(Katherine Lowry talks about her journey with the light design on ‘Summer’)
My role as lighting designer is also that of a story teller, but instead of using words, I use a palette of angles, intensities, tones, hues, tints, colours, and shadows to paint a visual and emotional landscape with. The first thing I did on reading Summer was to make a note of the landscapes and locations of the text. The Mountain, North Dormer, Nettleton, the Red and Brown houses, the library, etc.
To begin with a lighting concept, I like to start by considering the qualities of the light in each situation. For example, what time of day is it? What time of year? Is the source natural like the bright, morning sunlight thrown across the meadow or a small, low stove in the corner of the Brown house? It really gives a sense of the world I’m trying to create by researching how a space is lit naturally before I start to make any artistic choices. Having done my homework I discovered that what I had to work with was a very multi-locational piece, ranging from the vast, endless summer skies across the mountain, right down to cramped, dank interiors of the destitute ‘heathens’ who dwell on it’s side.
This was an exciting challenge for such an intimate space like The Jack. In terms of equipment, there was very little at hand to ‘paint’ all these physical spaces, and then create the shifts in time and place and the quality of the light on top. Such was the case, it meant that every choice I made regarding source, angle, and colour had to be pretty carefully considered!
With this aside, it then came down to thinking about what I wanted to do with it artistically and stylistically. Feeling that the themes of light and dark, expanse and limit, were at the forefront of Summer, I decided to look at paintings of the New Hampshire region and see how others had interpreted the landscape. I wanted to see how they painted the light on the mountain tops, the glittering ripples on the lakes, and the little kisses of sunlight on the trees. It was this that led me to stumble upon the Hudson River School of Painters, and what a find! This 19th century American art movement embodied a group of landscape artists whose main focus was the Hudson River Valley and it’s surrounding area of the Adirondack, Catskill, and White Mountain ranges. What’s more their aesthetic vision was heavily influenced by Romanticism, a movement which validated strong emotions as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, especially the emotions experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature. This stuck with me like glue and I felt strong parallels here to Wharton’s Summer, for example, her use of aesthetic language describing the firework display on the 4th of July as a metaphor for Charity and Harney’s emotional and sexual union; the way that Harney finds something outstanding and beautiful about Charity’s ‘untamed nature’, and the use throughout of pathetic fallacy, and the way the weather and landscape is used by Wharton to describe the emotional undercurrents of Charity’s world. This group of painters seemed to cover every natural event that took place in the play from the warm, dawn light creeping up over the hills, to the crisp, bright, midday beams thrown across the meadows Harney and Charity lounge in, not to mention some dramatic changes into evening. Stunning colours blasting the sky and oppressive, black storms clouds gathering with increasing anger. I felt I’d really hit upon something here and I knew that this would be my inspiration for how I wanted our Summer to look.
I have to admit, I got a bit carried away with my research. I looked at maps of New Hampshire, listened to 19thcentury American composers, and of course, pored over the Hudson River School paintings just to really immerse myself in the place. It was when I was looking a little more closely at this group that I discovered an offshoot style called Luminism. I thought to myself “THIS is what I’ve been looking for!” I started to look at the Luminists and although their compositions focus on the more tranquil, soft side of nature, it was the way they painted the light that really captured my imagination. Luminism has its emphasis in light and shadow, often with an exaggerated light source, and its this sense of light and contrast which makes the subject glow. It’s exactly this chiaroscurist approach which I wanted to use in order to enhance the delineation of the characters and the set. I hope that in keeping it simple and
dramatic, it’s enabled the changes in the lighting at key moments to communicate the feelings and emotions of the characters in their surroundings. Summer is such a strong and emotionally raw play that it was hugely important for me to keep the lighting uncomplicated, and use the subtle shifts in tone and angle to work with the set and the score and really allow what’s at the heart of the play to sing out.
To finish with I’d like to share a piece of my journey with you. Here is a selection of the paintings I discovered during my research, which I’ve put together a short film (click here to watch). I hope you enjoy it!