Houston's Alley Theatre capped its 60th-anniversary season with the world premiere of Treasure Island, which ran from May 23 to June 17. Adapted by Ken Ludwig from the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel and directed by Alley Theatre artistic director Gregory Boyd, Treasure Island featured the design team of Tony Award-winning scenic designer Eugene Lee, lighting designer Clifton Taylor, sound designer John Gromada, and costume designer Constance Hoffman. Fight director Steve Rankin made his Alley debut with this show.
Lee's set is more of a suggestion of reality than an attempt to literally portray scenes of a jungle or ship. “When we go to the island, it is not very realistic,” says Taylor. “It's not literal in any way. What Gene made is the world of a ship — the suggestion of a ship. You're always aware that there are actors manipulating these things and telling a story. It's a different kind of theatricality, and that plays into the lighting. I didn't use any gobo washes — nothing that is jungle-like or that sets us in a realistic space.”
This was Taylor's first time working with Wybron's Nexera fixtures, using them for backlight wash systems. “They change color beautifully, and I love them. I'm so interested in color and color-changing as a possibility for cueing, and these were great,” he says. For island scenes, Rosco R11 (Light Straw) was used for backlight. The set features white sails and wood colors. “It's not so often in theatre you can use a color like that,” Taylor notes.
The production needed a moving-light console, and this was the first time the Alley had a moving-light programmer. Programmers included Susan Miller on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 2 brought in for the production, with a MIDI connection to an ETC Obsession II, programmed by Dawn Krumvieda.
Taylor's rig for the production comprised High End Systems Studio Color 575s, Vari-Lite VL1000 Arc and Tungsten units, a Rosco I-Pro Image Projector, Wybron Nexera Spots and Coloram II scrollers, City Theatrical AutoYokes, GamFilm Loops, and Apollo and Rosco rotators. Special effects included F100 Foggers, Diversitronics Strobe Cannons, Vornado air circulation, MDG Hazers, Le Maitre G300/LSG smoke machines, and a custom blue neon for understage.
Conventionals included more than 300 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (of varying degrees: 10°, 19°, 26°, 36°, and 50°), 5kW and 2kW Fresnels, PAR64s and PAR WFL fixtures, ZipStrips, Altman six-cell ground cycs, Altman three-cell sky cycs, and a Wybron BP-2 10“ beam projector.
Because the scenic palate was very limited in colors, the atmosphere had to be conveyed to the audience on a different level, and this was achieved through the use of fog. One of the densest areas of fog was up by the lights, and it acted like a diffuser, allowing the R11 backlighting to fill the crowd with a bright yellow color. A reclusive island character called Ben Gunn made his first appearance coming out of the grid from the fog cloud, which cascaded down, creating a falling effect. The “island” air was thick and heavy and kept coming down on the actors.
Clint Allen, Alley Theatre lighting supervisor, explains the fog system. “That system was based around a Le Maitre PFI-9D low-fog generator,” says Allen. “We attached 50' of 8" hose to it and cut holes every 2". The 9D uses liquid CO2 to cool the fog, and from above it, created a fog curtain that fell to the floor.” In total, three fog systems were used: the aforementioned Le Maitre system, one generated from below used upstage and built around a Le Maitre G300 with an LSG attachment, and a third comprised of 2" PVC concealed underneath a grate in the deck that was down-center. The two low-fog systems ran for extended periods of time, Allen notes. “We used about 20 liters of fluid and 600lbs. of CO2 per week.”
For the below-fog system, Allen attached 50' of 4" PVC tube to the back of the set, drilled holes in it, and adapted up to the 10" input on the LSG attachment.
They used this rig without CO2 for the first half of the act so the fog would rise and dissipate like steam. Later in the act, they swapped hoses, turned on the CO2, and laid low fog over the entire deck. This turned the deck into an ocean that Jim “rows” across to the pirate ship. Due to some issues with air conditioning that made the fog move where it wasn't wanted, three CITC director fans in the grid pointed down at the fog curtain counteracted the effects.
The final fog system was installed by drilling holes in the PVC to match the grate, and put two inline sauna exhaust fans in front of the High End F100 fog machine. The fans pushed the fog 20" to where the grate was, leaving the fog machine easily accessible. This system was used at the center of the stage to add smoke quickly to the scene.
“In the end, I think the whole show is the fog,” Taylor says. “It lit the show in such an interesting way.”
John Baker is the Alley Theatre's master electrician. The draftsperson was Nick Houfflek.