GETTING TO KNOW: GERRY CORCORAN

Gerry Corcoran is a Lighting Designer/Technician based in Wolumla, NSW and is originally from Scotland. Gerry has been Chief Electrician/Lighting Designer at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in the Scottish Highlands and Chief Electrician/Technical Training Tutor (Lighting) for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music Drama in Glasgow, for which he designed over 40 productions ranging from small one-person scenes to full scale opera.

Now operating as GCLX: Gerry Corcoran Production Lighting, he offers Lighting Design, Hire, Sales and Consultancy for all types of venues and events. Recent works include Spectrum Theatre’s Take Two, Four Winds Festival 2018 Side Show Alley, fLiNG Physical Theatre’s production Body & Environment, locally produced versions of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and Aladdin Jr. as well as various live music shows and local festivals. Over the past few years, he has consulted on designs for several new venues and venue upgrades.

gerry corcoran_headshot.jpgThe Street talked to Gerry before the opening of Happiness Is . . ., Canberra Dance Theatre’s 40th anniversary program being presented at The Street Theatre this month.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN LIGHTING?
Tinkerbell! When I was 10 or 11 I saw a Pantomime production of Peter Pan. When Tinkerbell came on she was this bright orb dancing all over the stage, clearly it wasn’t a real object/prop. Through the smoke (as everyone smoked at the theatre back then!) I followed the beam of light to the top of the theatre and saw the follow-spot and operator, the source of the Tinkerbell effect. Every show I saw after that was “how did they do that?”.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT INNOVATION IN LIGHTING DESIGN?Vari*Lite developed the original “intelligent” moving light at the start of the 80’s, with the help of rock band Genesis. This revolutionised live production. A single unit that could move to different positions while changing size and colour reduced the need for multiple single use units. Looking back now at the original VL1 is like looking back to the Model-T Ford!

HOW DO YOU USE LIGHT AS A DESIGN TOOL?
It’s like I’m painting, but with lots of tiny suns. I set my pallet up with the colours I think I need, then decide how much to add to each scene, what layers of different colours and intensities do I need to create depth, form and place, while keeping the performer illuminated enough to see facial expression.

Every production is different but where possible I try to go for a realistic feel. I like dips, contrasting colours and shadows on faces and scenery – it’s how we see every day at home, in the office, on the street.

HOW DID YOU RESPOND TO THE CANBERRA DANCE THEATRE PROGRAM TO CELEBRATE 40 YEARS OF DANCE?
Sounds corny but I was really excited! The production has 12 separate pieces all with different needs and feel, and in a venue I haven’t worked in before. So, I took a deep breath and started making lots of notes, collated information from Directors/Choreographers/Producers and watched lots of rehearsal videos.

Each piece is telling its own little story, so I need to create looks that illuminate the performers in a way that aids the storytelling for the audience. Creating one design that encompasses all the requirements for each piece, while maintaining a thread of continuity offers an enjoyable challenge.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IDEAS YOU HAVE DEVELOPED FOR THE LIGHTING DESIGN OF HAPPINESS IS . . .?
Mostly it’s all about combining twelve separate requirements into one design.
Solid colour backdrops (white cyc) at the back of the stage can be a challenge to have enough variations for such a mix of pieces. So, I am adding some texture to it with coloured patterns and a mix of top and bottom colour washes.

HOW DO YOU WORK – WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH?
Every production has different needs, so I start each new show with a blank sheet of paper. I read the script/synopsis, listen to the score, go to a rehearsal or watch a video if available, talk with the Director/Choreographer/Producer to ensure we are on the same page, check what equipment is available at the venue and confirm what time is available to rig, focus and plot. There’s a lot of factors to consider before creating the design.

I then review all the information and highlight details of requirements; mood, location, time of day, special effects, etc. and then make a list of cues (looks), start points, fade times, note what’s happening (scene change/costume change/storm sequence).

I’ll then start to draw a plan that indicates where each unit is to be rigged, what colour filter is required and what control channel I need. Sometimes it can be 20 lights on a plan, other times it can be hundreds.

HOW DO YOU WORK IN REHEARSALS VERSUS PRODUCTION WEEK?
Rehearsals are my thinking time and offers time to chat with the director and see how the show is developing verses the notes taken from initial meetings and scripts. Copious notes and ideas are scribbled down to be reviewed and referenced later. I will often sketch a rough plan to help with placement of lights and where the performer will be in relation to the light.

Production week is where all my ideas come to life and hopefully I have interpreted all the requirements. Most of the week is stuck siting at the production desk adjusting times and intensities to ensure I am helping tell the story and all transformations run smoothly.

HOW MANY PROJECTS DO YOU TEND TO TAKE ON IN A YEAR AND HOW DO YOU SELECT WHICH ONES?
Living on the Far South Coast I am lucky to be involved in a wide variety of productions and events. I try to assist as many local events as I can but inevitably there are clashes with dates, so I currently use the “first in – best dressed” mantra for bookings. This year I have provided lighting design, production, installation and consultancy to 25 different projects/productions and over 50 one-night events.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
The challenge of this project and working in a new venue is currently offering lots of inspiration. I am also in the development/planning stage of a production of “Tarzan the Musical” which opens in Merimbula late November which is really exciting.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?
I change my choices depending on how busy I am. I love “popcorn” crime thrillers to read when I’m busy. Lee Childs, Michael Connolly and John Sandford are the usual suspects. When I have some down time, I like the “Historical Fiction” genre. Ken Follet and Conn Iggulden write some fascinating historically influenced stories. The Genghis Khan “Conqueror” series by Conn Iggulden about the Mongols was superb.
On TV we’ve just finished two seasons of “Chance” with Hugh Laurie and have just started “Quarry”, which was a bit of a lucky dip, and it’s been great. “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “House of Cards” were definitely binge-worthy!

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