Video transcript
Lighting – 03. Developing a lighting design

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[Music playing]

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Hi. I'm Lincoln Gidney. And, this is the third lesson in our series on basic lighting design. In this video, we're going to use some of our previous knowledge, and go through the creative process of taking a scene, and developing a lighting design for it.

We'll be looking at working with the actors, the director, and the text, and highlighting significant points, and adding new meaning alongside the text. We're going to use a lot of our knowledge from the first lesson, and a bit of our knowledge from the second. So, if you haven't watched those yet, please do.

Our basis for this lesson will be a performance of the opening of 'Richard III' by William Shakespeare, performed by Caitlin Williams. This showing will first happen just under house lights, with no lighting effects, so we can get an understanding of the basis of our task.

CAITLIN WILLIAMS: Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York, and all the clouds that lour'd upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths. Our bruised arms hung up for monuments. Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings. Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

Grim visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front. And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady's chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking glass. I, that am rudely stamped and want love's majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph.

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished. Sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up. And, that so lamely and unfashionable, the dogs bark at me as I halt by them.

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace have no delight to pass away the time. Unless to spy my shadow in the sun and descant on mine own deformity. And therefore, if I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams. To set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate, the one against the other. And, if King Edward be as true and just as I am subtle, false, and treacherous, this day should Clarence closely be mew'd up. About a prophecy, which says that 'G' of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be. Dive thoughts down to my soul. Here Clarence comes.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Now that we're familiar with the scene we have to light, we must start to ask ourselves design oriented questions. Things like - What happens in the scene? Are there any shifts or changes? Who, and what, is significant on stage? And, are there any ideas, themes, or subtext that I might want to highlight as a designer?

We must also be aware of the other production elements, like set and costume. In this case, we've got a really neutral costume, and just a plain white wall as our set. So, we're going to be focusing on the actor themselves, and that white wall, in our lighting design.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of inquiries. And, the greater understanding you can have of a piece, the better. You might not always be able to answer all of these questions yourself. So, feel free to ask your director, or the actors in the scene, about their vision. I sat down with Caitlin to get a better understanding of the monologue from an actor's perspective.

So, Caitlin, this is the opening to 'Richard III' by William Shakespeare, a very famous monologue. Can you just give us a quick rundown of who is this character, and what's the context of this soliloquy.

CAITLIN WILLIAMS: OK. So, the context of the soliloquy. It comes at the beginning of the play. The play starts after a series of civil wars between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Richard, who's delivering the soliloquy, is one of the Yorks. His older brother is the king. The Yorks have actually won this battle. His older brother is King Edward.

And, as his soliloquy starts, Richard is really just laying the ground, explaining that they've come to this wonderful peace time. You then get a sense of who Richard is, and how he is perceived. Which is he is physically deformed. And, he's kind of perceived as a monster by those around him.

And, then you get a sense of he really leans into that. He acknowledges, and I think really wants to be, that kind of villainous monstrous figure, as he says.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Great. And, what is the sort of emotional journey that you, as in the actor and the character, go through as you go through this soliloquy?

CAITLIN WILLIAMS: Yeah. So, at the start, I think he's acting almost like a herald. He's explaining to the audience what has gone on. He's talking about this terrible time of war, and how that has become a time of peace. And, I think he takes on this kind of very false sense of positivity. Isn't this wonderful?

And, then we get this turn and as soon as he says, 'But I,' and he starts talking about himself. And, we get the sense that he's really unhappy with this peace. He feels like he doesn't fit into it. There's nothing for him to do, as he says there's no delight to pass away the time.

He knows that he's hated. He knows that he won't really prosper in this peace. And, so, he chooses to become a villain.

And, I think that stems from kind of a level of self-hatred. But also, I think it stems from a certain amount of arrogance. I think he really believes he's the smartest in the room.

And, that begins to come out when he says about all these plots that he's laid, and all this stuff that he's going to do, these machinations that he's going to make in order to overthrow his 2 older brothers. And, I think that really stems from arrogance and a kind of hatred. And, then of course Clarence coming in.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: And, are there any specifics about this particular stage space, that we're sitting on currently, that we need to know about as an audience?

CAITLIN WILLIAMS: Yeah. So, as a soliloquy, it's isolated from the rest of the play. It really is the very beginning. It kind of doesn't need to be located in a specific stage space.

So, here we have like a really blank background. And, that works because you're really just supposed to focus on Richard and his words. Of course, we enter into the action of the play when Clarence enters. And, we have that from stage left.

And, that's really all you need to know. That at some point, Clarence will enter. But, until that point, it really is like an isolated moment on the stage.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: With our more complete understanding of the piece, we can start to flex our creative muscles.

I'm going to walk you through a simple design for the scene. And, next lesson, we'll talk about how we technically achieve this design. I started with a general wash of light and a few colour changing LEDs. With this basic palette, we can consider what effects we might want to add.

The first thing I think is important are those 3 big shifts in the text, where Richard moves from recount, to self-loathing, to this Machiavellian plotting. There is also a sort of introduction and conclusion in the first and last lines of the text.

So, let's start at the beginning. 'Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.' We have a natural lighting shift there. Did you hear it? The play opens with wintery coldness and quickly develops into warmth.

So, let's mirror that with our lighting design. We can slowly and ominously bring up a cool wintry light. And, then fairly quickly develop that into a warm natural inviting light as Richard recounts the victories of his brother.

Then, as we move to Richard musing on his own situation and espousing his self-hatred, we can focus more intensely on him. We could take out some of the light surrounding him and cool everything down, and put some strongly directional sidelight to cast some shadows across the face. This might reflect a darker atmosphere, or an inner turmoil.

But then, as Richard find solace in his scheming, and looking towards a future, we can once again open up to a warmer colour palette and widen the space as he considers the future. Richard also has royal ambitions at this point. I chose to reflect this with a front left uplift, casting a shadow which appears gargantuan as he schemes. This light is called a 'special', which just means it's one specific light that's used for one, or very few special effects.

Then finally, we move out of the realm of the soliloquy, and back into a less heightened, more realistic theatrical space, as Richard buries his thoughts when his brother Clarence enters. This is one of an infinite amount of design visions for any given scene. Your own ideas will vary based on other production elements, your actors, the directorial vision, and your own ideas. You might choose to be more subtle, or more overt, or take a completely different approach. That's your job as the lighting designer. So, we've got all the pieces in place. Let's see it come together.

A couple of things to look for specifically. I haven't really talked about fade times, and I've only briefly mentioned levels of light. See if you can work out what the effect of having these slow fades is, and how it affects the pace of the scene. Also, consider what other choices you might have made to telegraph different ideas within the text. Enjoy.

CAITLYN WILLIAMS: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York. And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths. Our bruised arms hung up for monuments. Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings. Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. Grim visage war hath smoothed his wrinkled front. And now instead of mounting barbed steeds to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady's chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking glass. I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph.

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion. Cheated of feature by dissembling nature - deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up. And, that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them. Why I, in this weak piping time of peace have no delight to pass away the time, unless despite my shadow in the sun and descant on my known deformity.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams. To set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate, the one against the other.

And, if King Edward be as true and just, as I am subtle, false, and treacherous, this day should Clarence closely be mew'd up. About a prophecy, which says that 'G' of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be. Dive, thoughts, down to my soul. Here Clarence comes.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Let's consider that scene as a whole. We must remind ourselves that this is the opening to a much longer play. So, in this scene, we need to be aware of how the themes of the play, the nature of the characters, and the intended audience response is reflected in this moment. Richard is a villain. That's for sure. But also, he is the protagonist. The audience needs to understand both his nature and his thought process.

These ideas directly affect this design. The lights flow smoothly from moment to moment, taking the audience through his mentality in a cohesive way. Similarly, the lights only hint at a sinister element to Richard. He's always clearly visible. And, the usage of these subtle colorings indicates a refusal on the behalf of the design to instantly pass judgement on him. Rather, it allows the audience to engage meaningfully with this sinister seeming individual.

You might choose to develop these ideas into themes for your full design, subtly shifting and changing things as the action of the play develops. Or, you might make a specific effect a motif to link moods and moments together throughout the piece. Also, on a final note, consider the practicalities of the design, especially from an audience perspective. In this whole scene, it is easy to see the actor's face, which allows for a more accessible performance.

Here are some questions you can use for the creation of your design. And, some more advanced ones to help you refine your ideas into a full design vision.

This has been the third lesson on the basics of lighting design. Today, we covered creating a design from a creative standpoint. Next lesson, we'll continue on this theme and look at creating a lighting plan and a cue sheet for this piece, and also look at what the backstage work of the theatre actually looks like.

In the meantime, why don't you have a go at creating your own designs for this scene, or maybe a different scene that you've been working on. My name's Lincoln Gidney, and I hope you've enjoyed the lesson.


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