A veteran designer at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, UT, University of Wisconsin–based LD Linda Essig returned there this past summer to design Ah Wilderness!, as well as Arsenic and Old Lace and Pirates of Penzance, in USF's Randall Jones Theatre. The shows ran in rotating rep from June 30 through Labor Day, with Essig using a basic repertory plot including approximately 400 focusing units and over 425 dimmers on 250 channels of control (see list below). The three productions opened one after the other in the space of three days.
The action in Ah Wilderness! takes place on July 4, 1906, and is a poignant memory of a young man's coming of age. Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, the play reflects fond memories of his childhood. "It is the flip side to Long Day's Journey Into Night," notes Essig, whose lighting complemented the period costumes by Kevin Alberts and stylized sets by Thomas C. Umfrid.
"For Ah Wilderness!I used a very tight palette of gray-blues and lavenders with layers of textured light to create a sense of remembrance reminiscent of the early 19th–century photographs of Clarence H. White," says Essig, "The graininess and texture of White's black-and-white images was translated into some of the textures on the set."
"The color palette used helped create a sense of memory, and obscure the details of things," says Essig, who admits she experiments with different colors to help create a different look for each of the three shows. Ranging from cornflower blue (Lee 366) and pale lavender (GAM 920, used doubled) to bastard amber (GAM 341), Essig's palette for Ah Wilderness! also included Lee cosmetic filters with frost (including Lee 188/cosmetic highlights) to keep the look as soft as possible.
"I rarely use bastard amber, but it was appropriate for this production," Essig explains, noting that she used it in fill light for afternoon and sunset scenes, with sepia (GAM 327) coming in through the windows at sunset.
The rep plot hang includes downlight with templates, backlight and diagonal backlight, steep frontlight, straight-on front light with templates, high and mid-side light, and diagonal frontlight. "I had lots of options for each show," says Essig. For example, in Ah Wilderness! sunlight came from a high side position while a soft moonlight in Rosco 78 and Rosco 112 came from the straight backlight position. In contrast, Essig’s moonlight for Arsenic and Old Lacecame from the diagonal backlight position.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Essig also changed the palette for each show, which meant a lot of gel changes between shows. "There are no scrollers," she says. "I have three electricians on bridges. Color was changed completely for each show, so even though the lights remained hung in the same position, they could function in completely different ways from show to show."
In terms of lighting instruments, an additional 50 to 75 "extras" were used in each production to add texture to the set, provide uplight, highlight specific areas of the set, or add special effects such as a fireworks silhouette in Ah Wilderness! Many of these specials used templates, such as an Apollo leaf pattern that matched the texture in one of White's photographs. A template of saplings (GAM 351) added additional vertical lines to wallpaper with a vertical pattern, while breakup patterns helped create the look of sand draped on the stage for a scene at the beach, with the Apollo leaf patterns used with what Essig calls "sand colors" (Lee 200 and GAM 330).
Ah Wilderness! also had a fair number of practicals, including a chandelier accented with backlight. Actors actually put the bulbs into the chandelier, an action called for in the script. In a bar scene, Essig used very steep frontlight as well as practicals with reproduction carbon-filament lamps for a period feel.
"The cueing for Ah Wilderness! was not realistically motivated," notes Essig. The motivation for the cues was more tied into lighting tableaux at the end of scenes, catching the actors in a shaft of light, as well as short vignettes between the scenes, where the action covered the scene changes. The productions in this theatre are performed on a proscenium stage with an apron. There is a curtain, but Essig notes that in the six different seasons she has worked there, it has never been used.
Arsenic and Old Lace
In contrast to the soft layers of texture in Ah Wilderness! Essig used film noir techniques, with uplights and strong shadows as well as strong color contrasts of bright blues and ambers for Arsenic and Old Lace. For Pirates of Penzance , she added Altman MR-16 Zip Strips to "flippers," or flip-up deck sections on the front of the stage to add sparkle to the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
Essig is part of the design team that works regularly at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, where the lighting designer roster also includes Donna Ruzika. These designers should be proud that their work contributes to the stellar reputation of a theatre that was honored last year with the Tony Award for outstanding regional theatre.
Randall Jones Theatre
(10) Strand 12°1k ellipsoidals
(88) Strand 6 x16 1k ellipsoidals
(134) Strand 6 x 12 1k ellipsoidals
(45) Strand 6 x 9 1k ellipsoidals
(10) Strand 4.5 x 6.5 1k ellipsoidals
(2) ETC Source Four 26° 575W
(35) Strand 6" 1k fresnels
(15) Altman 3" 150W fresnels
(10) PAR-64 NSPs
(14) PAR-64 MFLs
(12) Strand Coda cyc strips
(5) PAR-56 WFL 9 lamp strips
(3) Altman MR-16 "ZIP" Strips w/spot lamps
(1) ETC Concept 500 console
(475) Strand CD80 dimmers