Owen has recently returned to Canberra after a year working with the production team of The House of Dancing Water in Macau, China. His previous design credits at The Street Theatre include Appalling Behaviour, The (Very) Sad Fish Lady, Present Laughter and Flotsam & Jetsam, and he is delighted to be returning to The Street Theatre for the Canberra debut production of Constellations.
Other design credits include Freeway: The Chet Baker Story (The Hayes Theatre), Miss Saigon (ANU Interhall Productions), Pool No Water (Sydney Theatre School), Misfits (Sydney Theatre School) and Americana: The Musical (Edinburgh Fringe).
The Street talked with Owen about lighting design for theatre and his role as Lighting Designer for Constellations.
WHY LIGHTING DESIGN?
I was always attracted to designing with light from a very young age; my first job was unloading trucks for the touring shows at The Canberra Theatre, and helping the technical teams install the lighting rigs. Every weekend would be something different, be it Dance, Musical or Drama. It is absolutely fascinating to watch a performance from the auditorium and see how the lighting rig works with the performance, especially when you can look up and see what the lights are and where they are placed. Eventually you start to recognise how certain effects have been created with the lighting, and you begin to play with your own ideas and interpretations. It certainly takes a while and a few broken eggs before you can create anything that is presentable though.
HOW DO YOU USE LIGHT AS A DESIGN TOOL?
Lighting can be a very powerful tool to help shape the emotion of a piece in a way that works on a subconscious level. There are certainly fundamentals that you have to be careful to interpret correctly; time and place is always very important. In Constellations there is a significance to the abstract themes that Nick Payne has played into the writing, I have found that sometimes the purpose of the lighting is work with the actors and help them express how they have interpreted their character. For example, maybe this is by focusing the attention more on the facial expressions in a particular scene, or trying to highlight a separation between the characters in a small space.
HOW DID YOU RESPOND TO THE SCRIPT FOR CONSTELLATIONS?
The script for Constellations was certainly very challenging, and you really have to read it multiple times before you can start to work out any creative angles. The best way to work with a script like Constellations is to really have a round table discussion, and discuss how other people have interpreted the work. It’s amazing what other people see that you don’t.
WHAT RESEARCH HAVE YOU UNDERTAKEN IN PREPARATION?
It’s always worthwhile to try and research any past productions of the piece you are about to start working on; sometimes it gives you inspiration, and shows you a really clever way that another designer has chosen to tackle things like colour palettes and placement…sometimes you might look at some archival photos and for you it just doesn’t match up with your interpretation.
WHAT DISCUSSIONS DO YOU HAVE WITH THE CREATIVE TEAM?
There is always a great deal of discussion to be had with the set designer; everything from colour palettes, heights and placement need to be considered when drawing up the first draft of the lighting design. Constellations also has a lot of integrated elements, where the set and the lighting are built into each other, so there are the practical implications of this that need to be considered.
LIGHT IS OFTEN THE LAST LAYER TO BE ADDED TO A PRODUCTION. HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR VISION THROUGH THE REHEARSAL PROCESS?
There is always such a difference between reading a script, and seeing it played in a rehearsal. Actors have a much greater ability to interpret and present a text in ways that were for me inconceivable, so the rehearsal stage is really where I take the ideas I want to pursue and try to work out how and when they might integrate into the piece.
WITHOUT SPOILING THE AUDIENCE’S EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IDEAS YOU HAVE DEVELOPED FOR THE LIGHTING DESIGN OF CONSTELLATIONS.
I have tried to build relativity into the lighting design that the audience will see throughout the piece; this might be relativity between the characters, or relativity to the space itself. There is also significance in the characters and their expertise, and there has been a good scope in the lighting to develop on these ideas; for example, there is significance in the relationship between beekeeping and astrophysics, and how can this relationship be expressed through the lighting
HOW DO YOU WORK IN REHEARSALS VERSUS PRODUCTION WEEK?
During rehearsals there is a greater emphasis on the creative aspect; there is always a lot to be discussed with everyone else in the creative team, and we will try to work out how everything will work together for the performance itself. As for production week, that is really about the physical installation itself. Having a good technical skill set is essential as there is a great deal of logistics that goes into installing a lighting rig of this scale. Fortunately, we have a great team of technicians and riggers at The Street Theatre, so hopefully the production week will be nothing but pleasurable!
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I spent over a year living in Macau working on a show designed by a lighting designer called Luc Lafortune. The design was focused around the movement of water, and was an excellent demonstration on how lighting can be used in an incredibly a dynamic way. Lafortune was also a designer that didn’t exactly know how to accept that something couldn’t be done – start with the idea, and think about the practicality later!
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?
It’s not very theatre related, but I recently returned from travelling overland across Russia. On a friend’s recommendation I am tackling some literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn…though I am finding I have to put it down occasionally and read a bit of Wodehouse so I don’t get too depressed.