Live Design: How much did the film influence your research or your actual design, if at all?
Justin Townsend: Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge is foundational in my development as an artist. I saw the film while in graduate school at Cal Arts and was completely inspired by the mashups and juxtapositions, the editing and camera moves, and the rigor and virtuosity of the film. I hope that my work reflects those inspirations. I work to combine a historic sense of turn-of-the-century theatre with modern lighting techniques. The cueing is quite thick and complex and dynamic, echoing some of the movements in the film. The detail and precision of the lighting has vaudevillian and comedic-timing, creating, I hope, a sense of rich detail and precision.
LD: What is the architecture of the rig? What's where and why, and how has that changed since Boston?
JT: We were very fortunate to start a relationship with High End Systems and the Sola Wash 2000. Bobby Hale introduced me to this amazing light that is clean, bright and can be as soft as a wash light and focus sharp to shutter. Most importantly, it is perfectly silent. These became my powerhouse front-of-house lights and drive the show’s crisp clarity and access to the actors’ faces.
When moving from Boston to NYC, I was able to switch to the GLP impression X4 XL. This is an amazing light as it has tight, clean beams and beautiful, soft washes. Importantly, as it is an LED light, I’m able to do true zero count cueing. This became essential in creating and emulating some of the cueing structures that most remind me of Baz’s work.
LD: Who is your rental shop?
JT: Darren DeVerna worked with me to make the perfect rig. PRG continues to be a standard in the industry providing the huge amount of support and infrastructure that this project needed. In addition to a complex moving light package, there are set electrics everywhere. PRG had the resources to support me, and the production electrician, Jeremy Wahlers, to do our best work.
LD: Console and programmer...how long was the process pre- and in theatre?
JT: Two people helped me make this project possible. Brad Gray programmed the ETC Eos Ti. I find his work to be of the best. He is detailed, fast, and always working behind me as I race ahead. We work hand-in-glove together, and I find him always ready to experiment with thoughts I have as well as provide other ideas when I get stuck.
Nick Solyom, besides being one of Broadway’s top associates, brought a new skill set to the table that became essential. He created a video display that captured time code, what cue we were in, and what position all of the moving light ladders were in. This allowed us to do extremely detailed work on the fly. I would work with Brad on creating the cues, and Nick was able to review the video as I worked to adjust the frames or offer where new cues needed to be added. For me, this workflow was revolutionary as we were able to achieve a huge amount of extremely detailed work quickly.
LD: Use of color...what is the palette, and how does it help tell the story?
JT: The Moulin Rouge, of course, depends on red. The main scenic element of the red heart portals helped dictate the color pallet of red, pink, and blue. Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a story of excess and passion. Here again I push the colors rich deep reds, solid deep blues. Alex Timbers and I often are interested in simple and bold color combinations frequently only using one or two colors. We see the vivid green for Satine’s Absinthe Fairy—where the song starts with a dynamic teal quality of night but then the stars turn green as the bottle is pulled out and then the X4s punch a thrilling green for the entire number.
LD: One or two of your favorite lighting moments and what's happening then?
JT: I love the cueing in “Roxanne”—the clean, bold shapes of white light on the amazing dance featuring Robyn Hurder and Ricky Rojas and the rest of the company. Putting the strip lights on the deck allowed me to create deeper darkness around the dancers. The sudden shift to red provides just the right inevitable surprise and the hits in the music act almost like camera moves with fast pulses of light.
LD: What is the emotional arc to the lighting?
JT: I worked to shape the lighting from a chaotic burst of joy, as if we are in the center of a crystal chandelier and then through the distillation of love, and passion, so too do the lights become simpler, bolder. The color becomes simpler, the cueing bolder. At the top of rolling in the deep, Christian starts all the way up-center and then a cone of light appears downstage as he crosses downstage. Light that had been following him all night suddenly seems to be summoned by him.