Stratford upon Manhattan


For the first time in 30 years, New York audiences will enjoy productions from Canada's prestigious Stratford Festival. Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (far right) and Moliere's The Miser (right), both featuring the work of resident lighting designer Michael Whitfield, are scheduled to begin a three-week run at City Center Theatre this month.

The agreement to take two productions to City Center was decided in the summer of 1997, while the 1998 season was still being discussed. Says Whitfield, "We didn't design the shows specifically with the idea that they were going to tour, but rather that they would suit what we needed." Luckily, City Center, which has a capacity of about 2,600, is a larger theatre than the Avon, which seats almost 1,100. "It's a bigger, wider proscenium arch, but overall the stage isn't any deeper, so we're a little tight upstage. Generally it's easier when you go from a smaller to a larger house."

One of the challenges of fitting the productions into City Center is the absence of a critical position--a lighting bridge that is located about 10' (3m) downstage of the curtain line at the Avon. "When we set the shows at the Avon, they tend to come through the proscenium a little more than they normally would in a typical setup," Whitfield explains. But he'll just work with what City Center has available. "The bridge in the Avon becomes the first electric in the touring house situation. Then we create a little inner portal which is the representation of where the proscenium is here [in the Avon], and go back with the standard rig that we have here."

Angles are another problem that Whitfield is dealing with during the transfer. "The bridge isn't there, so they are going to be a bit steeper. The front of house turns out to be very close--their upper balcony rail is almost exactly where our ceiling cove is." Looking at the rest of the lighting positions, he says, "The box booms are a little farther off and not quite as high, so the geometry is actually pretty good."

Much Ado and The Miser share a rep plot in a rig that encompasses about 300 instruments, including several hard-to-find vintage units. But the New York engagement will primarily rely on City Center house equipment, which includes a plethora of ETC Source Fours. "The rig we'll be working with there is significantly more up to date," Whitfield comments.

His ultimate goal is to present a consistent visual image at both theatres. "We have to have the time and the flexibility to make the shows look as if they're absolutely at home in City Center--that is to say that the visual balance of the shows is back to the way it was at the Avon."