We are drawn to light. It’s in our DNA. But as any photographer knows, light is nothing without darkness. Light creates shadows; shadows define light. Yin and yang.
Stage designers sometimes choose light as their medium instead of tangible scenery. Dance concerts often provide dramatic demonstrations of lighting as dancers move in and out of pools of light, or dramatic side lighting sends streaks of color and complementary shadows over the moving muscles of the performers.
In theater, lighting frequently gets second consideration after scenery. This weekend, however, when Aquila Theatre brings Macbeth to the Popejoy stage, the lighting is the scenery. Other than a ground cloth to cover the stage floor and define the acting space, Aquila carries no scenery. The visuals are limited to the costumes and what the light does or does not reveal.
The basic palette of a lighting designer includes direction, intensity and color. Light coming from a specific angle might suggest breaking dawn or moonlight through a window. Specific filters placed on light can give us stained glass windows or sunlight through the trees. Dimmer lights suggest a darker mood than brighter lights. More and more lighting designers are also adding smoke or fog to their toolbox because it adds atmosphere and because you can see light more easily when it hits that kind of haze.
Practically speaking, shifting lights make for faster scene changes than shifting scenery. By creating settings with light, Aquila can keep its production of Macbeth moving quickly.
Of course, lighting design means much more than taking down lights here and bringing them up over there. As with any scenic artist, a lighting designer needs to know what to reveal for a scene and what not to reveal. Watching the choices made by Macbeth’s lighting designer Peter Meineck could help us explore one of Shakespeare’s most tortured plays.
Shakespeare could have told this tragedy from an external point of view: this happened, then this, then this. But Shakespeare tells the story almost exclusively from Macbeth’s point of view. Metaphorically speaking, lighting can often illuminate the interior landscapes of a character’s mind, and Shakespeare’s play is filled with rocky mental caverns as both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth descend into madness.
By choosing what we get to see, what is lit and what is not, Meineck will point to those parts of the play we must see and what is better left to our imaginations (and, perhaps by extension, Macbeth's). Often, we can draw more sinister surroundings than can any scene designer. Given the bare stage and Aquila's small cast (seven in all), our imaginations will be asked to play a big part in this production. Peter Meineck’s design should light the way.
For further illumination about the play, you might want to attend “Politics and Macbeth,” a talk by Barry Gaines. Barry is professor emeritus from UNM’s English Department and a theater critic for the Albuquerque Journal. He’ll talk about the period in which Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and why such a bloody play was seen as flattery to the new English ruler, King James. Gaines’ talk begins at 2pm in the Center for the Arts. Ask for directions to the talk at the lobby kiosk.
Terry S. Davis