropical movie set with two of the sails in pyramid formation and bathed in orange light. A "circus" dream is heavy with saturated colors that change frequently to keep the sequence animated.
"The color dramatically helps tell the story and can be specifically focused on or off the sails as they move from architectural elements to translucent panels," says Fisher. "The Vari*Lite luminaires made it possible to do this production and allow it to play in the National's repertory schedule."