Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale star on Broadway in the world premiere of The Lifespan Of A Fact, a new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell. Based on the stirring true story of John D'Agata's essay "What Happens There," about the Las Vegas suicide of teenager Levi Presley, The Lifespan Of A Fact digs into a seven-year debate on the blurred lines of what passes for truth in literary nonfiction. Directed by Leigh Silverman, Lifespan Of A Fact also features Broadway's first all-female design team: Mimi Lien, sets; Linda Cho, costumes; Jen Schriever, lighting; Palmer Hefferan, sound; and Lucy Mackinnon, projection.
Women have historically been underrepresented in the creative fields on Broadway. According to an analysis of shows that opened last season by entertainment technology company ProductionPro, 80% of the season’s directors, 81% of lighting designers, and 96% of sound designers were male. There was more parity in costume design, which skewed 54% female. The play runs at Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.
Live Design: What does it mean to you to be part of Broadway's first all-female design team?
Jen Schriever: It’s a mixture of feelings to be a part of Broadway’s first all-female design team. Of course, it’s exciting and special to be a part of something like this, and I feel super lucky and honored to be a part of this history making show—but it also feels strange and sad that this is only just happening in 2018. It should be just as normal for there to be shows with all female design teams as it has been for there to be shows with all men design teams. I’m excited for there to be many, many more diverse teams on Broadway in the future and to see more commercial work from more diverse points of view.
LD: What was your biggest challenge/solution on this production?
JS: My biggest challenge was probably a silly one. We’re all so used to the speed of LED fixtures now, directors and actors included, that I had to cue all the moments before blackouts and transitions to be driven by LED fixtures to achieve a true zero count. The driving rhythm of the transitions demanded the sharpest shifts possible, and HPLs bumping out wasn’t cutting it. It was funny because HPLs lamps look like 1kW Par 64s blacking out to me—I was thinking "When did HPLs get so slow?!" Our eye is changing so much as the gear evolves. Just 10 years ago, a zero count blackout with a rig of HPL lamped conventionals was acceptable, and now it’s way too slow.
Another challenge was how to light the office without revealing the Vegas house that was literally pressed up right against the glass wall of the office. The glass wall looked so beautiful backlit, which was crucial to creating a sense of depth and layering to prevent the very shallow first act from feeling too flat. Mimi Lien, the set designer, and I were able to collaborate to create some creative masking on the upstage side of the glass wall that allowed me to still backlight it to create depth but enabled us to also obscure the very telling shape of the roof and wall line of the house directly upstage. A major workforce in this endeavor was placing two Chroma-Q ColorForce strips in the house itself, and using the pale walls and ceiling of the house as a bounce, to have a sleek glow in the office for the first part of the show.
Photo by Peter Cunningham
LD: Can you talk a little about the choice of the fixtures? Architecture of the rig? Workhorses and how they are used?
JS: The show has two visual “acts.” First act is Emily's slick glossy office, entirely played downstage in One, with a full stage architectural wall directly upstage of the action. This leaves about 4' of depth for playing area. Due to sightlines, there is only room for a truss overstage, no ladders or sidelight overstage. The actors in these scenes are lit with [Martin by Harman] Vipers and [ETC Source Four LED Series 2] Lustrs overhead to create some pipe end sidelight, with box boom and FOH Truss conventional frontlight and 2 Box boom Vipers. [City Theatrical] AutoYokes on the FOH Truss provided extra punch in the office scenes. Some dead in front light from the very back of house helped fill in shadows but it had to be super steep in order to prevent reflections from the shiny wall immediately upstage of the actors.
To help create some composition in the office, Box Boom Vipers were far enough off stage to create a sharp architectural shape on the shiny glass wall without blinding anyone in the audience. [Chroma-Q] Color Force Strips behind the upstage wall created sleek architectural lines. Emily's office platform tracks Left and Right, sometimes concealed behind a glass wall, sometimes revealing Jim’s tiny cubicle. The tracking of the glass walls and platforms became a vocabulary of our transitions, helping to create the feeling of the pressure of time ticking on. I riffed on the tall vertical bars created by Mimi’s set and used Balcony Rail and Box Boom Vipers to pan bars of light across the actors in transitions. Paired with Palmers driving composition, I think we tell the story of the pressure of time as we travel from day to day, with sharp abstract bars of light traveling across the stage.
Act Two, as we refer to it, takes place in John’s Vegas home. His place is a pressure cooker, full of tension and heat. The workhorses in John's Vegas house are the booms full of Narrow Pars and Lustr2s that light through the door and the two tiny windows in his space, along with the five FOH Vipers to create an abstraction of how the light through the windows might shape the space, and also to aid with showing the passing of time.
LD: Emotional arc of the lighting?
JS: In Lifespan, we are creating the glossy well-lit, sharp, architectural space of Emily's office. The lighting is sharp and bright and angular, no shadows in the uptown editorial world of the magazine editors office.
The transitions in in the first half of the play are driven with sharp architectural bars of light that travel across the moving scenery, creating bits of illumination and bits of chaos as time ticks on.
The second half of the play takes place in John D’agata's mother’s 1970s ranch home in the outskirts of Vegas. The light is the opposite of the NYC magazine office…broken, bright Vegas sun streams through the tiny windows. Like his essay, the light in his home doesn’t reveal anything straightforwardly. Slivers of moonlight create pockets of light and clarity, and the lamplight doesn't fully illuminate the room. The three scenes in his Vegas home take us from sunset through night, into the end of the play, which is the early desert morning. The arc of the lighting carries us back to full illumination. We witness a long, slow sunrise in the final scene of the play, finally filling John’s house with the beautiful, bright, desert sunlight. The reveal is slow and intense, filling the little house in the Vegas with a similar bright light as Emily’s office in the beginning of play, but less structured as before. This intensity stretches almost inexplicably through the small living room, as the trio each finds their own personal resolution.
Selected Lighting Gear List
Provided by PRG
- 8 ETC Source Four 5° 750
- 31 ETC Source Four 10° 750
- 44 ETC Source Four 14° 750
- 36 ETC Source Four 19° 750
- 31 ETC Source Four 26° 750
- 10 ETC Source Four 36° 750
- 12 ETC Source Four 50° 750
- 10 ETC Source Four 90° 750
- 35 ETC Source Four PAR NSP
- 19 ETC Source Four PAR MFL
- 13 ETC Source Four PAR WFL
- 12 ETC Source Four PAR XWFL
- 5 City Theatrical Auto Yoke 10°
- 18 ETC Source Four LUSTR2 26°
- 4 Martin By Harman MAC Encore Performance CLD 600W
- 5 Martin By Harman MAC Viper Prof
- 12 Chroma-Q ColorForce-72 420W
Stay tuned for more from Broadway's first all-female design team!