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EvelynChen-770.jpg Johanna Austin

Inadvertent Cathedrals: Pig Iron’s Superterranean, Part Two

With the help of set designer Mimi Lien, Philadelphia-based Pig Iron Theatre Company's Superterranean was crafted around the space first rather than an inquiry, prompt, or text. Read Part One on the set design and Part Three on the sound design.

In December, “We had a workshop where we were planning to build two mock-up sets from that group – enough that we could put actors on them and see which would be most fruitful. I wanted to have as many of the other designers in place as possible for that workshop,” says Lien. But it would have to be a special kind of designer to come into this process. “The criteria were to find people who were open to this kind of process where things are developed over a long period of time,” Lien explains, “particularly for the lighting designer which was the first other designer who I wanted to have in place because for me I feel I have the closest relationship to lighting designers out of all of the other disciplines.” Lien quickly thought of Barbara Samuels: “I first met Barbara when I did a 13P show when Barbara was the general manager. And then in recent years, I have seen a lot of her work. I knew I wanted the piece to be viscerally driven and about somatic qualities. I knew that Barbara had a feel for that.”

Johanna Austin www.austinart.orgMel Krodman4.jpg

Samuels came on board in the fall of 2018 just before the workshop at Judson Church where two versions of possible scenic environments would be mocked up. She began with similar prompts to the performers: “My initial ideas came from a series of images that inspired Mimi,” says Samuels. “She provided the designers and performers with abstract and realistic images that inspired awe in her while often revealing the systems behind our environments. These images became a jumping off point for me to investigate in myself how I can use industrial lighting objects and theatrical lighting equipment to give an audience the opportunity to feel the unnamable awe present in Mimi’s research.”

Using the workshops as a jumping off point, Samuels explains, “We began exploring light in the work by using industrial lighting fixtures in our workshops. Together we responded to the look and feel of light fixtures like sodium vapor, metal halide, and fluorescent lights. Our collaboration was about building a common foundation about the feel of the world, and then using trial and error.”

The production ultimately found a home at 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. Located in South Philadelphia, at 2300 South Swanson Street, 2300 Arena is an indoor arena used primarily for concerts and professional wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial. The original idea had been to produce the piece in a proscenium but the warehouse-type space allowed for other developments. Lien had more freedom to manipulate the audience experience through perspective. For Lien, the three-part performance was composed of three different spaces in an exploration of scale and time: “Part One having this really crazy shape and scale of a performance space that had the feeling of pre-human time or something. The second space really being about a human scaled room with a non-human scaled interloper. And the third space being kind of really beyond human scale.”

Johanna Austin www.austinart.orgRollsAndré_DitoVanReigersberg.jpg

As the final load-in approached, there were two additional workshops in which Samuels, Rothenberg, and Lien “had several conversations about the world of the piece we were endeavoring to create. At that time a script still did not exist, but we essentially knew what elements would create the scenic environment,” Samuels explains. Her process then moved into creating a plot that was incredibly flexible, which would allow her to reveal the production’s various environments and the space itself in new ways. “All of the lighting positions were created for the show. One of the most challenging aspects of creating a flexible lighting system in the space was to figure out how we could be in a warehouse-type space and not call too much attention to the theatrical lighting equipment.”

True to Lien’s instincts, “The major element of both the scenic and lighting design are 14 6-Light High Bay T8 Fluorescents. These lights were chosen after Dan, Mimi, and I looked at images of many different types of industrial spaces. The second part of the show is set in a room with a central column and a ceiling defined by eight of these high bay fluorescents.” And this choice fully supported the other choices that Samuels made: “Choosing the fluorescents gave us the ability to define a ceiling in Part Two of the piece and create new spatial relationships between light objects and performers for Part Three. Seventy-five percent of the other lights in the show were chosen and placed in response to and in support of these fluorescent fixtures having the greatest visual impact possible.”

As ideas developed and the team learned that they would reveal a forest of the central column, Samuels expanded the idea of these fluorescents into a sort of sea of them. “This gave us the idea to have many of the fluorescent fixtures hang low (approximately three feet from the floor to the bottom of the light) for performers to lay under, stand at the lights in a way that would bisect their bodies visually, and for the performers to push.” Samuels and her team only used power supplied by the venue. All of the other equipment was provided by Hayden Production Services.

Stay tuned for more on the sound design.

Lighting Gear


  • 14 ETC Source Four 26deg
  • 2 ETC Source Four 36deg
  • 13 ETC Source Four 50deg
  • 5 ETC Source Four 70deg


  • 2 ETC Source Four LED Series 2 Lustr 19deg
  • 12 ETC Source Four LED Series 2 Lustr 26deg
  • 3 ETC Source Four LED Series 2 Lustr 36deg
  • 6 ETC Source Four LED Series 2 Lustr 70deg
  • 16 ETC ColorSource Cyc
  • 8 ETC ColorSource Par (no lens)
  • 8 Chroma-Q Colorforce II 12 (no lens)
  • 5 Rosco Miro Cube 4C (20deg and 40deg lens)
  • 9 Chauvet Professional COLORdash Accent Quad

Intelligent Fixtures and Moving Heads

  • 2 City Theatrical DMX Iris 
  • 2 Rosco I-Cue
  • 7 Martin by Harman Mac Aura XB
  • 3 Martin by Harman Mac Quantum Profile
  • 3 Martin by Harman Mac Encore Performance CLD

Speciality Fixtures

  • 4 575w HPL lamps installed inside a front loading dryer with a Source Four 5deg lens mounted to the front
  • 2 70w Sodium Vapor Security Lights
  • 14 6-Lamp High Bay T8 Fluorescents w/ 5000k dimmable LED tubes


  • 2 Look Solutions Unique 2 Hazer
  • 1 Look Solutions Viper NT Fogger with Regular Fog Fluid
  • 1 Look Solutions Viper S Fogger with Quick Fog Fluid


  • 1 ETC Ion Xe
  • 1 ETCnomad
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