Tag Archives: Daren Scott

Intimate Details – A Conversation with Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller

Curtis Mueller, Lighting Designer for Oleanna

Curtis Mueller knows better than to be fooled by simplicity.

When asked to design lights for Intrepid’s production of Oleanna (which is now currently running at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas), he was careful not to presume that a two-person play set in the round would be an easy show to design.

“The challenge with this play is that it’s so focused on just a conversation really, one wouldn’t think that it would be that challenging,” says Curtis.  ”But from a lighting perspective, you are really trying to underscore certain moments of the show, depending on that conversation.”

Having designed for Intrepid’s past productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical (2012) and Hamlet, which just closed in February, Curtis was up to the task of switching gears from these bigger ensemble pieces to Mamet’s intimate office wordplay.

“Scenically, we’re in a professor’s office, so we’re trying to figure out ways to make each scene look different, but still not going too far from reality,” he said, explaining that the lighting will play a big part in portraying both the development of the story as well as the passage of time from one act to the next.

Sunlight image for lighting inspiration

“The opening of the show is just a simple conversation,” he says.  ”The audience doesn’t know what it’s going to escalate to yet, so we have more of an isolated look to it.”

Using the idea of the office windows and playing with the amount of sunlight coming through the blinds is one way in which Curtis plans to tell the story, although without an actual window onstage to work with, this gets tricky.  Enter special effects created by lighting gobos that douse the stage with dappled sunlight on cue.

“By the end of the play, the scene is fully exposed, wider and open,” says Curtis.  This brighter lighting also serves to “expose” the action as the play culminates into its most heated moments.

The specifics of these lighting choices will also serve to distinguish each act.  Since the actors never leave the space and the set never alters, the challenge is making sure that the audience understands that each act takes place in a different time.

Lighting effects play out in Act One. Photo credit: Daren Scott

“We made a point that passage of time would affect the lighting design because we don’t want to have the feeling that nothing changes at all – especially with the way the play progresses, and the characters develop, and argument continues,” he says.

Working in the round also presents its own set of challenges, as the designer has to make sure that the actors and the set are cleanly lit from all angles and from all audience perspectives.  Additionally, the blocking – or the movement of the actors – is different from a traditional stage, so there is extra pressure for the lighting to be uniform no matter which direction the actor is facing.

Given these challenges, this piece is a far departure from its surface simplicity, Curtis acknowledges.  ”We can really strip everything away and focus on the details,” he says.  ”I’m actually excited by the simplicity of it.”  – T.T.

Oleanna is a special engagement that runs through April 14 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas, CA.  Tickets can be purchased here.

 

 

Tales of Musical Midsummers Past

The Mechanicals: Busting it out, nightly           (Photo credit: Daren Scott)

“…Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightning in the collied night…” (I.i)

Closing weekend descends upon us, and we are stunned that we are preparing to sing our last “So Happy Together!”  Even though this production has moved swiftly though performance phase, we are so thrilled to have pulled off our Shakespearean musical motif with flair and sh’boom.  But before we start patting ourselves on our own creative backs, we thought it might be a good idea to take a journey down a Shakespeare-inspired lane.  Maybe these previous concoctions of Midsummer and music need a nod from our 60s set list as well.

Shakespeare penned MND in the 1590s and included some fairy lyrics for his flighty characters.  But how long would it be before the idea of a full-fledged musical would enter the picture?

Meet Henry Purcell and his 1692 semi-opera, The Fairy Queen, which kept most of Bill’s original text but infused the play with masques to illuminate its themes of love and marriage, including one featuring the Greek goddess Hymen.  Shockingly, it was widely misunderstood by Restoration Era audiences.

Unshockingly, David Garrick also had to have his operatic Midsummer say.  His opera, entitled The Fairies, premiered in 1755 and featured only the storylines of the forest (sorry, Mechanicals!).  All singing, all the time, there were 28 added airs, duets, and choruses in addition to the recitatively-crooned dialogue.  Reception was mixed, but a publication called The Tuner deemed it “a laudable attempt to encourage native musical Productions.”  (Future musical productions thank you for the vote of confidence!)

David Garrick. The Fairies.– courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Moving forward…some midsummer trivia!  Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March” was written in 1842 as incidental music for a German production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Writing the music to accompany this play actually spanned the composer’s entire lifetime, as he was 17 years old when he penned the overture and then completed the score a few years before his death.

Over the years, Mendelssohn’s music has also been choreographed into ballet by masters like Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, and Frederick Ashton.

Of course, in modern times, there have been a slew of looser adaptations which have woven music through the storyline of this play.  Recently, the off-Broadway hit, The Donkey Show, featured the basic storyline set to 70s-era disco music, dance club style.

Which brings us to our own little corner of the Shakespearean musical anthology – an intermingling of nostalgia and poetry that has been tugging heartstrings and garnering smiles of familiarity since our opening two weekends ago.  And it’s no wonder – when the cast sings about fairy tale love on summer nights in between their soliloquies and witty banter, the flow is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that infusing Midsummer with music isn’t what Shakespeare had intended all along.  After all, wasn’t he the first to point out that “life could be a dream”?   –  T.T.

Midsummer takes its final bow on Sunday. (Photo credit: Daren Scott)