Action Jackson, Part 2: Lighting Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

On every level, the design for Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is about bear-hugging the audience for 90 minutes, with an actual bear or two thrown in. “I wanted to create a world in which one couldn’t tell the difference between a lighting idea or a scenic one; it was all compiled into a total experience,” says LD Justin Townsend. “Many of the fixtures I simply strapped to the set or created compositions of hanging units in the exact same way that Donyale does in her ‘mash-up’ scenery style. The lights then are able to act as an architecture, or scenery, alongside their use to illuminate a scene. Our relationship was very call-and-response: One day, a bear appeared in front of my lights, cutting the clean, crisp backlight line, so I just wrapped the light around it. This wasn’t the kind of show that could be built in the shop; it had to happen in the room, which is not standard Broadway, and we saw some real support from the local in making it unique.”

The Element Labs Versa Tubes, he says, “go all the way into the back row of the mezzanine, with the Christmas lights below on the grid. They’re downtown rock ‘n’ roll, similar to the fluorescents we had before, and I cued them with very specific colors for a look that’s almost analog. I’m not tricking them out as much as I could have, because I wanted to connect them to the ‘sexy Americana’ color palette of the room—red, blue, and white at just two or three moments in the song ‘Rock Star’ to make the whole room explode. Slicing the red room with an acrid yellow light really pops the horse and some of the other details.”

To augment the sensation of “a happening,” Townsend also had the Jacobs’ centerpiece chandelier flown in 20', “and it floats as low as the sightlines allow. The set is so shallow, with just 12' of acting area, that we killed a row of seats and pushed it on top of the audience and made them part of the event, but we didn’t want the lighting to overwhelm and disrupt the show’s momentum. The comic scenes have a clean, flat look, and while we have moving lights, the show is much more about the staccato nature of cueing conventionals off an ETC Eos console. Because of that, we have an enormous amount of dimmers.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or check out the November-December issue of Live Design.

Robert Cashill, a former editor of the former Lighting Dimensions, has been part of the LD universe since 1994. Cashill, a member of the New York-based Drama Desk and the Online Film Critics Society, is the film editor of He says you know you’re a design writer when you’re happy to have been seated in the mezzanine for a show like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, allowing a fuller view of the production.

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