Fresh from the Broadway musical, 9 to 5, and before the out of town try-out for Catch Me If You Can, lighting designer Ken Posner moved into Our House, Theresa Rebeck’s new play at Playwrights Horizons in New York. Posner collaborated with set designer Derek McLane, costume designer Susan Hilferty, and sound designer Darron L. West on this drama in which the boundaries of reality and reality TV are blurred with chilling results, as directed by Michael Meyer.
“I had been attached to this project for about nine months,” says Posner, who explains that the script was revised to make it more clear to the audience what is reality TV and what is not.” McLane’s cleverly designed set helps with this distinction as well, as it moves from the modern stainless steel and glass office of a TV exec to a cluttered living room in a house shared by a few young professionals and a couch potato, who we first see with an empty peanut butter jar and a dollop of peanut butter on his shirt; his toes sticking out of brown socks. As the action unrolls, he is revealed to be an unemployed TV addict, who eventually shoots two of his roommates, and the realty TV show, Our House, sends its crew to cover the event as news, with a surprising ending.
“The stage is like a split screen,” says Posner, “with the On Air studio portion between the TV office and the living room. The office is angular and reflects the icy cold character of the exec, only concerned about the bottom line. The living room is more of a domestic world of granola and yoghurt. It’s a softer space.”
Posner’s lighting helps define each of these worlds. “The TV office is heavily blinded so they can see their banks of monitors, so the there is a lot of angled downlight, cold white light, using the ETC Source Fours in the house rig,” he explains. “There is a warmer quality to the living room, with softer angles so we can see the actors’ features in a more inviting way.” Here, the palette includes light ambers and lavenders.
To give a different look to the TV “on air” studio, which was simply an open area on the set, floor panels of two layers of Plexiglas were used (in the trap area on the stage) with color-changing Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast LED fixtures underneath. Posner also added an architectural detail on the wall: a vertical run of Philips Color Kinetics iCove LEDs, which lit up in saturated colors—blue for news and magenta for reality TV. The LEDs were rented from PRG.
For Posner, the process is the same on Broadway as off: “I design for the needs of the play, project, what is most appropriate,” he says. “What I love about Playwrights is that I can get on a ladder if I want or run up on stage to fix something. Off-Broadway is my foundation, it informs the bigger work.” Posner has also worked with Meyer for 20 years, from their days in summer stock at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY. For them, Our House was like a homecoming, another change to work together.