GETTING TO KNOW: JED BUCHANAN

Jed is an emerging lighting designer, who is beginning to explore the world of professional theatre in Canberra and beyond. After working extensively with the ANU student theatre community and numerous comedy and theatre festivals, Jed has been working in lighting and production at the Street Theatre including his the lighting design for Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again in 2018. Career highlights include working with countless talented performers and directors through The Street Theatre’s dramatic repertoire, and supporting a hilarious cohort of comedians and comediennes over a number of years for the Canberra Comedy Festival. Jed is excited to get further embroiled in the Canberra theatre and live performance community, to shed light on beautiful and moving stories.

The Street talks to Jed about lighting and his design work as part of the creative team for Icarus, created by Christopher Samuel Carroll.

WHY LIGHTING DESIGN?

I feel that light for people can be a lot like water for fish; it’s so present in our lives we begin to forget that it’s there, and fail to realise how it affects us. Yet, like water, its temperature, colour and direction can have a huge effect feel and how we interact with the world around us. This subtle shifting of perspective or direction opens up a world of possibilities to extend or augment creative works and tell moving stories.

HOW DID YOU RESPOND TO CHRISTOPHER SAMUEL CARROLL’S WORDLESS SCRIPT?

I was quite excited to work on a piece without dialogue! I am hoping that without dialogue to carry the narrative, the audience will be listening and watching more closely than usual to pick up on what Chris and the rest of the creative team are trying to convey. I’m aiming to use this to the full, both highlighting and subverting the narrative to make the piece as compelling as possible. 

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IDEAS YOU HAVE DEVELOPED FOR THE LIGHTING DESIGN OF ICARUS?

I see the lighting design of Icarus as a way to contrast the hope and struggles of the main character, who goes unnamed, but we affectionately refer to as Icarus. There are a number of moments in the piece where the light lifts and suspend the character, allowing them to escape the grim realities of their search for asylum. This has got me thinking extensively about the ways we connect the brightness and openness of the sky with freedom, and how the brightness that escape brings is both liberating and blinding.

WHAT ARE YOU DISCOVERING TO BE SIGNIFICANT IN LIGHTING DESIGN INNOVATION?

The big thing I have noticed, working with a lot of designers, is how you integrate traditional lighting from incandescent lights designed for theatrical works with more modern technology, particularly LEDs and projectors. While I haven’t used any projection in Icarus, I have experimented with a number of ways to incorporate LEDs into the piece to get an intensity of light and breadth of hues that can be difficult with traditional theatre luminaires.

HOW DO YOU USE LIGHT AS A DESIGN TOOL?

I generally use light to focus and refocus attention, and to temper tone. Relative changes in colour and attention can shape a piece so that the audience sees the right parts of the show, and sees them in the way the creative team intends. The capacity of lighting to shape both what an audience looks at and how they interpret it continues to astound me.

HOW DO YOU WORK – WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH?

I always start working on a piece by talking to the director, and where possible the other creatives, to get a sense of where they want to take the work. Then I like to read through a script and, if possible, watch a rehearsal to get my own sense of how the show is shaped, both physically and thematically. Then I’ll draft up a list of ideas including what lights I want to use, what tone I want to convey, and how the lights can contribute to the overall journey in the work, which I take to the director and the creative team. From there it’s a matter of refining those ideas and realising a design in the space.

LIGHT IS OFTEN THE LAST LAYER TO BE ADDED TO A PRODUCTION. HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR VISION THROUGH THE REHEARSAL PROCESS?

Where possible I like to read a script and sit in on rehearsals and talk through lighting ideas with the director as the rehearsals evolve. In some cases I have had the luxury of setting up test lights for use during rehearsals so the lighting can inform the action more and we can test some exciting, but outlandish ideas.

HOW DO YOU WORK IN REHEARSALS VERSUS PRODUCTION WEEK?

Usually rehearsal time is more conceptual for me, as I won’t have enough of a lighting rig up to see how the light plays in the space. I often use rehearsal time to consider how the themes and key moments of the show can be conveyed through the lighting design, and investigate how we can find or build the lighting fixtures we need. During production week it is full steam ahead, rigging and experimenting with the lighting, and rapidly refining that into a final show.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET?

I originally joined The Street Theatre team as a casual lighting technician, doing the rigging, but little of the creative work of the company. However, I have recently had the privilege of getting more involved with the creative process at The Street. Working with some incredible visiting designers to realise their designs and develop my own skills at the same time. Getting to work on Icarus as my second solo design has been tremendously exciting

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I’ve recently been inspired by art that makes the unrelatable relatable. I feel that a huge challenge facing modern democracies like Australia is the challenge of relatability, of hearing and feeling the stories of others as if they are your own. I think that art has an incredible ability to draw people across the gulfs of life experience which divide us, so that we can not only know what has happened to another human, but feel it ourselves. Icarus, as a story of someone seeking refuge from war against all odds, is a really clear example of this movement to use art to help people feel something that often seems so distant, but which people who live amongst us here in Australia have personally experienced. I think it is amazing when a creative team can use human bodies, lights and sound to convey these life changing experiences, and I hope that I can help Chris convey the astonishing journey to our audience.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?
I have recently been reading a book by John Safran called Depends What You Mean by Extremist (2017) about the rise of neo-Nazism and anti-immigration politics in Australia, it has been fascinating, and has informed how I think people may receive Icarus’s story. I have been watching the most recent Star Trek (Discovery) recently which offers a different perspective on some similar issues, and it explores the clash of civilizations and the challenges the dream of multiculturalism faces in a multicultural world/universe. I have also been playing a video game called This War of Mine where you play as a civilian trying to survive in a city when a civil war breaks out. It can be a stressful and demoralising experience, but may also be worth a look for people who are interested in insights into the kinds of experiences that Icarus explores. Interestingly, I didn’t seek out these stories because of Icarus, it seems that stories of multiculturalism and conflict are all around us these days, and I believe that it is very important for me to engage with how this issue touches people very differently.

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