Around Town, Part One: Lighting And Scenic Design
The golden age of Broadway is back on stage at the newly reminted Lyric Theatre (formerly the home of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark). The Barrington Stage production of On The Town, directed by John Rando, features scenic and projection designs by Beowulf Boritt, sound by Kai Harada, lighting by Jason Lyons, and costumes by Jess Goldstein.
Boritt has a history of designing at Barrington Stage, including the wildly successful The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Rando, with whom he has a long collaborative history and friendship, brought him on aboard for this particular project. Working with his longtime associate Alexis Distler, Boritt brought the simple and clean design to Barrington and, now, to Broadway’s Lyric.
According to Boritt, the “heart of the design, a simplified New York skyline made of reflective blue Lexan™ polycarbonate sheeting, has remained through the whole process, almost unchanged.” Rando wanted the design to be simple, and Boritt describes his own style as leaning toward theatrical minimalism, so the iconic skyline was a perfect representation of the show. Boritt was inspired by a greeting card showing a simple city skyline that, he says, “seemed to capture the spirit of the show, and that, turned into blue Lexan, has been the jumping-off point for the whole design.”
In the original production at Barrington, about 80% of the show played in front of the Lexan skyline. For Broadway, as the show has grown, the team “fleshed it out a lot more, though keeping the same simple iconic spirit to the scenes,” explains Boritt. “In some ways, the number ‘Lonely Town,’ with no scenery at all except a Battery Park railing, a distant Statue of Liberty, and a couple of projected stylized clouds, is my favorite look in the show. They projected onto black duvetyn, and light blue painted scrim, mostly with a blackout behind, and once onto the scrim with a white cyc behind.”
Once the skyline visual was determined, Boritt says he “approached the show as a traditional wings-and-drop, in-one crossover, style of musical. It was written that way, and we didn’t want to tinker with the basic structure.” Within that structure, though, he wanted to “move to a really modern looking set. So, instead of painted canvas, we have the Lexan colored cut-outs. Instead of roll drops, we have video.”
The set was built by PRG, which helped achieve the combination of movement and simplicity that was key to both design and construction. “We have lots of motors flying and tracking scenery, and six deck winches to pull items in and out, but basically it’s a very old-fashioned approach to the movement of the set,” says Boritt. The scenic automation system is PRG’s Stage Command System with control via the Commander automation console.
Lyons’ design supports the ideas of simplicity, fluidity, and the classical musical made modern. Like Boritt’s use of Lexan, Lyons incorporated new technology into his classically inspired design. “I have spent the last several years integrating the use of LEDs into my design process, and even though this is a more classic musical than I have done of late, it was no exception,” he says. The Lexan portals are transformed with Vivid RGB Lighting’s LED Ribbon X1 Flexible Pixel Strips, and, in addition to the LEDs, Lyons uses a heavy moving light rig to keep the design fluid and flexible. “There’s lot of flying scenery, like a classic musical, and therefore, every scene has to be refocused and cut specifically to make it all work,” he says. “Looking at a plot, one could mistake it for a contemporary rock show, but we are really just using the technology to be very specific and still lighting and cueing in a more classical sense.” The lighting package was provided by Christie Lites.
Like Boritt, Lyons tried new ideas and new technology and learned things along the way. “I feel like I’m constantly learning with every show and every cue I write,” the lighting designer says. “This one was a lot about materials and textures, a bit more about reflective surfaces. I’m always learning more about LED technology and mixing it with more conventional stage lighting. We did a ton of homework on this, so there were very few surprises, and it mostly came together as planned.” Lyons’ team included his associate, Grant Wilcoxen, as well as assistant lighting designer Greg Goff.
In response to the reflective surfaces, Lyons used custom tophats to control spill and fought hard for enough real estate to hang booms all the way to the deck. “I got Beowulf to give me 8" behind each portal, floor to ceiling, which isn’t a lot, but we packed it full,” he says. For the portals, Lyons used pixel-based solutions, so “in a place where you would usually need to figure out if you wanted a 2-, 3-, or 4-circuit chase, we just had control of each lamp separately. This made for a huge number of control channels but gave us the flexibility to change how we chose to use a piece in each cue.”
For control, the production has an ETC Eos. “For the first time, I used the magic sheet feature screen workspace feature together with the new software,” says Lyons. “This allowed me to have an interactive magic sheet and cue list in front of me on one touchscreen and kept my view of the stage completely clear. Also having constant access to realtime info allowed us all to be much more efficient in our cueing process, which was fantastic.” Lighting was programmed by Timothy F. Rogers.
Stay tuned for Around Town, Part Two: Projection And Sound Design. For more, download the November issue of Live Design for free for Apple and Android devices here.