Beverly Emmons is an esteemed lighting designer who has worked extensively in dance, theatre, and opera. Her annual presentation at the Broadway Lighting Master Classes is a big hit, year after year, as she illustrates one of the most elusive and seductive elements of lighting design: color.
This year in tandem with LD Clifton Taylor, their talk is entitled: Color and Light—Towards A Useful Language On A Colorful Subject. Emmons tackles the subject here but notes about her choice of color: “It is pure instinct… The reason why we do the lighting lecture is because we can't explain it except by showing it.” Her thoughts on the subject:
“There is no way I can talk or write about how I pick color. I am usually brought into the planning of a production after the universe of the play is at least roughed in between the director and the scenic designer. I read the script with a visual image of the model or other visual material from the scenic and sometimes costume designer. I usually ask a director only one question about color: “Do you like color? Do you see strong color for this piece or is it a white light kind of work?" His/her answer suggests style ideas to me that inform lighting choices of all kinds, including color.
As I start to prepare a light plot, I am visualizing the piece, not specifically but generally. Often I have the plot all made before reaching for the swatch book. I am “seeing” the work; trying to develop a “palette” of choices appropriate to the piece.
Once the Lightwright hookup is completed, I can sort for purpose and by then I can fill in the colors that I am sure of and then work to select the rest.
New technology involving color-mixing equipment, if the theatre company has some and/or can afford to rent it, just delays some of these choices to the cueing sessions. One can have an idea of what colors one would need and if there is time in advance create a library of color choices to pull from quickly during the cueing. The flexibility to saturate or de-saturate, throw a shade slightly one way or another is an advantage with this equipment but the designer has to go into that with an aesthetic fairly clearly thought out.
I have no answer to “Why did you pick this palette of colors?” or “How do you think about it?” It is a non-verbal process one has to learn to trust.”