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Collaborating
Devised Project

To further explore my findings of how light can successfully convey story and emotion to an audience, and how the process of lighting a show can help shape a piece, I decided to create my own work in collaboration with a performer named Morgan, who is a movement specialist. The intention was to place lighting in the role of collaborator to create a piece where it was intertwined with the movement and make them responsive to each other. I aimed to find how changing the role and function of light impacted the quality of it, as well as view the impact it can have on a performer’s process. 

While this process was contrived, it was a good opportunity to explore the use of light as a collaborator in a devising process, with the intention of establishing a potential practice that can then be applied to my professional work. This exploration allowed me to tailor my work in a more academic way so that I could control various factors and place lighting at the centre of the process, rather than working within professional constraints where my role and work is restricted by the conditions of the productions. Therefore, the outcomes of this project are more focused on the process rather than the final piece.

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Through this process, I also sought to use my findings from an earlier research project shown on the right) with Morgan, which explored interrelationships between light and performer, and apply them to the creation of a piece, inspired by Michael Hull’s work with Russel Maliphant. This research formed the foundation of my process as I developed a practice of using light in a way that responded to a performer, and allowed a performer is respond to it, in a two-way exchange, and focused on finding connections then be able to apply the practice to a performative piece. 

While we found some success in this previous research project in terms of practice, one of the main restrictive factors we faced, regarding creating a piece, was a lack of stimulus. While we were able to create interactions between light and performer, we struggled to create work that communicated a meaningful narrative to an audience. They both informed the other, but a fixed stimulus was needed to be able to create something of substance. 

We decided to use a poem (shown left) as source material to draw a narrative from that we could convey through our work. Having source material, in place of a script, in many ways made this process similar to other theatre projects like ‘Wait For Me’. However, the main difference for this was that we analysed it together, rather than bringing our own interpretations to the process separately. In both cases though, lighting design must serve the text. We worked through the text together and discussed ideas around it to ensure we both had the same intention in mind, as we felt it was important that our creative thinking was aligned for the project. 

 

We could then devise and explore the different moments of the piece. This would often start with me offering a single light that could embody a part of the narrative for Morgan to explore in the space, which I could then manipulate, as she discovered the world of the piece. All the dramaturgical choices and design ideas were conceived in the space and ideas were always explored together to keep the strong link. The story in the poem is not necessarily apparent in this example, but it led to the creation of a work that was about the whole image where the performer and light are clearly working together in a way where, without the co-existence, the meaning would be lost. They are telling the story together as one, rather than two separate elements at the same time. These interactions were authentic every time. The beats were fixed, but the transitions between happened when it felt right in the moment which meant that each time we ran it, it was different. 

Here is a version of our devised piece.

Our interpretation of this saw the ‘grey being’ as someone suffering mental hardship who was seeking happiness, first by masking their feelings which eventually breaks down, then through quick fixes that ultimately don’t work, and finally by learning to manage the ‘grey’ in a healthy consistent way with the grey co-existing with happiness. 

 

The idea of mask was created through a corridor of light that the performer moved their hand through while holding close attention to it. Their face was illuminated by the ambient glow of the light on the hand, making the hand the focal point, until the whole body was revealed in a cold light to show the ‘real’ state with the ‘mask’ light no longer being able to conceal it. These changes of light would shift the movement quality of the performer and made light feel like a real presence in the space. We then introduced an appearance of happiness with the golden glow. The pace of the movement in both the performer and the lighting increased as the space expanded but when the size of the light pulled down again, it closed her into a hostile tight space that she tentatively wanted to break free from. The timing of this was entirely manual and determined by her being close to the centre of the space with a game of trying to catch her. 

During the two days of creation, we also found that having another person that was detached from the two production elements was very helpful to the process. The venue technician with us effectively became our dramaturg and would offer opinions on how the piece was working. This helped keep us focused on the bigger picture rather than focusing on our individual practices. This shows that the role of a lighting designer should at a minimum, have conversations with the other departments to maintain the joint understanding of intention, as despite our primary intention being to work collaboratively together, we still benefited from an external voice. 

I felt that this subject worked well in this context due to the way that the lighting and the performer could work together almost like a duet, with light having a seemingly physical presence, while still maintaining the isolated and inwardly reflective subject of the piece by only having one figure on stage. This could then be supported by the presence of lighting embodying their psyche. This logic was also carried into the movement as we actively chose to have moments, especially in the beginning, where only part of the performer’s body was visible, and so moved the ‘character’ away from being the performer on stage. The intention of this was to remove the performer’s individual identity to make the audience able to see themselves in the piece in a more personal, reflective way. 

 

This is an example of how the role of lighting design needs to be appropriate to the production. While this piece was constructed around the idea of placing light in a key collaborative role, this process wouldn’t be as impactful for helpful for all narratives and so would need to be used sparingly to maintain its authenticity. 

During our time working on the project, we experimented with different nuances. The result of this was that every time we ran the performance, it changed. While part of this is due to us trying different ideas, a lot of it was due to the improvised nature of how we were responding to each other. As I was operating the lighting live using faders, I was able to keep it responsive to what was happening on stage which meant that I could judge when to move to the next phase of the sequence, or bring it in when the performer moved on. This ultimately allowed for us to experience the piece in a new way each time and kept the relationship between my lighting and the performer authentic. This ultimately built on the relationship that the performer for ‘Boys Cry’ had with the operator, but in this piece, Morgan knew that it was a responsive entity and was able to influence how it behaved in a more elaborate, and ultimately, human way. 

 

This relationship between performer and lighting operator was exemplified when our technician operated the piece so that I could film it. When he operated it, he of course made different choices which changed the experience for the performer and subsequently the whole piece and shows the true connection the two elements had. This could also be an issue with this type of approach, while the variation of the piece can be an interesting element for viewers, it also makes it very difficult to change the performer or operator, making a production like this less viable for having longevity, due to the need for consistent staffing. 

The piece also had an interesting relationship with music and sound. I was keen to keep the piece focused on just the relationship between performer and light, however once we had made the structure of the piece, we played with the idea of playing music with it, this wasn’t directly responding to the action on stage, but we tried to find tracks that fitted the mood and pace. We found that the music made the piece feel artificial which was probably largely because it hadn’t been made to fit the production. Despite this, we found that music often made the next run-through better as it helped the performer to access a different mindset that she could bring into the subsequent run. 

 

While this is interesting, adding music later on in the process also exemplified the potential issue of layering lighting onto a production at the final stage, like it was for ‘Wait For Me’, as while it can be made in a way that supports the source material, there is the possibility for it to conflict with prior decisions, and negatively impact other production elements. Of course, it is not always feasible to bring lighting into the process earlier than the production week, but it is beneficial to at least communicate the intentions for the lighting design early on so that various departments and the director know what to expect. 

The following video is a series of reflections from Morgan about her experience working on this project to give a performer's perspective

These thoughts show that there can be a genuine connection between a performer and light. However, they also show the need to consider the requirements of other people's processes. It seems that Morgan's use of music equates to a lighting designer's process of designing a rig. While together we could both establish broad story beats, she needed to use music to allow her to discover the nuance and understanding of the movement and character. This then facilitates a meaningful relationship with light, just as I had to consider where to place lights to then to use them to sculpt a space.

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This process shows the power lighting can have in assisting performers in their process. Working on this piece was an incredibly refreshing process. While we were aware that it was not necessarily the most elaborate product, the journey we went on was very helpful in discovering the extent to which lighting can be a key collaborator and tool to help directors and performers create their work. For example, after this experience, I was in a rehearsal where the director and cast were struggling to block a scene that was going to be lit entirely by a single light on stage. Once I suggested turning off the bright lights in the room and using a single phone torch to light the rehearsal, they were able to resolve the scene. This exemplifies a realistic application of this practice in a production process and is a possibility of lighting design that is often not utilised.