Setting light and action in motion

No theatre production is ever complete without sets and lighting. The script and characters would be sorely unidimensional if there were no backdrop of sets, lights, and costumes to enhance the production. Despite their importance though, trained set and lighting designers are few and far between.

Veteran theatre personality Anmol Vellani, who had given an in-depth talk on lighting at Shoonya a couple of years ago, contends: “In lighting design, there is a growing number of people who are competent and have been trained in one way or another.” Anmol adds that it’s not just being adept at technical aspects that make for an exceptional lighting designer. “My worry is that though lighting designers are trained in how lights work, focusing and patching lights, the nature of the different sources of light etc, there’s a lack of conceptual thinking. A lighting designer needs to think about interpretative and practical questions, and consider whether the total visual image he is producing is well-composed. Of course, theatre at times demands discordant visuality, but my point is when it doesn’t, and when that isn’t the intention, attention needs to be given to the harmony of the visual form. A lighting designer doesn’t just light things up, revealing in different ways the materiality of a stage production — sets, scenery, stage décor, costumes, actors. Lighting, moreover, does not just highlight a pre-existing narrative; it can create narrative. This is because narrative is not just the story line, it is not just the sequence of events, whether outer or inner; it is also the significance of the story. Lighting can create narrative by directing us to the deeper or inner meaning of the story.”

In his talk, Anmol referred to the lighting design in Woyzeck by Pritham Kumar. Pritham is self-taught and is one of Bengaluru’s most well-known lighting designers. His tremendous talent has led him to master every aspect of lighting design, to the extent that he has successfully conducted workshops to train lighting designers. When asked if there is a lack of trained professionals in the field, Pritham contends: “There are many shows that get by with somebody who has some kind of interest in lighting. That’s how lighting designers begin their careers in India. The issue of class also comes into play. People of a certain class become designers, while the others are technicians. Sometimes there is a movement between the two.” Pritham says that it isn’t as though there aren’t enough lighting designers, but he says “there aren’t enough people who are doing it with any critical thinking or training. There’s a great disparity between ability and training.”

In one of the workshops he conducted, Pritham says that one of the students had done a production in Singapore. “She showed me all the documentation they had done. In India we allergic to document things this way!” Some argue that training is an elite notion, to which Pritham says: “Any kind of industry that doesn’t plug into the needs of the society involves some level of pessimism. Being trained in lighting design is associated with first world economies. But I think being trained in lighting design is important because it will produce jobs and it bridges the gap between art and science, in a way.”

Speaking specifically about set design, Anmol says: “There are fewer set designers because it needs formal training not just apprenticeship. This kind of training is not available in India.”

Anmol argues that sets are concerned with the visual organisation of space, and visual design need not be material in nature. “Even if you have nothing on stage, you’re still taking a design decision. And you can create a visual design entirely through the bodies of actors. I first saw this done brilliantly in Theatre Academy’s production of Ghasiram Kotwal, some fifty years ago.”

In the book Beyond Proscenium: Reimagining the Space for Performance, Anmol has written about how the theatre director Bansi Kaul has further explored and refined this idea of mobile visual design. “In Bansi’s productions,” he writes, “the transient and mobile tableaux, the moving bodies of the actors, and the make-up and costumes are carriers of the design. Design thus materialises as choreography––a dance of mingling and disengaging colours, textures and forms.”

Theatre is not just about performance, it brings together different art forms that need to be constantly nurtured, which cannot be achieved in the absence of any formal training. On the other hand, lighting and set designers need to constantly harness their conceptual thinking.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 10:48:28 PM |

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