Justin Townsend lit Penny Arcade’s show, Longing Lasts Longer, which combines her sharp wit and even sharper political satire, for a run at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn (the show and the theatre, in a recently renovated tobacco factory in DUMBO, are both worth seeing). The solo performer relies on her long-time collaborator, Steve Zehenter, who provides the live sound mix, as well as Townsend’s lighting, as there are no other scenic elements on stage with her. Live Design catches up with Townsend to talk about his lighting.
Live Design: What’s in your rig?
Justin Townsend: This rig is developed entirely from the stock of St. Ann’s. I’m very interested in using gear that comes for free as part of a rental, and figuring out how to use the equipment in stock in the boldest and surprising ways. The inventory is all conventionals: ETC Source Fours, both Pars and ellipsoidals, as well as some great ARRI 2kWs.
LD: What is their console, and who did the programming?
JT: We used an ETC Ion, and Andrew Trent programmed it. Sarah Johnston was my associate. We were able to cue the whole show in four hours while Penny Arcade rehearsed. I continue to find the EOS line amazing for blocking in big ideas and being able to refine cue structures very quickly for shows with very clear cue stacks.
LD: How does the lighting punctuate the storytelling?
JT: I’m always trying to figure out how to support the performance and story line. I’m interested in how light can create both location and architecture. In one part of the show, I create five simple boxes of light on the deck just at the moment she’s talking about a sidewalk. It’s a bit on the nose, but it immediately creates scenery where there was none. At other times, I’m using a giant frame of old school Par 64s to create a frame of hot pink and orange lights that chase while she talks about cupcakes. The hope is to be able to be both playful and specific.
LD: What are the different looks, from side light to overhead, to lighting the back wall, and ceiling as “set” elements?
JT: I love the idea that we can create a light plot without really understanding the complete story and then unfold the design over tech. To do that, I’m hoping to have a lot of bold architectural choices that allow me to be bold and playful with the lighting. We installed banks of shins and mids, way more than we needed because they echoed for me a sort of gentrification or mindless repetition. I then had the idea to frame the whole space with a giant proscenium of orange and pink. I knew I wanted to light the whole piece with a spotlight so I had a lot of flexibility of what the light could do on the stage. It could reveal idea and energy instead of first acting as illumination. Deep in the beautiful new St. Ann’s Warehouse space, I lit the back wall with cyc lights hung sideways so I could use the historic brick wall as a color field, echoing the sense of longing in the piece.
LD: Your use of color?
JT: I’m inspired so much by Penny Arcade and her ferocious honesty. The color of the show was allowed to be bold and uninhibited to support her, with big fat saturated color ideas, usually only one color at a time.
LD: What is the overall emotional arc of the piece and the lighting?
JT: Steve Zehenter was so gracious to invite me along to work with him and Penny. My hope is the light works in a similar way that the music does in scoring Penny, and becoming a scene partner in the show. It was great to join him and spiral around Penny in her performance. Just as the music needs to float through the ages so does the light. We end the show with a few of the fresnels packed way up into the grid of St. Ann’s, and let the light crash through the catwalks and lights and create a desolate, empty feeling space with Penny Arcade glowing white and pink in the middle of it. She stands there in that emptiness authentically herself.