In my life in the theatre, I have had a few chances to revisit shows I had done before. Sometimes in the same capacity, sometimes in a different capacity. I was the lighting designer on Oleana three times, I’ve also worked on Laramie Project three times (once each on Sets, Lights, and Sound); Pippin (actor, master electrician) and several others. I’ve been asked to design Twelfth Night three times , created three very different designs to go with the directors vision (and none of them were produced). By the third time I lit Oleana, I was miserable and sick of the show. Most other shows I’ve revisited, I have revisited in completely different circumstances. Repeating a show has rarely excited me.
All of that changed recently. One of the shows I lit in grad school was The Illusion (Tony Kushner’s adaptation of the Corneille classic), and the school I’m teaching at has decided to stage it. The Illusion was the first I felt like I was lighting “my way” and not mimicking my teachers (and it got the attention of many of the faculty). The design wasn’t perfect, but it profoundly changed me. This time around, I am designing both the scenery and the lighting.
When revisiting a show, there is a great temptation to copy what was done before (especially if it was a success). Knowing this temptation, I worked very hard to create a different set. Of course there are certain things that will remain similar (it is after all the same play). The Illusion is set inside of a wizard’s cave. Our original designer created a cave out of window screen that was beautiful and it took light well. I also designed a set that was a cave. The director stopped by my scene shop as I was experimenting with different types of construction techniques for the cave texture, she saw a scrap of untreated window screen, and said “that grey one… I think that’s the best.” I feel slightly guilty stealing the construction technique, but as was pointed out to me, my original designer didn’t invent the technique either.
The other biggest challenge I’m finding is that I’m solving my last production’s problems. Before anyone involved with the last production says “WHAT PROBLEMS, IT WAS FABULOUS” Yes it was, but every show has challenges, things that didn’t work as well as those involved with the show had wished. A few minor points that I “fixed” totally cramped the directors style (and she quite rightly didn’t follow my suggestions.) Instead this production has its own challenges.
I think part of the reason I’m so excited about this production is that I am once again blessed with great collaborators. The first time around I thought I had the perfect director, fellow designers, stage manager etc. This time I have a very different team with very different visions of the show, and they are just as fabulous.
I’m working very hard to keep approaching the show freshly. I feared it would be so difficult to be fresh, but it hasn’t been. Finding new visions of a play I enjoyed, is like catching up with an old friend again. Our past association makes me feel comfortable, but like a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, there is so much catching up to do. I’m not the same artist who did The Illusion the last time, and The Illusion has changed too. I find different meaning its pages. I no longer fancy myself as the heroic young lover, I now feel much more like the wizard, the cunning old fake who knows how to please his audience.
I hope I have succeeded.