Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lighting Design - RENT

There is nothing in this world that is more humbling than being part of something larger than yourself. Something, that when all the small pieces are put together, they form a masterpiece. This is my understanding of theatre. The greatest moment of this understanding is when you finally settle in one of the seats and get to watch the 180 hours of work come together. To inhale deeply as the lights dim and the music fades up; there is not greater understanding.

My experience in the Birmingham Southern Theatre is unique because, unlike most of the students, I can always be found in black behind the stage or behind the drafting table. My passion lies in the technical side of theatre.  Starting at props design, growing to scenic design, and finally peaking at lighting design.  Being on crew in each of the fields and later heads of these crews, I finally found my ‘nitch’ as a designer.

The past Spring, 2012, I was honored to be the Lighting Designer for the theatre’s magnificent production of RENT by Jonathan Larson.  It was here that I found my true calling and my future career.

Designing the lights for any show is no easy task, even if you have taken a lighting course, understand the mechanics of lighting instruments, and have a creative eye. Designing lights is the columniation of all of your knowledge in lights, your creative eye, and your ability to take risks.

Specific to RENT, my experience was nothing short of life changing. I spent over 180 hours working on the show. After reading the script three times and understanding not only what is happening via text, but also what is unsaid, I began to formulate my design.  Using blank pieces of computer paper, I would sketch the stage and the actors’ positions. Then I would use a gel book (full of the colors to change the lighting color) and tape colors I felt would be of use to me. Some pages were full of 20 or so cuts of gel. As the rehearsals progressed I would change my design according to new discoveries for the actors and myself. During this time I would also be writing in my script the lighting cues, when they should come on and when they should fade out. While working on the creative design aspect for each scene (also known as specials) I was creating the base lighting that would be present in every scene. This lighting ensures that the actors and the set will have adequate coverage so they can be seen from the audience.  There are many methods to a base lighting system, however I decided to take one of the famous ones and create a reverse of it.  In my opinion, I think it worked well with the specials that I added in.   Finally after creating the base lighting and then all the specials for each scene, I would program them all together during the week leading up to the show. We would run through every rehearsal with the lights, sound, cues, signing, and dancing. By the opening of the production, we had a pretty darn show to perform.

This process took place over about a two month period, with late nights, early mornings, and the blood, sweat, and tears of the Lighting Crew and myself. We worked tirelessly on this show, and I feel that it was phenomenal.

Thank you all for reading and I hope that everyone will have the chance to be involved I a theatrical production, especially on the technical side!  I cannot wait to continue my love for lighting design during this final year at Birmingham Southern and carry on into my future.

Love & Lights,
Jacquelyn R. Cox

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