Sweet Home Argentina, Evita Part 1: The Lighting

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hit a South American gold mine with Evita, the story of Eva Duarte de Perón’s rise to power in post-World War II Argentina. Winner of both the Olivier and Tony Award for Best Musical in the late ‘70s, with Elaine Page as Evita in London and Patti LuPone on Broadway, Evita was again immortalized by Madonna on film in 1996. Elena Roger stars in the new Broadway revival, in a redesigned version of the 2006 London production, both directed by Michael Grandage.

“I was new to the production for Broadway,” says London-based designer Neil Austin of his lighting for the revival of Evita. “I wanted to prove that it is possible to design a big musical with a silent rig. I have a bee in my bonnet about noise from lighting rigs and the audience experience in the theatre,” he admits. “I don’t want a great emotional moment or a dramatic pause to be spoiled by people wondering what all that noise is. Too often we design rigs that do what we want but forget about noise levels. To assume it’s okay to put noisy lights into a show is as bad as one actor upstaging another or treading all over the other’s lines.”

Austin opted mostly for tungsten units. “I used ETC Source Four Revolutions, Martin Professional MAC TW1s, combined with seven PRG Best Boys for some discharge punch,” he says. “All are convection-cooled mainly, and the fans in the scrollers are linked in the patch to the intensity channel, only coming on when the lamp is on,” he explains, noting that, while “bright moments are almost always the loudest ones in musical theatre, Evita has some very quiet moments, as well. I want the audience to commune with the drama and the characters, not with my lighting rig.”

Austin also uses strong, bold tungsten backlight from DHA Pitching Digital Light Curtains. “There is nothing that matches the way tungsten looks on skin,” he says. “I love the mired shift with tungsten. I chose one color, but it’s 99 different colors, depending on how bright it is.” Austin also has PRG Best Boy 4000 Spots for backlight.

Austin’s lighting for Evita lives in a muted color palette, especially for a musical. “There are only six colors: four blue color corrections on the cold side of tungsten and two color corrections on the warm side,” he says. “Those and tungsten create a film noir, naturalistic palette for a heightened reality using dramatic contrast, not bold color.” The show starts in black and white. “The people on stage are in black and white to match the film of Eva’s funeral above,” notes Austin. “Then we move to Che telling the story of Evita’s life and into the muted colors.”

Austin notes that the balcony scene is a key moment—“the money shot” as he calls it. “I tried to make it look as filmic as possible, as I did with the rest of the show,” he says. “There is a tendency in theatre to make lighting illuminate things rather than dramatically enhance them. I try to tell the emotional story of the piece and be more dramatic by playing with contrast rather than color.”

The balcony scene makes Austin’s point. “At night, outside the palace with a victory parade, what would it have looked like in real life?” he queries. “Chandelier light comes from inside the palace, maybe some moonlight, and some military searchlights to illuminate the presidential couple. The light from within the building, appearing to come from the chandelier, is actually four Source Four PARs in open white, out of sight from the first row but blinding the conductor,” he jokes. “Our conductor has been great about this, and it gives me an extra angle for backlight, lower and more dynamic than ever. The light shines through the chandelier, skims the top of Eva’s head on the balcony, and backlights the people on stage below.”

Austin also used a smattering of low-level double daylight across the stage, plus two very low uplights to cast Evita’s shadow crisply onto the side buildings. “Her shadows are very deliberately focused to land on buildings, with Perón himself lit by the reflection off the back of her white dress,” says Austin. “Real reflected light is better than faking reflected light. If you aren’t afraid of darkness and shadows, it can be fabulous.”

The DHA Digital Light Curtain also creates a big shaft across the stage as ¾ keylight. “There are moments I hope look like a Renaissance painting rather than lighting on stage,” Austin notes. To light an interior ballroom, strong beams from 24V ACLs behind the windows land on stage through thick haze created by MDG Atmospheres.
“There is nothing more dramatic than low backlight,” Austin adds. For some scenes, he backlit the entire floor using ETC Source Four PARs with scrollers from a low-angle, far upstage at 8' above the deck through the catacombs, with long, threatening shadows. “I use the Source Four PARs because of filament lag,” he says. “I have to be careful about how quickly I can do a snap blackout.”

Austin put two HMI Lycian followspots in high side-box boom positions and two 1kW Pani Beamlights with 15" Wybron dowsers and scrollers behind the proscenium, high and right behind the first set of drops. “The protagonists are backlit by the Panis and frontlit by the Lycians,” he says. “I like this high keylight for the principal characters. There is a three-dimensional image created this way, rather than the usual flattening effect of a followspot.”

The two Beamlights were adapted in custom yokes by City Theatrical. “Gary Fails [of City Theatrical] thought I was crazy,” says Austin. “But it creates a fantastic, parallel, thick beam of light like the finger of god saying, ‘That is the character you should be concentrating on,’ for a key look of the show.” A PRG Best Boy 4000 Spot, in a front-of-house position, creates the look of a real hard-edged source for the moments in the show that require a more traditional followspot look.

Rob Halliday programmed the show, which is run on one ETC Eos console by one person. “We did the show once already with Elena and did it all again with the second Evita,” says Halliday. “But Neil goes into tech knowing what he wants to achieve, and he drives you on to where he wants to end up.”

Neil Austin discussed "Lighting Evita" during a solo session, as well as during a collaboration panel with other members of the Evita creative team Zachary Borovay, and Rob Halliday, moderated by producer Scott Sanders during the 2012 Broadway Lighting Master Classes.

Evita Lighting Gear List:
1 ETC Eos Console
2 Lycian M2 2500W Short Throw Lens
2 Pani P1001 1kW Parabolic Beamlight
39 ETC 750W Revolution IS
12 Martin 1.2kW MAC TW-1 (80v, Narrow)
10 Philips Vari-Lite 575W VL1000 AS Spot
7 PRG Best Boy 700W 4000 Spot
23 Philips Vari-Lite 1.2kW VL5B Wash
14 Pitching DLC 4'11" 6LT Lamp #4545
5 Pitching DLC 4'11" 6LT 240W PAR56 VNSP
10 10° ETC Source Four
20 14° ETC Source Four
12 19° ETC Source Four
50 26° ETC Source Four
4 36° ETC Source Four
4 50° ETC Source Four
2 15° 30 ETC S4 Zoom
21 NSP ETC Source Four PAR
90 MFL ETC Source Four PAR
22 WFL ETC Source Four PAR
24 PAR 64/ACL 250W/28V
5 5kW Arri Studio 5000 Fresnel
1 2kW Fresnel
6 6" 500W Fresnel
24 L&E NanoStrip 1'10" 10LT 1CIR MR11
12 L&E Runt 500W
32 Short Nose MR16 EYC Birdie (75W)
8 Mini-10/Worklight (500W)
18 20W Cue Light Basket
5 40W ClipLights
20W Spotting Light
8 100W Ropelight/Runlight
2 15W CFL Dome Light/Worklight
88 7.5" Coloram for Source Four PAR
38 4" Coloram for Source Four
16 7.5" Coloram for 14°
12 7.5" Coloram for PAR 64/ACL
4 Large Format for Coloram 5K Fresnel
2 7.5" Coloram for Lycian M2
2 Large Format Eclipse for Pani Beamlight
5 TPR DMX-64 Fiber Optic Illuminator
1 Light Box
4 Catacomb Pendant
1 SR Tower Upper - Wall Sconce
3 Chandelier (matching)
3 Wall Sconce
2 Wall Practical
1 Stairs High – Practical
1 Stairs Mid – Practical
2 SL Tower Upper - Door Sconce
1 SL Tower Upper – Chandelier
1 SR Tower Upper – Chandelier
1 USL Building Wall Practical
1 SL Casa Chandelier
1 Casa CS Chandelier
1 Bare Bulb within Chandelier
1 SR Casa Chandelier
3 SR Cityscape Window Lightbox
1 USR Building Oval Window Lightbox
2 Under Room Wall Practical
9 DS Arch Wall Practical
1 Carriage Lamp SR
1 Carriage Lamp SL
1 Festoon String
1 Shrine Votives
1 UR Arch Wall Practical
1 Viper Fogger
3 Jem Fan
3 MDG Atmosphere
2 Elation Dimmer Pack
1 ETC Sensor 5K Pack
4 ETC Sensor 96 Rack
13 Ram Power Supply
6 VL5A Smart Repeater
4 DLC Lightalk Converter

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