Meet Wendy Lundgren, Lighting Designer for Screwball Comedy. We sat down with her to get a behind the scenes look on what it means to light up the stage.
A Lighting Designer is a very niche position. How did you know you wanted pursue that career?
Honestly, I didn’t. I took drama in high school, but I’m from a small town and our gym was not as equipped as others might be. There were lights of course, but no one explained it as being a “thing”.
I went to York University to be an actor. In first year you have to take everything from theatre history, tech, performance, sound to lighting, you don’t specialize. I was on the lighting crew for an assignment and loved it. In second year I specialized in lighting and there was no looking back.
It doesn’t seem like an easy career to dive right in to, how did you get going?
Well, there are two paths that people typically take; jump right in or the path I took – be an assistant. With the help of my professors, I landed my first assistant position in 4th year with the Canadian Opera Company – as an independent study. After graduating I was lucky enough to get assistant positions at Shaw and Stratford. It was great because I met numerous experienced designers and sponged/learned a lot from them.
Lighting is more than just the audience’s ability to see the actors on stage. Can you elaborate on what lighting a show really means?
I like to think of us as great manipulators, sculpting actors in space. Lighting can shape your mood; express an emotion. Sometimes it’s as much about what we don’t want you to see as what we do. Lighting will shift your focus; guide you to where we want you to look on stage, to what we think is important versus what’s not, at any given moment, to telling the story.
Lighting should compliment set design. One of the strong themes of a design I just worked on was the idea of silhouette. My ability to create those silhouettes with light, worked hand in hand with the way the set was designed.
For Screwball Comedy I was able to riff on Beckie (set designer) and David’s (director) concept of Film Noir and light the show in “black and white” with very few, specific hits of colour.
How long does it take to light a show?
It varies a lot, depending on the nature of the production, size and scope. Musicals take longer, generally, than a straight play. Even here at Lighthouse for example, Baskerville (– A Sherlock Holmes Mystery- 2017) was much more involved than The Birds and the Bees because the set kept changing.
Initial discussions can happen as much as a year ahead with the director. Usually my residency is 3-4 weeks, which is when I see a bit of rehearsal, prepare a plot, and tech through to opening night.
Can you go in to more detail about your process of lighting a show?
First, conversations with the director to understand their vision, then the set and costume designers to get a feel for what the overall design of the show wants to look like and to see if there’s any way to integrate lighting in to what they’re doing. Then, I’ll find out more about the venue such as the stage, inventory (of lights), how much time you have once you’re in the theatre. Based on those conversations and my own breakdown of the script, I’ll work out what each scene is going to look like.
I’ll watch some rehearsals to get a feel for where people are standing, where you we need to light any given scene. Based on all of that, I go away and make a plot.
A plot is a plan/drawing on paper showing where I want lights hung, what colours, the nuts and bolts. Once that’s done, and lights are hung, then you get in to setting what each lighting cue or “look” will be, and the cue to cue, which is what I really enjoy. This is where you start shaping the story.
What exactly is a cue-to-cue?
A cue-to-cue happens during tech week, typically one long day but on bigger productions it can roll into two. It’s when all of the technical aspects of the show (except costumes) meet together for the first time on stage. A “cue” is something technical that happens whether it’s sound, lighting, special effects, actor cues, or any other event. We practice all of those things specifically to work out and refine timings and placements. If there’s a scene with a large chunk of dialogue, we will likely skip that and move on to the next cue the Stage Manager has to call.
It’s also usually the first time the cast is on stage and have to get used to the physical space.
Overall, tech week is a process of gradually adding elements to the production until you’re comfortable working your way through.
After all of the technical aspects of the show are covered, is your job complete?
After cue-to-cue, we have a tech rehearsal day when we run the show from top to bottom. After that, previews start, which adds the last element – the audience. We use these performances as a chance to sit back and watch what we’ve created as a whole, make adjustments and react to any changes the director may make. Once the show opens, my job is complete. I leave it in the hands of the crew.
Do you find it difficult working with so many moving parts, while still ensuring the director’s vision is met?
It may sound hard, but ideally it’s very collaborative. What is the story we’re trying to tell and how do we want to tell it? It’s a bit like a puzzle – and I love puzzles. How do you use all the things you have at your disposal to tell the audience the story and give them a great experience?
I can’t imagine doing anything else. You never know what the next project will bring or the new challenges you’ll face. I’m very lucky in that I get to tell stories for a living, which is pretty fun!