Lighting up Prague
Students translate King Lear into light and music for international exhibit
The five undergraduates who took Staicer's Advanced Lighting Design class have created their own King Lear, using advanced computer technology that allows them to design lighting and then see on a computer screen what will be shown in the theater.
"To say this is a rare opportunity for our drama students is an understatement," said Staicer, a full-time lecturer in the drama and dance department. "Not only does this event occur only once every four years, I have only once before had the opportunity to teach an upper-level lighting design course. That there was a demand for this course just before the 2003 Prague Quadrennial is a happy, once-in-a-lifetime accident that has created a unique educational experience."
When Staicer first learned of the opportunity for her students to participate in PQ, as the Quadrennial is known, she knew the first thing she had to do was purchase visualization software and hire someone to teach the students to use it. She obtained funding through the offices of Provost Jamshed Bharucha and deans Susan Ernst and Charles Inouye as well as from her own department. The software is called WYSIWYG which stands for "what you see is what you get."
Lear on CD
"The computer takes color and focus wattage and spits it out in any organization you want," said Staicer. "You can use this for stationary lighting, too. Before using this software, when I did lighting design, I created light plots or maps on paper that would show where the lights would go. I couldn't show the director what the lighting would actually look like. This vastly enables the communication process between the director and designer, who can view lighting ideas on the computer screen."
The Tufts students had the same assignment as did all the other students participating in the PQ: Design a three- to seven-minute moving-light program using the same setup that everyone will have in Prague and base it on King Lear. Moving lights, commonly seen at entertainment events, can be programmed to move anywhere on the stage and form shapes, patterns and different colors as they move.
A journey of light
The students broke the play into five sections, and each student was responsible for a section and also chose the music to be played along with the lighting design. At first, the students worked separately but then collaborated to make colors, symbols and patterns work together.
"With regular lighting, all you can do is turn the lights on and off," said Staicer. "With these lights, there are as many as 32 different parameters that establish the tilt, the colors and the patterns. All the universities are using the same software and equipment, and it will be interesting to see how King Lear is viewed through the lenses of different cultures."
Colin Teubner, A03, who majored in economics and computer science, has long worked in theater at Tufts and has been involved in productions put on by the university drama group Torn Ticket II. One other student in the class is a drama major, and the others are studying engineering. Usually, said Teubner, when designing with moving lights, one person is the lighting designer, and another is the programmer. But in this case, "we did it all."
Said Teubner, "I had the last section of the play. The interesting thing about this tragedy is even though there is no hope for these characters, there is hope for humanity, and we can learn from our mistakes."
"One of the fundamental challenges is that anyone can make lights move. The goal is to use these amazing tools to make a meaningful design that communicates something to an audience."
In addition to Teubner, the other students involved in the project are sophomores Aaron Held and Peter Kracke as well as Jessica Shaw, a junior, and Paul Toben, a freshman. All the students will be traveling to Prague and will be paying for most of the trip themselves.