Lighting used to be a complete mystery to me, but in 2019 when I was directing and producing King Lear in my final year as artistic director of Seoul Shakespeare Company, the only lighting designer in Seoul's transient English-speaking theatre community became unavailable, making it necessary for me to learn. During the months leading up to the production, I devoted considerable time to learning about lighting and gathered a group of actors to help hang and focus lights. I also created a lighting resources list to share with the community, in order to make sure other theatre leaders wouldn't need to start from scratch as I had: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1B_Ce6Yj877gLfatLpzARWYVzYRev7F1u3_ok2Sa-ZjE/edit?usp=sharing. After King Lear, I lit The Orderly and Garage (performed in rep) later in the year, with lighting designs based on each show's previous runs.
As is clear from the notes below, I am not a pro at this. However, I enjoy lighting and have found that I can do it if necessary. The more experience I get, the easier it becomes, and I love the creative aspect of using lighting to paint across the stage and shape the world of the play.
The Orderly & Garage
(Produced in rep)
Speech of Fire & Seoul Shakespeare Company Co-production (2019)
The Orderly Trailer video
(Footage from the 2019 production)
Photos by Robert Michael Evans
The Orderly Notes:
-This show juxtaposes Peter's scenes in a hospital (generally even white light on the white linoleum surface) with scenes from the poem "The Battle of Maldon," in which the lights are a dimmer yellow, like parchment. For this, I used the Fresnels' natural warmth at low intensities, so the same lights could serve the bright white hospital and the yellowed poem scenes, plus various PARS and ellipsoidals to light the banners, the poem narrator, the Saxon and Viking characters, the hallways of the hospital, and the battlefield.
-I studied the archival footage from previous productions in order to design this production's version of the lighting.
-I operated both sound and lights for The Orderly.
Garage Teaser Trailer
(Footage from our 2017 production. This was not my lighting design and the setup is a little different from my setup for 2019, but this gives a good sense of the show.)
Most of the play takes place in a garage at night where the only light source is a single worklight, so I lit the whole show primarily with just four lights, each aimed so that it looked like it was coming from the direction of the work light. In the opening scene, which takes place in daylight and is presumably lit by sunlight through a few windows, I brightened these four lights and added some additional front lights. For the very dark final scene, in which a flashlight provides light sporadically, I just used two very dim lights, going even darker than we had in 2017, so that the actors were sometimes almost impossible to see. (Part of the inspiration for this came from seeing a production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London, which regularly makes use of darkness.)
Other Notes for The Orderly and Garage:
-Since these two shows were in rep, the same lighting setup needed to work for both shows.
-We only had a few days in the theater before The Orderly and Garage opened, but we were allowed to stay as late as we needed each night, which was helpful.
-When we arrived at the theater, we discovered that they had upgraded their light board and hadn't told us. Their lighting person was scheduled to show me how to use the new lighting board in the afternoon, so we twiddled our thumbs a bit until he arrived, but it turned out he didn't know how to program cues (only how to set submasters and slide the lights on and off live on the fly). I spent the night finding and studying the manual online, and then started programming the next day in the theater. It was a rough start, but in the end it was fine.
Seoul Shakespeare Company (2019)
Photos by Robert Michael Evans
Notes for Lear:
-Stark white hospital scene in the beginning, with the hospital bed lit by a single white diagonal backlight. As the patient drifts into a dream, and the heartbeat monitor sound gives way to music, a warmer white light appears, then purple lights, then several gobos giving texture and additional color as we shift from the hospital to the world of Lear.
-Rather than an even wash, I wanted to highlight the shapes of the actors and have many scenes feel dark, as if just the characters were lit, rather than the entire stage. At first I was bewildered as to how to do this without losing the actors' faces, but I quickly realized that by highlighting diagonal backlights, I could just fill in enough front light to see the actors' faces well without losing the sense of shape created by the diagonal backlights. (This seems obvious to me now, but I was a total beginner, and couldn't see the results until we were in the theater.)
-Lots of blue and/or amber diagonal backlight, warm frontlights for interiors, warm or cool for exteriors depending on time of day. Purple diagonal backlights for the throne scene and for Cordelia's scenes. These purple lights turned out rosier than expected. At the end of the play, they shone on the hospital bed when the patient's daughter appeared by his side to be with him in his final moments. The original intent was for these purple lights to signify a sense of returning to royalty (and to Cordelia's signature color), but their pinkish color instead emphasized the warmth of love, which was even better. For our curtain call, instead of the traditional jig of Shakespeare's time, we ended with music sung by the actors, and the colorful lights of the Lear world returned. Perhaps the patient returned to this more colorful world after his death? Or the Lear world continues to exist without him?
-The tree under which Gloucester waits during the battle was represented by a tree gobo, as if the tree were casting a shadow. (It was actually facing a direction that made no sense scientifically but looked best aesthetically). The exterior of Gloucester's house was signified by a green stained-glass window gobo, which was originally meant to be placed high up as a window but would have interfered with the Korean surtitles, so I placed it at ground level and made it a door instead (although it ended up looking a bit like an abstract tree.) For the interiors of Gloucester's house, an identical green gobo shone on the floor, as if light were coming in through a stained glass window. It ended up being washed out by the other lights most of the time, but it did provide some texture on the actors during the blinding scene.
-We always have just a few days in the theatre before our tech rehearsal, the work in the theatre has to fit around our day jobs, and the theater only allows us to use the space for a limited amount of time within those days. It took me the entire available time before our tech day for me to hang the lights, with assistance from various members of the company, and attach them to the proper channels. (The theatre had set the channels to be symmetrical, which I hadn't expected, and which meant needing lots of extension cords to plug lights from one side into other channels. This particular theatre also always has a few channels that do not work, which they usually warn us about but sometimes get wrong. I also hadn't realized before our move-in that the theatre did not own gel frames, so we spent a lot of time taping and re-taping gels before I found someone's ingenious solution online of using metal clips and magnets. Lesson learned!
-This was my first time using a lighting board. Our previous lighting designer allowed me to come and shadow him while he was lighting another show, and also came in to our tech to help me get acclimated to our theatre's lighting board.
-On our tech day, it took me 9 or 10 hours to program all the lighting cues, going thru each scene, which was quite painful for me and the cast. I continued to make little tweaks to the lighting here and there during the run. In our final weekend, on the day we were filming the show, I arrived at the theater to find that all the light cues had been erased, and I had to reprogram it all from scratch in the 90 minutes before house opened. In the end it came out fine, and we started the show on time, but it was one of the most high-pressure theatre situations I have experienced.