The main principal underpinning the creative teams’ various designs for Spring Awakening was the contrast between the traditional 19th century German setting, and the modern rock aesthetic of the younger characters rebelling against it. This was depicted primarily in the centrepiece of the set – a huge gothic church window glowering over the stage, symbolic of the play’s conservative, orthodox setting, yet filled with LED tape and bursting with light, hijacked by the modern. I lit the window less as a naturalist depiction of light through a window, but more like a cyclorama, in combination with 8 SGM Q-7s uplighting the brick wall behind it. This meant it was very rarely off, even in scenes set outside, and instead journeyed through various colour palettes of dark orange/reds for the more oppressive scenes, to electric blues and brighter colour effects for some of the more punchy numbers. It also created a beautiful, solemn image when on alone on stage, making it a brilliant bridge between scenes. Almost every transition was live and choreographed, but after Moritz’s suicide, and the only full blackout in the entire show, the first light back on was the window in a bright yet tender blue, and the funeral scene then built up around this. Various segments of the window were individually controllable, and varying the intensity of different segments gave the window in this scene an identifiable idiosyncrasy which was repeated on Melchior’s return to the same graveyard near the very end of the play.
The window worked nicely, and got picked up in a few reviews, but the LED tape came out of my budget and was costly, meaning aside from an ETC ColorSource Par backlight wash, the rig was primarily generics. This, combined with the fact that the set was comprised of various moving elements for different scenes, meant that the rig was very busy, and the lighting for each scene had to be planned in a lot of detail. Rebecca Dunn had done some incredible choreography, and so large parts of the musical numbers were lit with booms as if it were a dance piece, the side light nicely throwing emphasis on the shapes of the movement. The most planning, though, was with regards to colour and gels; the marketing graphics for the show centred around a heat map, and so we tried to reflect this in the play’s progression, using a palette of blues and purples for the more tender moments, and hotter oranges and reds for the more intense parts. “Mirror Blue Night” was lit only by the backlight wash in a colour effect fading through deep blues to purples, and two soft follow spots picking out Melchior – the result was a gentle ethereality that fit the song perfectly. Similarly, the scenes set in the woods were covered by a breakup gobo wash and ten halogen festoons representative of trees providing a backdrop. During “The Word of Your Body”, a very long fade bathed the actors in subtle shades of purple and pink, until the dissipation of the song coincided too with a dissipation of colour, returning to the now more naturally warm woodland.
What provided the greatest reward within the lighting design, however, was working in tandem with the alt-rock score. The book for Spring Awakening contains many incredibly specific lighting directions. For the most part, these were taken less literally, and more of a guide for overall aesthetic – harsh follow spots on Moritz during “Bitch of Living” allowing him to appear ‘like a rocker in a band’, for example. But the overall interpretation of this aesthetic was contrasting the oppressive 19th century traditionality with the modern punk-rock of the score. We chose L744 “dirty white” as what we coined the colour of oppression. Subtle enough to not appear unnatural, but gave a sort of sepia tone immediately suggestive of 19th century imagery. To contrast this, the rock score was enhanced by lighting resonant of a rock concert. 12 par cans along the back of the stage, 6 either side of the window, gave this impression brilliantly, and were used for a plethora of chase effects and flashes in time with the music. The production team’s (and my) personal favourite was in “I Don’t Do Sadness”, as the huge drum crash in the chorus following ‘cause you know’ triggered a flash on the pars, followed by a rapid random chase over the top of the violin which follows it. Equally effective was “Totally Fucked”. It starts with a double follow spot on Melchior, giving an impression almost of searchlights, as he is being interrogated by the teachers on the raised platform above him. As the song’s intensity builds, so did the rock nature of the lighting, as by the end of the song almost every light was in an effect, reflecting the total mayhem occurring on stage. A blackout in conjunction with a par flash on the button silhouetted the actors’ final positions beautifully, and resulted in one of the most iconic images from the production. Other notable moments included the opening, with Wendla picked out by a single, cold spotlight and the rest of the cast bathed in a deep purple over the stage; huge, imposing shadows of the adults cast over the stage during “The Dark I Know Well”; and the scene just before Moritz’s suicide, lit by two low angle side lights and two overhead CSPs in a dark blue – the stage looked like it went on forever, and placed Moritz in a world of dark, total isolation.
Production by RJ Productions
Director - Issy Paul
Musical Director - Joshua Cottell
Choreography - Rebecca Dunn
Set Design - Emily Stevenhagen
Costume Design - Kat Cooper
Sound Design - Kav Crossley
Stage Manager - Olivia Wheeler
Props Manager - Juliet Dowley
Production Manager - Harvey Dovell
Photographs and Video by Callum John