Hanging lights


The huge oak tree that sits silently upstage as events unfold during Parade is a grim reminder of the inevitability of this tragedy's final act. The Broadway musical, produced by Lincoln Center in association with Livent, is based on the story of Leo Frank, a New York Jew who was accused of murdering a young girl in a factory in Atlanta at the turn of the century and later hanged by a lynch mob. Needless to say, the metaphorical tree was an inspired choice on the part of set designer Riccardo Hernandez, but it also proved a bit of a challenge for lighting designer Howell Binkley.

"My goal was to give the tree life throughout the show," Binkley explains, "because that's where Leo Frank is going to hang. It was a matter of tempering it in different directions, and just keeping it alive in each of the 45 scenes of the show, whether we're in somebody's office, or the jail, or wherever. Hal Prince [the director] said, 'Let's have it live upstage, where it could always be ominous, and just kiss it with light.' "

To that end, Binkley decided to light the tree from a variety of angles. The designer specified a grate in the floor of the Vivian Beaumont stage directly under the tree, in which he placed 75W Lighting & Electronics MiniStrips. He placed a similar MiniStrip system above the tree with several templates, then added some low sidelight from the upstage left and right windows in a surround that Hernandez designed to fly in during several key scenes.

"We had to have a lot of access for the actors to get on- and offstage," Binkley explains, "so Riccardo provided me with these windows to shoot light through. It worked not only for the tree but also in the scene where Leo is first brought into the Fulton County Jail; that's the first time the whole set is really lit up in the show. It's all white light, coming through all the windows, and it opens up the space for the first time."

For a large show, Binkley's equipment list was relatively simple. He used approximately 650 conventionals--ETC Source Fours, Source Four PARs, and a handful of Arri and Altman fresnels--with approximately 100 Wybron Coloram II scrollers, and about 20 Vari*Lite(R) automated luminaires, VL2Cs(TM) and VL6s(TM).

One of the most powerful scenes in Parade occurs in the second act, when a sledgehammer-wielding chain gang pounds on rocks in the burning sun as one of Leo's accusers sings the blues number "Feel the Rain Fall" (pictured). The chain gang is placed in silhouette in front of a cloud tram; Binkley used a combination of Rosco 23, Lee 105, and clear to denote the hot Georgia sun. "We flew them on a striplight," Binkley explains. "We called it a horizon flying electric, because it would start low and then slowly move up during the course of the song."

Harry Sangmeister served as Vari*Lite operator, and Chad McArver was associate LD. Expectations for Parade were high, but mixed reviews and cash-flow problems on the part of the financially strapped Livent forced the show to close on February 28.