Working in the Theatre: Lighting Design


[Music] Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest… A lighting designer is using an assortment of lights to frame the stage for the audience to kind of know
what’s going on in the show. Giving the audience a sense of where they
are; is a daytime? Nighttime? Is it weather? Are we in a foggy pond? We tell the audience where to look. We give them a sense of mood, of
atmosphere, of time of day. We help establish an emotional undercurrent and we’re also storytellers. It’s really trying to dig deep into the
heart of what the characters are doing. It’s trying to dig deep into what the
story that’s being told is. He’s just washed up on shore. Let’s do the
background, we’ll start with the idea it’s the sky. I must say the actor is the most important thing on the stage. Very often as lighting designers, we want to kind of rim the actor and kind of pop them out from the set so that we have a foreground and a background, because the actor’s the one that’s telling the story. And then we’re helping to tell that story. Let’s play with the sky a little bit. What else do we have up here? We could
throw a little bit of texture. Like kind of cloudy thing. Anything we could
do with that? [Music] What’s great about that is how it
feels like reflected life hitting Sebastian. I think that’s beautiful. Actually it’s so beautiful, I wonder if we could get more of that. I see myself as a dual-fold lighting designer; half sculptor, half painter. I might be in ancient days going [sculpting noise]. I just cut away a little of the
blue and then you see how the costume looks and it looks a little flat so you take out one light and then put on another one and all of a sudden the
costume and the character becomes three-dimensional. And then behind them, there might be a background and that is when I take out my paint brush and put a little blue behind them. You know what I’d love to see? Is it going from daytime to nighttime in twenty counts. [Music] Sculpting with light is really
a major part of our job. Especially the bodies. You know the body needs to be sculpted from the side, from the back. We want for the audience to feel like they
could they could hear the story being told. I pride myself in being able to
light the story well. Being able to really have the audience focus on where the action is taking place and to be able to follow that thoroughly. [Music] This is the air, that is the glorious moon. This pearl she gave me, I do feel it and
see it. Going into designing the show, I kind of use this word called formatting and it’s a process of hours and days and weeks with the director, set designer, costumers and we’re kind of formatting our way through the production. We’ll have a rough set model, and we’ll start on page one of the script and kind of work our way through it one scene at a time. Where’s this scene gonna be and what scenery is going to be in it? What part of the stage is it going to be on? And how do we transition from getting out of this scene into the fields of hay and things like that. [Music] Once I’m hired, I read the script and I read the script without thinking about the light the first time through so that I can
just get a sense of what the script means to me. Then I read it again and I mark it up with thoughts about the lighting but sometimes those thoughts
are very simple thoughts like, what time of day is it? Where does it take place? And the next step is very often meeting with the director and talking about the director’s
feelings about the piece. Because I do believe strongly that my job is really
to help the director with the director’s vision. The director is very specific about what
he’s gonna want in this certain scene. Whether the scene’s in the kitchen
or in a basement, or how he feels about how it should be lit. Whether it’s just a
little light coming through the window and it’s a very dark and gloomy
scene with just one lamp over the table. That’s a chemistry to me. That tells me as a designer how to layer into his vision of the scene. One of the biggest challenges is making
sure that we’re able to get lights where we want them. Because if we don’t, we really can’t make
the show look good. Another challenge is that everybody else
who’s working on the project; the set designer, the costume designer, the
choreographer, they all have done their work beforehand. So the choreographer has done the work in the rehearsal hall, the director’s done the work in the rehearsal hall. When we walk into the theater, we are the only ones who sit down with a completely blank, white piece of paper. A completely empty, nothing is done yet. All the lighting equipment, the cabling, the dimmers, all the headsets; I mean it’s really down to
the ironing boards. Everything has to go in for a production. [Music] We establish a shop order, which is sent
out to vendors to get a bid back. Sometimes we have to change equipment
that we kind of wanted or we have to substitute this or that but then after that’s all approved by the general managers we start finalization of all
the paperwork that’s necessary for the show to go into a lighting shop. That’s where the electricians take our
paperwork and they get all the equipment that’s on the plot and they mount it. The entire package is rented. [Music] We’ve since taking the lighting design
specifications and shop order that we take from paper and turn it into life. We give them all their gear, we lay it out, we prep it. They mark it; location, dimmer, and they put it in the box and then they’ll put on the truck and load it into the theater floors. And what we have, that no one else in the world does, which we own the patent for, is how we prep our moving lights to take out human error. We’ll show you how we do that. How many things are stored in here about?
Millions. Pull it for me. It’ll bring it down. Color chips. It’s finding it. It just found it. Wow! Color chips. If you want, you can hold it up to the light and see. That is incredible! Wow. Fascinating. First of all, we go to PRG to look at new
equipment but if there are things that we want to do in a show that have never been done before, a demo room is an amazing place to do that. [Music] I had just been there two weeks before
working on a ballet where we needed to see if different kinds of material, how they took light because we were going to project some snow on three different surfaces. We wanted to make sure that you could see through one surface to the next surface to the next surface. So if you didn’t go to the demo room and then you had all the scenery built for thousands and thousands of dollars and then found out that you actually couldn’t see through each level, then you’re screwed. It saves the producers a lot of money and it saves us the anxiety because we know that it’s going to work. Costumes deeply affect the lighting
design at the show because what I have to make sure is that I make the costumes look the color that the costume designer wants them to look. Sometimes I’ll even take the fabric back with me and pick different colors based on the
color of the fabric or how the fabric takes light just so that I know that I can
give the purity of what the costume looks like in terms of color and feel. We’re always experimenting, we’re exploring new layers, new elements, new types of light, new types of sound. So there is a great collaboration between all departments throughout the course of putting a show together. I don’t think that lighting has to be more spectacular on Broadway. I think the most important thing really is the show and the storytelling. But I guess, okay, I’ll admit it. Yes, we push it a little bit and try to make it a little more spectacular. [Music] We can’t forget that Aladdin is a fairy
tale and there’s a lot of color in the scenery and there is a lot of color in
the lighting. It was all about sort of heightening reality into a kind of fantasy world. So the hope was to really make the
audience feel like they were living in a fantasy. [Music] There is something about the adrenaline of working on Broadway because money is so tight, then you have to work quickly and fast and hard and it’s kind of almost like working out. It’s almost like playing a sport. Let’s see what you think of this. Yeah. There’s a romance right there. It’s beautiful. So you feel like that’s romantic? Oh, absolutely! Because that’s really what I was
hoping, that you would find it romantic. So you’re going from the energy and the hot feeling of this wildly crazy, energetic number to
just this beautiful romance and it’s perfect. Yeah, and also I wanted it to feel a little
bit like her, too, because he’s – It does! Great! Okay. He’s the orange, and she’s the
pink. There you go! Okay, good. I’m glad. Very often we’re responding so much to what the other people are doing that I forget myself sometimes because
there’s so many people that are in the room that you want to make sure that as
a lighting designer, that they’re all being taken care of. That the set looks good, the costumes look good, the dance looks good but sometimes we just have to let ourselves go and go with our heart and gut and emotion. I’d love to look at the buildings lit up. If you do that, that’d be great. I think of myself as a chameleon in many ways. I do believe that my job is to respond to the rest of the collaborative team. So I think as the years have gone on, there might be something that I do that makes me Natasha Katz. I don’t know what those words would be and I don’t even know how to look back and think about what my style is. Because I believe my style is the style of a chameleon and working with other people. Go to cue next. But that’s kind of pretty. And go to cue next! I was not born with the dream of wanting
to be a lighting designer. I was born with the dream of wanting to
work in the theater. I was definitely born with the dream of wanting to work on Broadway. And I was definitely born with the dream of wanting to work on musicals and plays. So when I went to Oberlin College, I worked in all sorts of backstage in the theater and then I got a full semester’s credit to work with somebody in New York City. So I worked with the lighting designer because I just started to do a little bit of lighting in college and it was started to appeal to me. And I worked on a show called I Remember Mama at the Majestic Theatre, right across the street from here. The minute I walked into the theater and walked through the stage door, I was hooked. It was really on the job training for me. I had met so many people working on the
show, that a lot of people asked me to work with them. I just continued to work and work and work. I was twenty five years old. [Music] I grew up in North Carolina and at a
young age, I began working at the Roadhouse, where all the road shows would
come in. I took a big interest in just watching how
all the lighting packages came off the trucks and were set up in the theater. Just as a young kid, I was ten or eleven years old, and this was very fascinating to me how this lighting package could just come off a truck and get set up and then the performers would come in that afternoon and do a show that night and then we took it all down, packed it on the truck, and they left and we were back to bare theaters. I’ve been told that people see that Howell Binkley has a signature in his lighting. The more I think about it, I think I do like things that have a Binkley signature to it. I kind of use a high side angle that
that I find myself using in a lot of shows and it’s a sculpting technique which works very well for me. It’s a simple set and here we have a whole entire show done on this one set. It’s not like a lot of of drops flying in and out. It’s just one area and my job
in this show is really to dissect this whole show. To really frame it in a way that there’s many locations throughout the course of the fifty songs that are in the show. Each song kinda has a new location, a new
time of day, a different feel. Whether it’s this song as a memory song from the actor to convey to the audience what’s going on during the lyrics of the song. In our transfer from off-Broadway up to Broadway for Hamilton, the major change that I had to do was that off-Broadway, the ceiling from the stage floor to the grid was only like sixteen feet. Moving to Broadway, we had twenty eight feet. That meant that I had to change lighting fixtures. We had to incorporate some fixtures into the move that weren’t really a theatrical lighting fixture. They were more kind of a rock and roll light that I knew that would be the only
source that was going to work for the show. I think the success of the show is just
from how different the show actually is. It’s a historical show and it’s really depicting our history. I think the technique of the show is is
quite different and was just generating a new type of theater. It’s introducing that to the audiences. The technology has changed lighting over
the last twenty years incredibly. A lot of the old, conventional units were a fixed unit. You hung it and focused it and it really had one job. It would take a hundred fixed lights to do what one automated lighting fixture can do now. A huge change was moving lights, where
you don’t have to get up on a ladder to focus light. We call them moving light programmers and we say to them, I’d like a blue light on that piece of scenery. And it’s done remotely through a computer. In the old days, when I started, you had to roll a ladder out, you had to go to the light, you had to move the light, you had to put a
gel in the light. If you wanted a new color you to get the ladder out, roll it out, go back up the ladder, change the color of the light which would take time in the middle of rehearsal and time in the morning and now we don’t have to do that anymore because we have these lights
that are remote-controlled. That’s an enormous change in our business. [Music] The short version of the history of lighting design is that the greatest lighting designer is, I guess, nature. Mother nature or whoever you want to call it because it was all done outside by sunlight and then it was all done by firelight. Then as we started to move indoors,
after Shakespeare’s time, then we were able to start to control the light. On Broadway, when it started, there was no credit for a lighting designer. The set designer did it with the electrician. As the years went on, it became its own profession. And for many years, it actually was a profession that was dominated by women. There was somebody called Jean Rosenthal, who really changed lighting in the sense that she figured out a way to do paperwork so that lighting could be repeated over and over again. Because how do you record lighting? So Jean Rosenthal is sort of the
grandmother of us all. I don’t want the audiences to feel like it’s just a light show. It’s a juggling act to balance between the knowledge of the mechanics and the creativity, as well. Art has to drive the technical. We have to use all this technology as tools for what our vision is. Make it feel like the rain is pouring against you. So the rain is torrentially pouring against you. And when it flashes, you’re worried that
you’d better get inside. Or you could die. [Both laugh.] [Music] And go for it! Start running. Now move forward and go stage right a
little bit. You’re going against the wind! It pushes you back stage left! Oh, my God! But your daughter is waiting
for you! But the wind pushes you back away from her! Back stage left! You’re never going to see her again! Now go get her! Get her! Get her stage right! Go! Go! Go! Nice! Fantastic. [Music]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *