What do you get when you cross a rag-tag group of street performers with a fairy tale in the vein of Cervante's Don Quixote? Thankfully, you get the new Broadway musical Brooklyn, playing at the Plymouth Theatre and featuring a cast of five actors who portray street people doubling as characters in the fantastical tale they weave for the audience.
The street performers all congregate on a sidewalk in front of an abandoned warehouse and regale the audience with a story about an orphaned little girl from France — Brooklyn, the title character — who travels to New York to find her Vietnam veteran father. As the story is told, the actors take on the roles of the characters while still maintaining the same locale. It is up to the characters' ingenuity to create props and costumes (courtesy of Tobin Ost) out of found objects; one character refers to her style as “Salvation Armani.”
Lighting designer Michael Gilliam had to create both a gritty urban feel as well as contemporary rock concert-style lighting, since the play tells the tale of a duo of battling divas, with performances that range from a Paris café to Carnegie Hall to Madison Square Garden. “My goal was to reflect the urban style while slowly evolving into more of a concert theme but still reflecting that urban style,” Gilliam explains. To keep that urban feel in the concert environments, Gilliam used “urban” gobos in patterns that consisted of trussing, sewer grating, and scaffolding designs.
Color was also vital to the setting. Even though the story is told on a sidewalk at night, Gilliam realized that he certainly could not use only typical “nighttime” white and blue light to relay the story. “If we did traditional lighting from the street, it wouldn't have much of a range for this show, so I used color very much as a language,” he explains. Certain characters brought about their own colors. For example, Faith — Brooklyn's mother — used a pink or a reddish color to support her, so when there were flashbacks, it was always a happy feeling.
At other times, color reflected location; a picnic scene was lit with green, the Vietnamese jungles were green and yellow, and churches were lavender. “I tried to use the color to support the location we were in as well as the characters in those scenes,” Gilliam says. “We tried to support where their lighting on the street may come from but then went to where they might be if they were at Carnegie Hall and Radio City. It needed color just to support that music, which has so many changes. A designer's goal is to support the composer's musical intentions and where they're taking us as well.”
To get those colors across, Gilliam used High End Systems Studio Spots® and Martin MAC 2000s for the Broadway production; the show had its debut in Denver this past summer, where he depended more on color scrollers. “The color is much more vibrant and intense [on Broadway],” he said, adding that the color looked great in Denver but that there is more “excitement” on Broadway. “We didn't have the moving heads in Denver, so we couldn't do any live moves. We couldn't bounce from color to color like you can with intelligent fixtures.”
While in Denver on the smaller-scale production, Gilliam stated that they lacked a certain punch required for some elements of the show. “Most of the show looked okay, but the big concert segments were lacking,” he says. “But we knew that, and we warned the producers that we wouldn't have that. It was just a workshop, so they were saving money on the lighting end. We had it in our minds that, once we got to New York, we would have the concert lighting. Once we got here, we had to figure out what our budget would allow.”
Luckily for Gilliam, what the Broadway budget did allow was for him to not only have automated fixtures, but to have an associate LD, Warren Flynn. He was grateful to have both because his own experience was limited when it came to lighting rock concerts. “I've seen a lot and done some,” he says, adding that he did the concert lighting segments for the Diana Ross/Brandy TV movie Double Platinum, using Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre for its concert scenes.
In working with Flynn — who also served as the moving light programmer — Gilliam would explain what he wanted, and Flynn would then show him ideas, and they would work together to further create the look. The difference between concert lighting and theatrical lighting for Gilliam is in the text of the music. “The lyrics in a musical really do tell a story,” he says. “You have to find a balance between concert lighting and supporting the story. The balance between ‘flash and trash’ and upstaging the actor is an important one to find.” Flynn programmed the moving lights on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II console, and Gilliam used an ETC Obsession® II for the conventionals.
Flynn, for his part, was pleased to be providing the needed “flash and trash” for the concert settings, since he has a great deal of experience in designing automated lights for a seemingly endless number of concerts. “I've toured with every rock and roll act from Venom to Barbra Streisand,” he says, “so my rock and roll experience really came in handy on this show.”
Flynn was brought in because Gilliam had not worked extensively with moving fixtures. “The style of this show is very broad; it's not about subtlety,” Gilliam explains. “There was not a lot of fine-tuned focusing, which we completed on the first day in New York. The conventionals aren't as important here as the movers. Luckily, with Warren's help and because I had done the show before, we actually got through the entire tech process in three days, which was quite amazing with 48 moving heads. Everybody was shocked, and we did four run-throughs before the first invited dress rehearsal.”
Also, Flynn was able to put some of his own designs into the show — with Gilliam's approval, of course. “It was good for me because I got to put a lot of my stuff out there,” Flynn says. “Michael liked a lot of it, but he also changed a lot of it, but that's his prerogative; he's the captain of the ship.” Flynn added that it was a very collaborative effort and environment, which was fostered by not only the lighting team, but by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. “Jeff gave notes to both Michael and me, so I felt like I was really a big part of the process, which was great.”
Despite this inclusion, Flynn adds that, as a moving light programmer, it is not unusual to feel a little left out of the process, since he is not the primary LD. Not involved in all the production meetings, he came to the table a little less informed. “I don't really know where the story's going until I get there,” he says. “The show had been lit in Denver before, so there was a certain look the director and music director all knew they wanted to see, except for the changes that every show goes through when it gets to the city. It was hard adding into that without taking away what they already had. Making what they already had in Denver look better for them and the audience was our main goal.”
Gilliam, who has worked extensively in regional theatres around the country, had never worked with an associate LD, but relished the experience. “I loved working with Warren. I could tell him the things I wanted and then go about my business,” he says. “Then, we could work, and I would comment on what he had done, and it really sped up the process, as opposed to holding us back, like I thought might happen.”
It appears as though Gilliam has been spoiled by the working relationship with Flynn. “He has a really good eye, so he not only did what I wanted him to do on the movers, but he would comment on things I missed on the conventionals,” Gilliam says. “We work together well. I would work with an associate LD again, especially if he was available. Once we started [run-throughs] with the actors, Warren really got on the page with me and could add to it, and that doesn't always happen.”
Brooklyn Gear List
|2||ETC Source Fours® 19∞|
|15||ETC Source Fours 19∞ 575W|
|74||ETC Source Fours 26∞ 575W|
|32||ETC Source Fours 36∞ 575W|
|40||ETC Source Four® PAR MFLs 575W|
|1||ETC Source Four PAR WFL|
|6||ETC Source Four PAR WFLs 575W|
|10||Martin Professional Mac2000s|
|1||High End Systems Studio Beam®|
|27||High End Systems Studio Beams 700|
|11||High End Systems Studio Spots® 700|
|22||Wybron 7.5" RAM LIs 15W|
|9||Altman MR16 Birdies @ EZK 150W|
|24||2' Altman MR16 3-Cir EYC Ministrips 250W|
|2||Lycian 1290 XLTs 2000W|
|8||Wybron 7.5" Cxi 15W|
|8||Rose Brand/Great Lakes Scenic Star Drops|
|1||MDG Fogger 575W|