Lighting Lucky Star at Judson Church

(Lucky Star by Pioneers Go East Collective, image by ZANNI productions)

The piece Lucky Star (.03) by Pioneers Go East Collective is an installation dance theatre performance with multimedia video content which premiers at Judson Church in New York City on July 13, 2021 for nine performances. The piece had a residency at La MaMa E.T.C. in June where we put together the technical elements. Pioneers Go East Collective has been working to push away from typical theatrical performance viewing structures and this piece will incorporate the audience by allowing them to move about the installation during the performance. The inspiration for the piece looks at the NYC downtown club and arts scene in relationship to LGBTQ+ personal stories and the performance artists to come out of these inter-generationally post-Stonewall.

When the bottom fell out from everyone and we went virtual due to the necessities of pandemic isolation, the collective was in the middle of creating Lucky Star. Past pieces have incorporated elements of multimedia but going fully virtual allowed us to re-think about how we could present parts of the piece Lucky Star in other ways in order to continue our work.

There is a moment in the original conception of the piece pre-pandemic when there is a film within the performance for which was filmed and edited by Kathleen Kelly of Proteo Media + Performance. So once it became safer to be together in a space we began work on filming this part of the show. We also spent time with film maker Jon Burklund filming sections and imagery of the piece at The Brick in Bushwick, that we could release in series form virtually during the pandemic and then also use in the live performance knowing that we would be in a space with an audience eventually. Working on these episodes separately from the live performance let us imagine how it would add layers to the live performance. In the initial creative process with collective members Gian Marco Lo Forte and Daniel Diaz, we always imagined that there would be visual content but being forced into lock down allowed us to push further what this content would look like and how it would fit into the piece; exploring the relationships to the performers, audience perceptions, lighting, sound, projection, and scenic elements as installation.

As a collective, a lot of our ideas bounce around and off of each other in collaboration. The designs include much of the aesthetic I've played around with in past designs with other companies; I have a love of color, geometry, spatial relationship, non-typical materials, and pop culture. It's hard not to constantly talk about the pandemic in relationship to things and the effects upon our industry will certainly stay with us for a while. Our original designs morphed over and over because of this, at one point there were plans to possibly do a performance prior to the vaccine rollout where there would have been a limited audience and the performers would be in a set design that consisted of enclosed plexiglass pods for a durational type of performance like a peep show. Eventually the venue wasn't ready to open yet and so the piece was put off further. Now that the restrictions have eased on audience due to the success of the vaccines in NYC, Lucky Star will premiere at Judson Church. The idea of the pods persisted though so that now we created a freestanding piece made of plexi on one side with an open back. The open back has a geometrical design created with cording that allows the viewer to see in. The plexi front allows us to project onto the set piece while maintaining the ability to see the performers within so that there's texture. We utilize many of the film work previously created as part of the installation. There are other shapes we created in space as part of the installation like plexi-glass panels on the floor and on a cube. I have always wanted to create a piece where I add streamers to an industrial fan to incorporate the air and we are going to do it with this piece (I would love to eventually create a piece with just many fans and streamers blowing into the space!).

As you can imagine with many downtown companies, there is very much a feel of DIY. Budgets are always strained but it can allow you to think out of the box when it comes to equipment. The space at Judson will have its rep lighting plot and so part of the installation will incorporate trying to make something interesting out of it. I'm always into breaking rules and love saturated colors in lighting. My style often breaks from the tradition that "good lighting design should never be noticed from the audience"; we are working in an artificially created environment (the theatre) where ultimately the synthesis of all the spectacle elements and power of storytelling allows the audience to suspend whatever disbeliefs they may have. I guess it’s my reaction to post modernism by embracing the spectacle while keeping ideas of post-modern greats. As with my scenic designs, in lighting I always love shaping space, geometry, and having a relationship in my design to the audience and the larger space of the full theatre experience. Lucky Star with its club/downtown inspiration allows us to really play with these extremes.

Judson Church recently went through an upgrade in their repertory equipment that includes some LED par washes that I’ll use to come up with some fun color choices as part of the club atmosphere. Of course, the Judson Church space is used for many other events, including church services, that overlap our show and we will need to make sure that what we do is compatible with a quick changeover. Anything we refocus will need to be returned after each performance so I will be very selective in how I use these units. These types of situations are common when in alternative spaces or when working within festival plots.

I also utilize some inexpensive generic LED strips bought online in order to create space and relationship to the scenic elements that will be placed on the floor. These units are white LED, so I gel them to match the scenic and add to the DIY pop aesthetic. Also placed on the floor will be some LED Chauvet Par units for some footlight changes in color. I would love to say that I utilize the best and most expensive equipment as with many of the productions featured in articles or when I actually get a bigger budget, but when working in dance and downtown theatre you really do have to get creative with what your options are and where you can "beg, borrow, and steal"; ha! When we had our residency at La MaMa, it allowed me to play with color ideas but what we had there isn't what we will have at Judson. So what the piece will ultimately look like will rely on spontaneous creativity when there. Much of the design, lighting, color, and shapes within the filmed sections, for which I designed, will be incorporated into the live show so that the aesthetic is mirrored between the live elements and the multimedia.

When working in the DIY aesthetic, I don't typically plot out the design fully and much of the work is done by hand in notebooks, but I have created a basic plot layout of the space for scenic in relation to the Judson space. This type of paperwork never ends up as "pretty" compared to other plots I’ve designed for rep and touring dance but it suffices for our needs.

The most thrilling part of everything, other than getting to design again, is that people will be able to experience the piece live and in person! I look forward to seeing how we can incorporate the virtual into our multimedia installation of Lucky Star and into future pieces.


Philip Treviño recently received a NYSCA grant for his work with Lucky Star and Pioneers Go East Collective. He won the Rosco 2018 Gobo Design Contest for “Square Radiant (R79727), a 2010 Bessie (NY Dance and Performance) Award, and currently serves on the Bessie Committee. He lives in the East Village with his husband Stephen and dachshund Nico.

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