The design team of Jules Fisher, winner of nine Tony Awards, and triple Tony-winner Peggy Eisenhauer were double nominated for Tony Awards this year for two revivals: Best Lighting Design for the play The Iceman Cometh, starring Denzel Washington and closing on July 1, and the musical Once On This Island, which won the Tony for Best Musical Revival. Live Design chats with Fisher about their work on these two productions:
Live Design: How do you approach revivals of a play and a musical? Do prior productions serve as a reference, or how do you do research?
Jules Fisher: We would like to think that it is a new play. We don’t attempt to make it like any other production and do no research to learn how it was done. We are always working with a new director and want to execute his or her vision while still telling the story of the original. And I don’t think our egos would allow us to copy anyone else's work nor would we want to.
LD: What was the main lighting challenge/solution for The Iceman Cometh?
JF: George Wolfe is a visionary director. He and scenic designer Santo Loquasto found a way to set the story in four different parts or rooms of the “Bar/Hotel” that Eugene O’Neill described as one set. Part of our job was to make these different locations connect or relate to each other architecturally and in mood. Santo, who knows so much about lighting, made the set all very dark wood fading off to black so we could pull out the 19 actors from the background. Hickey, the main character in the play, and one other actor are the only African Americans in the play, thus making them more prominent when they were featured was a challenge throughout cueing. As it runs for four hours, it was necessary to provide variety without making the changes look obvious. The other challenge was to make it look bright enough for a large Broadway house without losing the mood of sadness in the heartbreaking tale
LD: And for Once On This Island?
JF: The theatre is the Circle in the Square, which is in the round or I should say in the oval, with the audience on 360-degree viewing and has a low black ceiling of catwalks for the lights. So one challenge was how to make the production, which had no sky visible, seem like the sun drenched tropical island of Haiti and not light up the audience, whose first row has their feet on the stage, which is actually light colored sand. All the light sources come from overhead so there is no actual sidelight possible. We spent much time blending the areas on the sand so the audience would not see circles of spotlights when a scene was to be an expanse of unbroken sun or moonlight.
LD: Use of LED fixtures, did you include them in either of these rigs? If so, how do they work for you color-wise, and if not, what are your choices instead, in terms of movers and conventionals?
JF: We used many LED fixtures in both designs. For Once On This Island to smooth out and blend the acting areas we used Solaris Flare fixtures carefully “blindered” so the audience would not see the pixel source. We also lit the acting areas with a mixture of incandescent ETC Source Four ellipsoidal and color-changing Source Four ellipsoidals. It took much experimenting but we eventually got the colors to match. The movers were Martin by Harman MAC Viper Performance and Profiles @ 1.225Kw. On Iceman we used TMB Solaris Flare Q’s at a very high trim to provide the main backlight to the stage augmented with TRX Color Blaze strips. The “specials” were MAC Encore Performance 600 watt.
LD: How does the lighting in each case help enhance the storytelling?
JF: Like it always should, by making the mood and environment believable or exaggerated to heighten the emotion.