Presentation on theme: "Concept. Concept is one of the least “portable” of theater notions to carry-over into other aspects of our “built”, three-dimensional world. It’s quite."— Presentation transcript:
Concept is one of the least “portable” of theater notions to carry-over into other aspects of our “built”, three-dimensional world. It’s quite sad, really, because to leave the theater “whistling the scenery” is the kiss of death for a theatrical performance. To be moved by the human drama that unfolds on the stage during a performance, and think about nothing else on the trip home, is to come to grips with certain visceral emotions and truths, writ large and endured by mankind for millennia. This is, more than anything else, the hallmark of great theater. The Concept is at the heart of this profound experience. It may come to inform a director’s first ‘casting call’, or a influence a seasoned conductor approaching Mahler’s glorious 9 th Symphony, months before the first rehearsal. Shakespeare’s layered words, and overlapping cross-currents of emotion are like the musical notes of experimental composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen. They can be “envisioned” by the playwright or director, just as they can be “heard” by the composer or conductor well in advance of the performance. We are definitely NOT talking about carpet swatches, throw pillows, and rentable square footage here. This is NOT the world of watts per square foot, fire-rated sheetrock, and minimum foot candle readings in egress stairwells. But such is the “built” world all around us. Real estate developers and their entourage of design and engineering specialists erect manicured gated communities of malaise, with soaring towers that suffer everything, from malfeasance of imagination, to self-indulgent expressions of “edifice complex”. I can’t tell you how many “forehead-slapping” moments I’ve suffered through while sitting around a huge conference table with this kind of “peer group”. The lack of Concept is stupefying. YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART…
There are many exceptions, of course. They are exceptional because of the unifying themes, and/or driven passions, of such “three-dimensional” conceptualists like Antoni Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Santiago Calatrava, Arata Isozaki, and Rem Koolhaas. They were, or are, in the end, fiery meteors streaking across a lethargic nighttime sky. We seem forever stuck in sheetrock-sized 8’-0” high cubes, or rectangular modules with four 90° corners, stripped of genuine interest, shorn of imagination, decorated with “vanilla pudding-in-a-can” pallets that suit the zeitgeist of the times. These kinds of spaces are devoid of just one crucial element… “Concept”. Admittedly, and thankfully, Concept can be found in both the nuanced songs of Sting, in the breathtaking magic of Cirque du Soliel, in the elegance of Japanese niwaki, and mystical sand paintings of the Taoist monks. We live in a natural world where some divine “concept” carves the landscapes of Zion National Park, sculpts the mysterious shapes buried in Luray Caverns, ripples the celestial Northern Lights, and perches the sun half on the horizon, casting deep orange light that projects mile-long shadows. I digress for a moment to build an “organic” bridge between nature and the task - no, the responsibility - of the lighting designer, to struggle with generating a singularly important centrifugal theme, or “Concept”, for every project that she or he undertakes. My mentor, Tom Skelton, was a multi-faceted talent of enormous range and consequence. He was a deep thinker, read music like words, and had an ironic, but reserved sense of humor. He was a dedicated “team player” amongst a galaxy of super-egos and divas, a talented gardener, refined oenophile, and a true epicure. I was, at the time, a suburban-bred hippie dressed in slacks and a blazer, with my ponytail pulled back, used to eating granola with jug wine.
We were something of an “odd couple” at the lighting desk, but for the love of lumens that we so earnestly shared. At Sardi’s, I felt more like an adopted vagabond sharing his table… He introduced me to the best brie (“Mark, only eat it if it’s oozing out of it’s skin!”), an excellent, robust Cabernet wine with filet mignon, done rare, and the “art and craft” of deflowering steamed artichokes. Hence, the artichoke has become symbolic of our synergy as Master and Aco-Light, and the most idyllic way of describing the importance of “Concept” in lighting design. The gigantic “hardball” of a flower is covered with tough leaves that yield to inner layers of softer leaves. All this is, ultimately, anchored to the base of the stem and “heart”. You have to work hard to strip-away the outer hard leaves (your assumptions). Then, with less effort, the softer ones in the layers below, fall away and slide easily over your lower laterals and cuspeds, drawing you ever-closer to the fundamental truth(s) of the playwright’s words, the composer’s tonal cross-currents, etc. Now, you are left with the fuzzy, inedible choke (your struggle with ‘second-guessing’ yourself), to be scooped out delicately, so as not to bruise your self-assurance, then… lo, and behold! There sits the very “Heart of the Matter”, the Concept fully revealed! The artichoke’s heart is the sweetest of delicacies, that can even embarrass the lemon-butter dip in the shallow bowl alongside it. Now you understand what and how you are to approach this delicacy, revealing its Truth with the ethereal caress of your lighting art.
When the Shoe Fits Ch'ui the draftsman Could draw more perfect circles freehand Than with a compass. His fingers brought forth Spontaneous forms from nowhere. His mind Was meanwhile free and without concern With what he was doing. No application was needed His mind was perfectly simple And knew no obstacle. So, when the shoe fits The foot is forgotten, When the belt fits The belly is forgotten, When the heart is right "For" and "against" are forgotten. No drives no compulsions, No needs, no attractions: Then your affairs Are under control. You are a free man. Easy is right. Begin right And you are easy. Continue easy and you are right. The right way to go easy Is to forget the right way And forget that the going is easy. by Chuang Tzu from In the Dark Before Dawn trans. Thomas Merton