The challenges of lighting Arcadia
by Emily Young
Temple’s upcoming production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia offers new and exciting challenges to our design team. Among them is Liz Phillips, a second-year graduate student and the lighting designer for Arcadia. Liz started, like most theater folk, as an actor, but then moved to technical theater, first working in costuming. Phillips shifted her focus to lighting design half-way through her undergrad at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.
Now at Temple University, she is stretching her muscles to tackle this somewhat non-traditional production. “The script is not super demanding of lighting,” says Phillips. “The staging set up, on the other hand, is a different story altogether.”
While Temple’s production of Arcadia resides in the Tomlinson Theater, a traditional proscenium, the main house, or the audience seating area, won’t be used at all. Instead, a new staging area has been created, with both the playing area and the audience on the stage, effectively transforming the Tomlinson stage into a sort of black box theater.
[caption id="attachment_1077" align="aligncenter" width="585"] A sketch of the Tomlinson Theater set-up for Arcadia.[/caption]
This type of staging has become more and more popular over the last few decades, and offers the audience a more up-close-and-personal way to experience theater. But for Phillips, having audience members on both sides of the playing area proves challenging.
Normally, there would be a “front” and a “back” to the action. But with audience members on both sides of the stage, the “front” to one half of the audience is the “back” to the other half. “It just demands that I think about the stage and formulate my design in a different way,” says Phillips.
While the staging offers logistical hurdles, the play itself offers Phillips some creative opportunities. The play jumps between 1809 and 1993, and Phillips has created opposing lighting plots for each time period. With the obvious differences in costumes, the audience will always know which period they’re in, but Phillips hopes to enhance these shifts in time. In her design, the light will appear to come from opposite directions in each time period. This, she says, will be a “subtle way to tell the difference in times.” Additionally she will use color to distinguish the time of day in each scene.
A rendering of Evening in the Modern period. [/caption] A rendering of midday color. [/caption]
A rendering of a figure from the past in the morning light. [/caption]
[gallery type="rectangular" size="medium" ids="1078,1079,1080"] Each designer adds more layers to Tom Stoppard’s already fascinating onion of a play, helping us to revel in the interaction between two worlds. Liz Phillips’ ultimate goal, she says, is simply to provide thorough visibility. “This play is so wordy and about quick wit that it's really important that the audience be able to see the actors very clearly. Sometimes when the audience can't see the face well, they actually feel like they can't hear or understand the words either.”
To see Arcadia “on” the Tomlinson stage, stop by the box office or order tickets online. Performances run from February 11, 2015 to February 21, 2015.