Live Design Award Winner: The Design Team For Great Comet

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812
(Chad Batka) Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

The third annual Live Design Awards honor a stellar group of theatre, opera, and concert designers as well as a leading architectural lighting design firm and a non-profit association. This year’s winners include: Es Devlin for brave new worlds in scenic design for concerts and theatre; the design team for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812 (Bradley King, lighting; Mimi Lien, sets; Nicholas Pope, sound; Paloma Young, costumes) for creating a truly exhilarating theatrical experience; Jonathan Deans for being a sound designer extraordinaire and winner of the second annual Abe Jacob Award for Sound Design; Tal Yarden for pushing the boundaries with cutting-edge projection and video design; Sooner Routhier and Robert Long for masterful teamwork for concert design and production; UVLD for continued excellence in corporate lighting design; and the Event Safety Alliance for selfless work in keeping our industry safe.

The 2017 Live Design Awards will be presented along with the Excellence In Live Design Awards and the Products of the Year during a reception in New York City on Monday, June 12, sponsored by GLP and Meyer Sound.

The Design Team For Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812


Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

In the case of the four talented designers who have redefined the Broadway experience with their innovative, immersive environment for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812 (Bradley King, lighting; Mimi Lien, sets; Nicholas Pope, sound; Paloma Young, costumes), the words of the show’s creator/composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin sum it up below. These designers have not only designed a show, but also redesigned the theatre to house it. Their Live Design Achievement Award for creating a truly exhilarating theatrical experience will be presented by Chavkin.

The design team for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 has been traveling together for a long time. We started in a room with 87 seats. There were 10 principals, and I believe a band of six. There was barely room for choreography. The grid was perhaps five feet above the actors' heads when they stood on the walkway. There were significant hurdles. And yet, this was Ars Nova, run by artistic director Jason Eagan and at the time overseen by managing director Jeremy Blocker, who had both commissioned the piece from Dave Malloy, a composer who had been working in San Francisco and then downtown experimental New York for years. Dave had been laughed at by larger theatres when he pitched the idea: adapt a 70-page sliver from War And Peace into a fully sung-through ‘electro-pop opera,’ not Ars.

And in July 2012, I found myself on the phone with Jason, who was desperately urging me to demand that his board approve them spending more money to see through set designer Mimi Lien's astonishing vision. She’d dreamed two snaking raised bars—runways of sorts—cutting through the space. Inspired by Dave's stories of a mad evening in Moscow, the audience was in banquettes and at cafe tables and on stools at the bar. The room was opulent, draped in red. One time Mimi called it, “a dream of Russia.” Paloma Young’s costumes matched this and doubled down. The principals were in luscious period costumes—at that time, rented from carefully vetted stock—and the band in punkish folk looks. Paloma shopped where she could. Later, we transferred, first to the custom built tent, designed largely by Mimi, whose background in architecture proved essential to the project, and then to the A.R.T. When we finally arrived at the Imperial Theater on Broadway, Paloma was urged by our producers Howard and Janet Kagan, and Paula Marie Black to dream bigger, with more detail, the highest integrity of construction. This was essential because the audience was not watching from across the proscenium line but rather inches away from these clothes.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

At Ars Nova, lighting designer Bradley King, in collaboration with Mimi, had the idea to light the entire thing with custom chandeliers and hanging lightbulbs, which could then be harnessed in the final few simple, quiet moments— when Pierre is wandering alone through the frozen streets of Moscow in the pitch darkness—to simulate the cosmos and the heavens. The chandeliers and lightbulbs have stayed, even as the scale has grown and now includes automated instruments that raise and lower, sometimes slipping one-by-one into place like gently dripping stars, and sometimes shooting down like a torrent of meteors.

Finally Nick Pope took the scale of the room and wrapped us in it. He and his team created a program that could track the voice with as much detail as the now 600+ individually chosen paintings—selected by Mimi with her partner in crime, props designer Noah Mease—that cover our red curtains, lit, of course, by picture lights designed by Brad.

Because we've gotten to grow it slowly, every corner of this show fills in the space purposefully left by another element. Paloma's costumes, a combination of lavish period and savage punk and high fashion contemporary, allow Mimi's set, including the fully designed entrance path,  to be a timeless blend of Russian styles; if you look closely, a painting of Pussy Riot hangs not far from period landscapes of Moscow burning. Mimi’s singularly holistic world, in turn, allows Bradley and Nick to both care for the room while also ceaselessly focusing the audience's attention where the story demands. This production truly overwhelms the senses, and at its core, this for us has never been about spectacle. It's why this team is so extraordinary, and their work is so profound, and why I'm so delighted they’ve been honored as a group in this way. The work has always been about story: Tolstoy’s, and of course, Dave’s. It’s the story of the entirety of society, from the highest to the lowest, from the romantic to the philosophical. To state the obvious, it’s War And Peace. It’s not afraid of size, and it’s all about details. There’s a sense of humor, beauty, texture, and specificity. Congratulations to the whole team on this much-deserved honor.”

—Rachel Chavkin, director, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

Great Comet’s design team is nothing short of wizards, sorcerers who somehow conjured a lush and extravagant world out of the scraps of clues and contradictions my music and lyrics provided. The lights blaze and pulse, then gently fall away to a single bulb; gorgeous gowns flirt with troubadour punks; the sound surrounds and races with the action, from opera to rave to drawing room; all of this happening in a single room that gathers the audience and the performers together in one gorgeous celebration of Tolstoy and life. It’s an entire culture that I absolutely never could have imagined, and yet, impossibly, is exactly what I had always imagined.

—Dave Malloy, Composer/Creator, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812

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