There’s an important adage in theatre which is if you can’t see an actor you can’t hear them.
My role as lighting designer is to be responsible for all aspects of what and how anything is seen on stage. Apart from the actors, the set and scenery also have to belong to the whole picture – or “lighting state”. THE SHOE-HORN SONATA includes important historical images from the war and these also have to be “balanced” so that they are not “washed out” by the stage lighting. The lighting states therefore have to serve several purposes – practical, technical and artistic. Still, the audience’s eye has to be directed to what the writer and director want to be looked at.
The timing between the different scenes to disguise the actors moving into position or to deal with various props without being noticed is also a balance. In THE SHOE-HORN SONATA these scene changes are a good opportunity to show some slides not just as a distraction but also to inform. This is written into the script but still each change or “cue” has to be created with the correct timing which is then programmed into the computerised lighting control switchboard. This can be an arduous process and the aim is always to seek perfection in the end result. The stage manager can then activate the cues at the precise point in the script every performance that is set in the lighting rehearsals.
This particular play has both the narrative story telling coupled with the drama between these two women. The lighting should never be noticed rather the story and the actors need to be heard and the audience immersed in the play.
Take a look at Peter Neufeld’s lighting plan for THE SHOE-HORN SONATA and EDUCATING RITA. Both plays run back-to-back some days so Peter’s design has needed to be flexible for both productions.
Here are technical documents prepared by Peter Neufeld detailing his digital projection design for THE SHOE-HORN SONATA.
About Peter Neufeld
In 1974 at the age of 12, Peter was first introduced to lighting at Stowe School’s Roxburgh Hall. In 1979 he joined the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, and in 1982 at the age of 20, he left London to begin his professional career in Sydney. The sheer volume and diversity of shows that he has worked on are indicative of the uniqueness of his Australian experience. Selected work includes: Sydney Theatre Company: The Pig Iron People, The Vertical Hour, Influence, The Club, Wunnerful Liberace and Rome Tremble. Bell Shakespeare Company: Measure for Measure, The Wars Of The Roses, The Servant Of Two Masters, Hamlet (2003) and The Merchant Of Venice directed by Richard Wherrett. Ensemble Theatre: Neighbourhood Watch, Happiness,When Dad Married Fury, Nothing Personal, Warning: Explicit Material, Little Nell, Tuesdays with Morrie, Trying, The Drawer Boy, A Local Man, Aunty And Me, Spinning Into Butter and I’m Not Rappaport: Other productions include Looking Through A Glass Onion, including its season in the West End; The Blonde, Brunette and Vengeful Redhead; Cafe Brel; The Bastard From The Bush; The Elocution Of Benjamin Franklin; Don’s Party for the Sydney Opera House Trust; and Pearls Before Swine and Pell Mell, both directed by Geoffrey Rush; Principal lighting designer for the largest urban renewal project at the time in Australia at Green Square in Sydney.
It’s great to sit in the audience of ‘Absent Friends’ by Alan Ayckbourn and see people laughing with recognition, not only of the excruciatingly awkward situations the characters find themselves in, but also of the time that the play is set. Anna Gardiner has perfectly captured the seventies in her costume and set designs and has made many of our audience members very reminiscent.
Anna Gardiner is a WAAPA Design graduate and she has designed for a range of professional and independent theatre productions. Her work has seen her nominated for three Sydney Theatre Awards – ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ for Sport for Jove and ‘Henry V’ for Bell Shakespeare. ‘Absent Friends’ is Anna’s fourth show with Ensemble Theatre.
We asked Anna a series of questions about how she managed to recreate the era on the Ensemble Theatre stage:
When Mark Kilmurry asked you to design the set and costumes for his production of ABSENT FRIENDS and told you he was relocating it from England to Adelaide and keeping it set in the year it was written – 1974 – what was your initial reaction?
I was excited by the idea! I’ve designed for many different eras over the years but the 1970s was a first for me and what a joy it has been. Changing the location too was a wonderful idea, it just meant tweaking the designs a little when the final decision was made to set the play in Adelaide and also meant picking props relevant to Australia instead. The final decision was made in the first week of rehearsal after Mark had discussed the idea with the cast.
What kind of research did you do to get the right set pieces? It’s set in Diana and Paul’s living room, what items of furniture did you have to source and how did you find them?
I looked at many images of home interiors from the period – a combination of candid photographs of real homes and magazine or ‘show home’ interior images. We needed a two seater lounge, an armchair, a large coffee table which is central to the action of the play, bar stools, a pouffe and a rug. With the help of Ensemble Theatre’s Head of Production, I visited quite a few antique stores, op shops and trawled Ebay. We won the burnt orange leather lounge on Ebay which was a great success! The orange tiled coffee table was sourced from an antique store in Sydney. We spent a lot of time searching for just the right items. My choice of colour palette played a big role in the selection of the furniture and set dressing.
How did you research the fashions of the day for the costumes?
I looked at images from fashion catalogues, photographs from the time, even images from clothing patterns. I watched clips from 1970s TV shows – although not Australian – Mork and Mindy, The Brady Bunch, Faulty Towers. All of these gave me the key elements of the clothing of the time to then design and source the costumes. Once I’ve done my research it’s sort of an intuitive process.
Can you describe what each character wears and why you chose that outfit? And where you sourced each costume?
Diana wears a plum, pink and olive wool skirt, a musk pink blouse with a pussy’s bow, an olive green corduroy vest and plum heels. Diana always dresses, makes tea and organises tea parties in the proper way. She likes to keep up with appearances and follow the etiquette of the day. This gives her a very buttoned up, neat and lady like look. Diana’s costume was pulled from various places, I found the skirt among Ensemble’s existing stock, we added the pussy’s bow to the blouse, the vest was made from scratch and the shoes were coloured to match.
Paul’s first outfit we see is his squash clothes – originally I had designed a tracksuit look for Paul but as we changed the location to Adelaide it dawned on me that shorts would probably be more appropriate, and also amusing. This change also came about as my costume co-ordinator and I were sourcing and came across some great 70s shorts. We tried them in the fitting and they just worked. Paul’s first outfit are these cream short shorts with a bright blue vintage T-shirt with a red stripe, high white socks and some great runners which are blue and orange and nicely 70’s looking. The shoes were sourced from a modern retailer which sold these runners based on the original 70s version. The shorts were sourced at C’s Flashback in Newtown and the T-shirt was another lucky find from Ensemble’s wardrobe.
Did you have fun putting it altogether?
I had so much fun designing and putting together this production. The 1970’s is so outrageous and it’s fun to be able to play with so much colour and pattern and the idea of good and bad taste.
How much input did the director and cast have in choosing their outfits and props?
I like to work closely with the director and cast in the selection of costumes. There are some dramatic differences from some of my original sketches and the finished selection due to discussions with cast on their deeper understanding of their characters, choosing clothes that suit the actors figure, making them as comfortable as possible in vintage (often polyester clothing). We tried a lot of different options on the actors in order to find the best outfit for each actor and each character.
How did working on this production differ from other productions you’ve designed for Ensemble?
This production differed from other’s I’ve designed at Ensemble mostly due to the period it is set in – it was a freeing thing designing in the 1970s – almost anything goes! And the great variety and nuances of the period means there is a lot of detail you can inject into it.
Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn
From December 4th 2014
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Assistant Director: Jo-Anne Cahill
Costume and Set Designer: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Designer: Peter Neufeld
Stage Manager: Danielle Ironside
Hair and Makeup: Peggy Carter
Costume Co-ordinator: Catherine Capolupo
Cast: Michelle Doake (Diana), Darren Gilshenan (Colin), Brian Meegan (John), Jessica Sullivan (Evelyn), Richard Sydenham (Paul), Queenie van de Zandt (Marge)