CMU School of Drama

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Matt Trueman: 'Lighting designers are the unseen heroes of the theatre'

WhatsOnStage.com: Forget BAFTA masks and teeny busts of Laurence Olivier. You know what they dish out at the Knights of Illumination awards? Swords. Full-sized, silver-forged medieval battle swords. Try getting one of them home on the tube afterwards, let alone finding space on your mantelpiece.

6 comments:

Jacob Wesson said...

Articles that give lighting designers the recognition they deserve always capture my eye. The work of a lighting designer is some of the most integral to any theatrical work, since, without light, everything would happen in the dark. Often, attention isn't paid to the precise amount of detail that LDs examine when going about lighting a show, form time of day, to the world of the play, to the way the light would move, to how light can enhance the mood based on the text without distracting from the work the actors are doing on stage. I think that the author's way of describing lighting (animating theatre) is a proper one, since it gives dimension and motion to the entire world more than any other design aspect can. I also agree that there is some truth to the idea that good lighting is lighting you don't notice, but there is also a case to be made that there can be moments in theatrical productions where the lighting adds so much to the current moment that you notice it, and aren't distracted by it but enthralled by it. It's a hard concept to pin down, and an even harder one to describe. You can spend all the time in the world struggling to explain to a director what you are going for in a moment, but nothing will work quite as much as how that director reacts once an actor is moving in the light and the space transforms thanks to the quality of light. LDs may be the unseen heroes, but they certainly need not be the unsung ones.

Sarah Boyle said...

I agree with the author that the abstract nature of lighting makes it very hard to describe in words, particularly if a critic is trying to be concise in a review. Additionally, I think that an average audience member is more likely to notice and be willing to discuss the costume and set design because that seems more familiar. You don’t have to be a designer to read a fashion blog or watch home improvement show and feel like you have something to say about that medium. I would argue that a successful design doesn’t simply go unnoticed, but that it is appreciated without the audience quite being able to identify what they like about it. Critics, however, should be able to identify at least some of what makes that design successful. It’s great that awards like this not only recognize lighting designers, but might help build a vocabulary for discussing lighting which critics can adopt.

Alex Talbot said...

One phrase from this article that really stood out to me was that lighting is "as unobtrusive, yet integral, as a film's score." I think this perfectly describes how lighting fits into the show as a whole--unlike scenery or costumes, you won't walk out of a show thinking "wow, that show was incredibly well lit," (unless you're a lighting designer). In effect, lighting fills the holes in a production--it makes it pop and a good design can be integral to making a show flow smoothly and to make everything onstage successful. Lighting makes costumes and scenery pop, and makes them more effective as elements of their own. Take Broadway's Hamilton for example. Lighting is constantly used as a symbol-- a target, for example, in a duel scene. It is also used to signify the passing of time, or a general mood. All of these plot elements would have existed in the book and lyrics without any lighting, but the lighting makes the show flow together and drives all of these major plot points home. Not to mention how the lighting for both that show and many others makes the set and the costumes as amazing as they are. In any show, good lighting design makes a production pop and amazingly helps to tell the story in a way that no other element can.

Kat Landry said...

I'm glad to see an article about "unseen heroes" that isn't about stage managers.

I think the most striking part of this article to me is that really, much like a good sound designer, a good lighting designer doesn't get paid any notice at all, and that's sort of an amazing thing. Though of course support and recognition are always good, I think the sign of a good lighting designer is that the audience is so immersed, so totally sold by what they are seeing on stage, that it doesn't feel like design at all. It is simply the world of the play, and the world of the play is beautiful and real. I also really enjoy what the author says about lighting- "it takes place in time and leaves no trace-- in a sense, the essence of theatre." He is totally right. The things that are magical about lighting are also magical about theatre as a whole: you are able to see it and feel it, but not hold onto it. You can appreciate and love it, but you don't get to take it home. I have such respect for lighting designers who are able to go unnoticed: you have created magic that no one would think to trace back to a person working a light board or hanging instruments.

Michelle Li said...

I worked backstage on lights all throughout high school and it really wasn't until I worked with it that I really understood the significance that it plays in the theatrical world. I didn't realize how much it affected a viewers experience subconsciously until I started learning the craft. I really do think that lighting design as a whole does not receive the amount of praise that is does. I think that the same applies to sound design (thanks, Tonys). Both lighting and sound design are intangible yet "integral, as a film's score." It sets the feeling, time and place in a way that feels natural and understanding. There's no need for pretense or explanation-- within those two disciplines. Like Alex commented above me, lighting fills in many holes in a show-- transitional, emotional, physical. Lighting design also very intimately affects costume design on stage because of how light can drastically alter the state of one's clothing. That's the one extremely fascinating thing about light-- that without it, we really don't have anything to work with.

Emily Lawrence said...

I loved this article so much because it emphasized the importance of lighting designers. They are often over looked because light is one of the most natural things in our life. It dictates when we sleep, how comfortable we feel, what season it is, etc., it does so much. So when people go to see a show, unless it is majorly flashy, it is one of the last things noticed. My favorite thing said in this article is that lighting design is like a performer. Three years ago, a critique told me that I was onstage the entire time through my design. He was so impressed by how integrated it was but also standing on its own at the same time. Albeit it was a high school production, but those words have always stuck with me. Lighting should always be there, but for two main purposes, bringing life to the story and affecting the audience, preferably in a positive way. While it is overshadowed by many other aspects of theatre, lighting is still very integral and difficult to comprehend sometimes.