A two-play mega-production juxtaposes period costumes with contemporary and futuristic scenic design. There's no time to make physical changes to the light rig between plays that span decades. How do you unify Henry IV, Part One and Henry IV, Part Two? For lighting designer Donald Holder, the challenge was "to find a cohesive, concise vocabulary" that worked for both plays.
Director Barbara Gaines and her design team conceived of the two plays as one, with Part One functioning as the first act. Some audiences saw both plays together on matinee days at the Shakespeare Repertory Theatre in Chicago.
Shakespeare's story of war, class divisions, and death was played out on an abstract, geometric set by James Noone. Black and red platforms lined up on a deep thrust, backed by a wall that could open to reveal scenes in progress. The blood-red center platform stood on a trap, through which preset tavern and bedroom scenes would rise.
Noone also made lighting fixtures part of his design. Platforms were flanked by metal wired surfaces with light coming from below them, and a square lighting fixture above the central platform became a visual frame, delineating a smaller space in a larger one for the king's chambers and the tavern. The team wanted neon, but the budget allowed fluorescent strips, which hung on walls above two sides of the audience, along with pieces of Plexiglas and strings of small Christmas tree lights.
"Part one is celebratory," Holder notes. "There's a structure to the society. The body politic is relatively stable." Part Two finds the characters struggling with disease and civil war. As we move from one part to the other, "the once jovial tavern becomes a little more acidic," something Holder underscored by changing the overhead grid from a cool formal light to a jaundiced yellow.
"If you tracked the color palette of the tavern scenes through the two plays, you'd find a progression that directly parallels what's happening in the body politic," Holder says. Starting with a warm palette--extremely saturated, rich, rosy, dense--Holder slowly drained the color from one tavern scene to the next. "The last time we see Hal and Falstaff, the palette is cool...stripped down of color and warmth," he notes. As the mood of the nation changes and society becomes more chaotic, Holder created a brooding, darker, more threatening look.
Holder wanted to suggest a formal structured atmosphere whenever the play took us into the king's chambers in Part One, and used the fluorescents to create a palette that was cold, precise, and crisp. "The square fixture above motivated the light in those scenes," he says. Rich red fluorescents came up on the side during tavern scenes. "I wanted to pull the audience into those scenes," says Holder, whose lights spilled out into the aisles along with some of the action. Colored lights under audience areas on the sides also served to enlarge the space and include the audience.
Virgil Johnson's costumes of leather and fur contrasted sharply with the scenic design, suggesting period without creating a specific time for this eclectic work. Johnson borrowed most and built some of about 80 costumes for actors who played at least two roles and had to look different for each, even when they had no lines. He visited England with Gaines, taking both inspiration and garments from Stratford stock. These he adapted, often by adding jewelry.
His goal was to costume two plays and dress three worlds--Henry IV's court, the rebels, and the rustics. The king's men wore gray at the onset, "like a fleet of gray flannel suits, all identical, impersonal--a machine of people working," Johnson says. By the time the king's men reached Shrewsbury, they were in shiny black leather tunics, with large studs, jeweled belts, and metal pieces fastened to them; leather hoods with visors across the forehead served as armor. The rebels, thrown together by circumstance and from different backgrounds, wore varied costumes in sympathetic warm tones. Johnson says he went for "an exotic and mystic look" for these down-and-out people committed to insurrection. This, the only court that includes women, "gets dreamily sensual; the colors are rich and slightly faded, the opposite of the black and gray of the king's court." For the rustics, Johnson selected warm earth colors, putting them in tattered garments to reflect their poverty. He began with white fabric, dipping or ad ding patches for color.
In the second play, the devastation erupted into the costumes and makeup; syphilitic sores covered the bound bodies of women who were to be thrown into prison, for instance. Johnson used red only as an accent in Hal's shirt, the only tie-in with the scenic design.
Because the set and costumes juxtaposed contemporary and period styles, it was left to the sound and lighting to unify the work. Sound designers Robert Neuhaus and Cecil Averett included original songs by Alaric Jans, creating an evocative score that moved the story forward emotionally rather than literally. Similarly, Holder opted to create an architecture through light for the 42-scene double play, lighting it "almost as I would a dance piece."