Deacons of Light

Dennis has an enlightening conversation with three of the city's best designers.

Wylie: We refer to the Studio as a black box, but it's not black; it's brown. And it's not a box; it has eight or nine walls. The ceiling is sloped, and there are three beams that cut across the ceiling that we have to work around. Yet almost every lighting designer I know says, "I love working in the Studio." We love those challenges that Peter was enumerating.

You say that all plays start with bringing the lights up. But lights used to come up and then go down and then come up again. Now it feels as if more and more plays are trying to become like movies. Sargent: Yes, that's what playwrights are doing. To me, the blackout is the most dangerous thing to put into a play now, because the minds of our audiences need to be consistently engaged. You have to think through the process so lights never go out. It's reached the point where probably the only time you go to black is at the end of Act One and at the end of the show.

What should a Kevin Kline judge be looking for when he or she has to judge lighting?

Lighting designers Peter E. Sargent, John Wylie and F. Mitchell Dana have lit more than 300 productions, collectively.
Jennifer Silverberg
Lighting designers Peter E. Sargent, John Wylie and F. Mitchell Dana have lit more than 300 productions, collectively.

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Dana: I think it's how you critique almost anything: First of all, what is the designer trying to do? Second, has he done it? Third, is it appropriate? Does it work? Does it pay off? Set designers define space. Costume designers define character. But our job is to define emotion and focus. So ask if the emotion is generated.

Wylie: I would add this: Do you spend your evening looking around with your focus somewhere other than where it should be? Are you spending your time looking at other things onstage, or are you focused on that very moment?

Dana: I would agree, because if you're not focused on that moment, you're out of the play. And if you're out of the play, you're losing the overall effect. Good lighting is not a matter of flash and splash. In fact, lighting can pull your attention away from the play very easily. It's very possible for lighting to destroy a play. I don't think we can make a play, but we can certainly destroy one.

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