At the University of Colorado in Boulder this December, audiences were surprised and impressed by the world premier production of Peeru Gunto, a Kabuki-style adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s fantastical 19th century epic Peer Gynt. Transferring the Norwegian folklore of the original Peer’s globe-trotting search for self and life’s meaning to 19th-century Japan and the Old American West made for a visually stunning stage production.
Director Dr. Cecilia J. Pang, an assistant drama professor at the UCB, studied the Kabuki style of theatre in Japan and introduced cultural themes in the form of vibrant costumes, colorful scenery, Japanese music, dance, and puppets. The superhuman-sized design and highly stylized movement of Japanese Kabuki theatre required imaginative stage lighting. Robert J. Shannon, senior instructor and lighting supervisor at CU’s Department of Theatre & Dance, chose Wybron Nexera fixtures to wash the stage in bold colors, like orange and red, that matched the rich hues of the costumes and scenery for dramatic impact.
As Kabuki theatre is characterized by stylized gestures, movements, postures, and dance, Shannon lit the show as he would a dance production, surrounding the stage–top, highside, and front– using a channel-per-light hook-up. But did not have much room for low angle sidelight. "The final piece of the puzzle was the Nexera washlights," he explains. "I instantly had bright, soft edged, re-focusable, color-changing units, which gave me exactly the flexibility I needed for this 36-scene, two Act production."
Limited space wasn’t Shannon’s only concern during his design process. Three weeks before opening night, the seven painted drops planned for the set were limited to three. Shannon was asked to make use of the light gray leno filled scrim, "to make the missing drops not so missed" as he puts it. His solution: mounting three Nexera Profile lamps into a position that would not cast actors’ shadows onto the scrim, loading them with a template, and then "painting" the scrim. "The beautiful rich color provided by the Nexeras enabled me to give each of those scenes with the missing drops a unique look. It frankly just would not have happened if I had not had those units," he says.
"In the end, my choices and the Nexeras superior brightness and rich colors pulled it all off for us," Shannon concludes. " Ms. Pang's comment to me on the second week of the run summed it up; she called the lighting in many of the scenes ‘exquisite,’ and I agreed."