An ambitious three-year partnership between New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and London’s Old Vic Theatre, The Bridge Project’s first two plays—Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (in a new Tom Stoppard translation)—were directed by Sam Mendes and ran in Brooklyn from January to March, before setting out on an international tour that culminates in London from June to August. With an all-star half-UK/half-US cast, the design team comprises set designer Anthony Ward, costume designer Catherine Zuber, sound designer Paul Arditti, and lighting designer Paul Pyant.
“Although the design was obviously important, its conception was to be as daringly simple as possible,” says Pyant. “The two productions play in repertory and perform sometimes on the same day, so from the outset, it was conceived as a rep plot to service both productions, with little or no refocusing between the two.” The single set is a raised, raked platform, whose wooden floor is surrounded from mid-stage by very tall wooden walls, creating simple, clean lines.
“The back wall can fly out to reveal two backlit painted drops and/or a plastic cyclorama,” Pyant explains. “Simple arrangements of furniture, carpets, and props in both shows denote each location, and The Winter’s Tale also has many hanging glass lanterns with electrified candles and many real lit candles on stands on stage. All the Sicilia locations were candlelit, and they were either flown out or struck for the open states of Bohemia.”
The four acts of The Cherry Orchard use more or less naturalistic lighting to reflect various times of day and emotional moods, with a few more expressionistic moments: “One in Act 1, which consists of three simple blocks of frontlight to express the light streaming in from the windows of the nursery, was particularly effective, especially in conjunction with the eerie music/sound track,” says Pyant. “Another was the lifting of the back wall of the set to just above head height in Act 2 to reveal a blinding white cyclorama against which a representative number of the starving masses were lined up to represent the revolution to come—surprisingly simple but powerful imagery.”
Pyant’s approach was to keep the rig as simple as possible, as the shows have a very heavy touring schedule with little time between performances in places as far apart as Auckland and Madrid. “The design had to be robust and simple for the best effect for the least effort,” he says. Hung on just six over-stage pipes, the rig has mainly ETC Source Fours (six with Wybron Coloram scrollers), but to add flexibility, eight Vari-Lite VL1000TSs and 12 VLB5s are scattered about the rig. “They have little or no mechanical noise when in use. Our director and sound designer have a particular aversion to moving light noise in the quiet moments of productions, of which we have many!” adds Pyant, who also used a large number of ground-row units and far cyc units as backlight on the plastic and painted drops.
The palette is mainly neutral, from open white, Lee L200 (Double CT Blue), L201 (Full CT Blue), L202 (CT Blues), L236 (HMI to Tungsten), L238 (CSI to Tungsten), L232 (Super Correction), to one or two saturated colors for depth—L120 (Deep Blue) and L106 (Primary Red)—and very few templates. “Shadows play a big part,” says Pyant, who created them via MR16 birdies downstage. As all the touring venues have in-house Strand 500 consoles, associate designer Dan Large programmed the show on a Strand 520 at BAM. “It was Dan’s job to relight the productions around the world, starting in Singapore and moving on to New Zealand, Madrid, Recklinghausen, and Greece—a bit of a baptism by fire for a recently graduated student!” says Pyant. “Our brilliant production electrician at BAM was John Manderbach.”
No lighting equipment tours with the show, and the rig is sourced in each location. “The only real substitutions that had to be made so far on tour were replacing the VL5Bs with VL500s,” notes Pyant, who will be lighting the shows again at the Old Vic, as well as the second season of the Bridge Project in 2010.