As a theatrical lighting designer, understanding the director's interpretation of the essential story is the first step to discovering what the overall look of the show is. Since theatre strives to convey emotion through use of a story, the text simply serves as the baseline for that interpretation. Through dissection and collaboration, a director steers the production team towards their initial conceptualizations.
I found myself as a part of a team designing Shakespeare's vengeful and bloody tragedy Macbeth, directed by a terribly brilliant woman named Gale Childs-Daly. She told her team that she wanted to make prevalent the consequences of Macbeth's misdeeds by a consistent presence of the 3 witches, who would seem to direct the fates and push the action of the story. The witches would weave through the battles, raise ghosts from their graves and drive Lady Macbeth to the brink of her own sanity. Gale asked her team to look at some of Francisco Goya's paintings for a visual starting point and having earlier fallen in love with his black painting of 1820, I jumped in head first. I was immediately drawn into The Colossus because of its power in the absence of light. The giant is given the perspective of overwhelming power because of light sources behind and to the side of him. The light helps sculpt his 3-dimensionality while creating a sense of mystery. This was how I would go on to light the witches from low side angles. The witches would then be the only consistent source of power in a story full of chaos.
Goya's The Colossus, the primary visual inspiration
The beginning of a battle sequence during Macbeth, the warriors remain fully lit in their world of violent chaos while the witches (Up Stage Left archway) remain cloaked in low sidelight and direct the actions of the battle. Photo by Don Litner.
I extended my research to learn everything I could about Goya and his black paintings in search for a “keystone”, the primary piece of the puzzle or the mantra that I can refer to when I describe my artistic approach. By chance, I came across Charles Baudelaire’s poem The Beacons where he tributes influential visual artists including this stanza about Goya:
“Goya, a nightmare full of things unknown;
The foetus witches broil on Sabbath night;
Old women at the mirror, children lone
Who tempt old demons with their limbs delight”
“Nightmare full of things unknown” in combination with Brechtian influence became the driving force as I tried to provoke mystery by creating a world full of shadows. Heavy texture and high contrast helped to create a world of unseen horrors. The space became Macbeth's nightmare, never fully revealing the stage, never betraying what lay next.
The 3 witches commune around their cauldron. a hole in the stage deck with multiple lighting instruments in different colors and textures with some fog. The high contrast emanating from the cauldron helps create the illusion of the witches overbearing power. Photo by Don Litner.