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Heightening:
Boys Cry

‘Boy’s Cry’ is a fringe production that was first staged at the Omnibus Theatre, and then transferred to Hammersmith Studios (Studio 3). The staging of the play was partly inspired by the rules of Rakugo which traditionally means that any props in the production have to be conveyed solely by a chair, a Japanese folding fan, and a dish cloth. This was done with three black boxes instead. This style meant that the movement and performance was all conveyed through suggestion rather than in a naturalistic way.  

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Synopsis:

"When Mark is mugged on the way to college, his reality is shattered. This life-changing event forces him to confront some of his deepest issues.

On his journey towards healing he realises that interrogating his connection to masculinity."

Broadway World

The following video is a recording of the final performance of ‘Boys Cry’ at Riverside Studios - the second version of the production. 

*Note the video starts in blackout

The play is a one-hander and follows the main character telling a story from his past to the audience. Therefore, the performer was recounting moments rather than being in them, while moving through the space to reflect the changing locations. The script felt like it could be told around a campfire without any production elements or performance. However, it provided opportunity for lighting (and sound) to do a lot of the storytelling around the performer, helping to communicate where the events were taking place, especially as there was a lot of quick changes in location that weren’t always apparent from the dialogue alone. The director, sound designer and I were keen to use light and sound as devices to add depth to the performance by communicating an additional layer of the story to the audience by having the two production elements work together to construct the world around the performer in a multi-sensory way, by depicting the locations in which the story takes place and reflecting the character’s emotional responses to the events of the story. This places the role of lighting in a position to heighten the performance – where it integrates with other production elements to synergise their contributions to the production.

The idea of a production that was simply recounting a story caught my interest, and allowed me to go into the production with the intention of really pushing the extent to which my lighting could communicate the story. Similar to ‘Wait For Me’, the blocking of the performance had almost been fully formed before my involvement began. However, the opportunity to integrate my work with the sound design which was still in development. This allowed for the sound designer and I to work with each other and form the ‘theatre machine’ of the production to heighten the storytelling. The director was also a lot more considerate of the lighting, and while he didn’t have any fixed ideas of how it would look, he knew that he wanted it to be a key device in telling the story. This meant that we had multiple design meetings before the tech period and allowed us to develop a language that was integrated with the other production elements. Having the opportunity to relight this show straight after its initial two week run allowed me an opportunity to further develop my design, and also allowed the performer and director to integrate the lighting into the movement and helped to create a more cohesive production. For example, there are movement sequences marking the passage of time which changed significantly in the transfer as the lighting became clearer and informed the movement. 

My lighting design for this production was centred around depicting locations. However, due to the vast amount of locations in the script I could not make these particularly elaborate, and therefore I tried to have single sources of light that were attached to each place so that I could then move between them as the story moved between spaces. The fast pace through which the story moved resulted in there being a lot of lighting cues - a total of 135 (and 59 sound cues) in the 50-minute performance - and in some cases the story was only in a location for as long as half a line of dialogue. While this meant that the lighting was constantly changing, and at times was at risk of being jarring, it kept a dynamic fluidity to the lighting and helped it become a ‘real’ presence that was shaping the world for the performer and matching the pace of the piece and communicated the, often erratic, state of the protagonist’s mind in a way the heightened the piece. 

 

I found that having this dynamic fluid lighting to create non-naturalistic depictions of ‘real’ locations allowed the lighting to make the dream moments of the show feel more real in the context of the production. The audience were used to viewing the space as the character’s perception of the locations, and therefore the abstract sequences of lighting were not jarring, and instead communicated how detached he felt in these moments and embodied the spaces he was in. 

 

Ultimately my design intention was the same as in ‘Wait For Me’: to help tell the story of the piece by grounding the performance in a location, as well as conveying the shifting sense of emotion. However, in this production, because of the way sound is integrated with the lighting to heighten the production, the lighting was able to be part of a more dominant presence in the space. The nature of the piece also places the lighting as something that is reacting to the performer and the story, rather than being the world the story exists within. I was able to be bolder with lighting as there were fewer production elements, and fewer limiting technical factors. This difference however is ultimately guided by the source material and is another example of how lighting design is something that needs to be adaptive to its environment, whatever the role of it is. 

An example of this is looking at how it changed during the transfer, which was ultimately an opportunity for me to improve upon the lighting. The first venue that the show was staged in, the Omnibus Theatre, had very limited facilities in terms of the quality of the equipment available and the number of fixtures I was able to use. This was a big factor in me deciding to have a stripped down and abstracted suggestion of locations rather than naturalistic looks, though I had to find the artistic intention to justify the choice. When I then relit the show at Hammersmith Studios (the version of the production shown above), I had access to more sophisticated equipment such as high quality moving light profile units which gave me the ability to do a lot more. 

Despite this, the design intention didn’t change. By initially having to work in a restricted setting, I had to distil the essence of what the design really needed to be in order to best contribute to the production. This gave me a very strong foundation to then take forward to a setting with better technical facilities and allowed me to easily keep my work truthful and meaningful to the production, as well as be able to focus on the technicalities of delivering the design in a new space, especially considering the significantly different shape of the stage. 

 

The cue structure of the design also remained the same as we put a lot of work into picking out each moment that motivated a cue in preparation of the first production. The most noticeable difference in the lighting was the addition of lighting the boxes in various ways to shift their appearance to help create different locations, as well as have more nuanced specials for certain locations to better execute the intention of the design and improve the communication of the story and extent to which is heightened the production. I was now able to close in the spaces more which helped to create distance between each location and keep the flow between them cleaner as there were fewer overlaps. This also allowed for shifts to be less jarring as I was able to have previous locations slowly fade out even though the scene had moved on which is something that was not possible originally. It also facilitated more subtle shifts of light to embody the shifts of emotion in the space. This all made the communication of story and emotion stronger, and because it could be more elaborate, was able to heighten the production further as it could provide more to the theatre machine. 

The amount of cues of this piece made operating the show very intense, especially as the operator was controlling both sound and lighting (due to the budget limitations of the fringe) which, despite working to connect the two designs artistically, hadn’t been integrated together technically in operation. This meant that there were a lot of times where the cues were close together but slightly separated, as the lighting very often would trigger just before a move to a new location so that the light faded in as the performer moved into it, whereas the sound would come in once he was in the new location. Despite this difficulty, it helped to create the link between the two production elements as one theatrical device, and helped the performer feel connected to it as he knew that he was on stage being supported by the operator, which was easier for him to connect with when it was one person. I found this interesting as the production elements were ultimately responding to him through his delivery of cue lines, but, for him, there was a connection that guided him through the performance. 

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This production process demonstrates the importance of having a strong design language that informs the technical execution, by providing a platform to make decisions from that best serve the production. Comparing the performance to the rehearsal room shows how the piece is elevated by the introduction of lighting. However, the real success of the lighting in this production was the way it integrated with the sound design, which together create a presence in the space that heightens the production elements, and takes a simple evocative story and transforms it into a something that is experienced by the audience in a more immersive way. Therefore, ultimately placing lighting in a role of heightening a production through integration with other production elements increases its contribution when compared to just layering it on top to aid a production. 

 

Following this increased understanding and appreciation for how lighting can work with other elements to enhance and heighten a production, I was keen to find a way to apply this to a process that exemplifies and explores the idea first discovered during ‘Wait For Me’: the idea of light being a key factor in the creation and conceptualisation of a piece. I wanted to discover how allowing a performer to create alongside light can create a deeper connection between the two elements in a performance.