Shadow and Light
by Jim Murchison
I have spent a lot of time lately ruminating on darkness and light of the soul. One of the things that often gets overlooked in theatre is how the physical light and shadow can support the text and even the subtext of a play. If it is a fairly straightforward show you probably don’t want the lighting to be noticed because the only need is to see the characters in action.
There are productions where the direction or the sound or lights should be close to invisible. There are other plays where the set or lights are almost a character in the play unto themselves. In Salt Water Moon the lights were so good you could almost smell the smoke of the battlefield or the salt air of the ocean. In Blood on the Moon the lights were basically the set casting shadows that created prison cells and gallows. Innocence Lost was one of the most effective uses of multimedia using lights and projected images that supported and never interfered with the story line, but enhanced it.
I was only in charge of lights once when I was operating the lighting board in a summer stock production of Gas Light in Vermont. During one dark and stormy night we actually lost power and as soon as I felt the light dying I hit the emergency light that operated four powerful par lamps on a separate battery. Then I watched very carefully for when they were supposed to flicker and would move the large handle quickly back and forth to create a flickering effect. At the end of the evening the producers called me over to discuss what I could do to fix the cue I muffed and when I told them that there was a blackout in the town for about 20 minutes and that I only had one handle to create any effects, they were surprised. They had no idea that most of Vermont had gone to darkness.
I love the illusions that theatre creates and that when things go wrong you just have to improvise the moment. Those times in a theatre are different every night and it is not like anything that is happening anywhere else. A single spotlight can illuminate an image or a feeling that stays with you a lifetime.
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