Shakespeare expressed what most of us know only all too well: "the course of true love never did run smooth." It didn't run smooth [sic] in Shakespeare's time, and it sure didn't run smooth in the chaotic, glittering 1970s. So directors/creators Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner have updated A Midsummer Night's Dream, transforming it into an hour-long disco music extravaganza entitled The Donkey Show, A Midsummer Night's Disco. Rather than a romanticized romp through a forest near Athens, it's now a bawdy bump-and-grind at a 1970s disco--and it was up to LD Kevin Adams and his High End Systems(R) automated luminaires to illuminate and chart the rough course of modern love.
Adams had the task of lighting not only the dance floor but also some peripheral areas of El Flamingo, an actual club on West 21st Street in New York. The Donkey Show is a fast-moving show that features Puck (here named Rollerena) on roller skates, and sexy dancers (Oberon and Tytania's attending fairies) with whom the audience members--participation optional, thank you--can show off their own dance moves to some of the era's biggest hits (think "I Love the Nightlife," "I'm Your Boogie Man," "You Sexy Thing"). And then there are those famous lovers, Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena (here named Sander, Dimitri, Mia, and Helen) running after--and away from--each other. The four brave the strobing lights and smoky air as each tries to find his/her true love (actually, the performers playing the four are all women, donning or doffing mustaches as required). Oberon is now a club owner and Tytania (the new show's spelling) is, as the program describes her, "Oberon's disco-diva girlfriend," running around in pasties and not much else.
Adams' goal was straightforward: create as disorienting and chaotic an experience as possible--which is how he for one "vaguely recalls" the 70s club experience. "What I remember about the disco experience then was that there was a lot of smoke in the air and a lot of strobing. It was a disorienting effect. You really don't find that in clubs anymore because they are so big and because there is a different aesthetic. I didn't want The Donkey Show to look too contemporary or 'ravy.' I wanted to keep it true to the period."
Adams' initial design therefore did not call for moving lights: "I wanted something kind of lower tech." He thought a package of ETC Source Fours would deliver a 70s look "but still have a lot of movement."
There wasn't enough power available for Adams' lighting instruments on top of the club's existing lights, however; and since the space needed to turn back into a club on non-show nights, there wasn't room for dueling equipment. There was also the very basic problem of not having storage space for the dimmer rack.
At the suggestion of production manager David A. Gilman, Adams turned to moving lights--a prospect that didn't exactly thrill the designer at first: "I was kind of down on it because I had never used them before, and I thought, we really don't have time to program them." But Adams was proved wrong--he quickly came to understand how they work, and he employed programmers Charlie Morrison, Craig Caccamise, and Brady Jarvis, who were "terrific and quick."
The eventual package, supplied by Production Arts, consisted of six High End Studio Color(R) automated wash luminaires and six High End Studio Spot(TM) automated luminaires with dichroic filters. The design was supplemented by two Source Fours (part of the original package) retrofitted with City Theatrical color boomerangs, balancing arms, and yokes to form followspots.
Adams was particularly pleased with the High End units' color selection. The Donkey Show is, it is safe to say, all about color--saturated, saturated, saturated color: dark reds, dark blues, and dark blue-violets. Adams lovingly refers to the "wonderful, garish yellow and wonderful, garish blue-greens."
Adding to the "trippy" atmosphere was a Reel EFX DF-50 haze machine: "We had a huge amount of smoke running from preshow through the whole show. It was a pleasure to send those instruments through smoke." Also contributing to the disorienting effect were the strobe effects, another selling point of the High End units. Adams lauds their versatility, particularly the different strobe speeds, like random, random fast, and steady strobe. The designer also "tucked" a High End Dataflash(R) in one corner for additional strobing. Notes Adams: "The strobe effects really helped us. They make everything more chaotic."
Adams chose not to use the moving lights for "swooping around. I thought that looked very contemporary." He also avoided any templates that looked "a little ravy." One that did work was a red template with white dots. Spinning around the hazy space, it conveyed Adams' vision of the disco era.
Using automated lighting also allowed Adams to follow the moving narrative as well as to make "a big disco show event." The audience remains on the dance floor, though there are tables off to the side and on either side of the stage (the side areas also serve as playing spaces for the performers) so the performers have to make their way through the crowd. Adams therefore relied on the spots "because the stage areas could never be set from night to night. I needed spots to follow the action around."
Adams used the wash units on the more traditional proscenium-like scenes set on the club's mini-stage. He also lighted a mirrorball, which, as Adams enthuses, "is a beautiful thing to light. It would turn about eight million different colors." Adams laughs, "It was such a dilemma. Should I light the actors in the scene? Or should I light the mirrorball?" Pause. "I went with the mirrorball. At times there would be all 12 moving units on the mirrorball and just two little spots on the actors."
Adams acknowledges that that's where he could have used more automated units had the budget allowed, but other than the cost factor, he says, "I'd be lucky to work with them all the time. I was extremely pleased with them."
The rest of The Donkey Show design team consisted of set designer Scott Pask, costume designer David C. Woolard, sound designer Brett Jarvis, and makeup by Gordon Espinet and MAC Cosmetics.
Originally scheduled for a six-week run that was to end in September, The Donkey Show will keep on kicking through Halloween--with the strong likelihood of yet another extension.