Thursday, January 24, 2008

Form over Function

Helen Mirren has a wonderful memoir called "In the Frame" in which she makes the observation "I love to see design that does not fight with the materials or performers but informs and frames the production in an outstanding and imaginative way."

These sentiments were echoed in a recent discussion in the Entertainment trade magazine CX, when John Weston, a technician of long standing, observed "Acts are no longer complemented by their light shows, they compete with them...The modern lighting designer has forgotten how to trick the human eye with subtlety and contrast."

Many of the shows I have seen in theatres over the past year have been guilty of this - the designers and programmers seem to be seduced by the special effects of computer-enhanced state-of-the-art control boards and moving light technology. Somewhere under all the flashing lights and strobing colour changes is a performer who is often in the dark, figuratively and literally.

John mentions a few lighting 'greats' that never let the technology supersede the art. Designers like "Mel Conder (the Czar of Darkness), (the late) Bill "Angel" Akers, (the late) Roger Barrett, Peter Rooney, and Sue Nattrass," could make a set, costume or performer seem so much more without resorting to excess or extravaganza and with a lighting design that would draw a fraction of the power of present day rigs.

I had the pleasure and the honour to work with most of these and other skillful lighting designer who didn't need pre-programmed macros to create magic on stage and understood that the name on the theatre billboard was not Wholehog 3 or Grand MA.

This post may seem ironic considering that many of these shows take place in the ultimate example of form over function - an Architect's Dream and a theatre technician's nightmare.

Meanwhile, back at The House...
The Grand Circus has moved on to be replaced by the relative quiet of the SSO and Joanna Newsom. Her amazing ethereal voice and harp have no need of flashy lights or strobing colours but it was expedient to leave Murundak's big Lighting rig in the air and use the Mac 2000's and Vari-Lites in a more restrained way than usual. I must say it is a very pretty rig using wavy lines of truss to recall the lines of the Rainbow Serpent. Once again I'll be taking it all down on Saturday night to make way for a much smaller side-bar arrangement for Sunday's Korean Christmas Spectacular and International Youth Festival; that's for the other half to sort out.

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