… made me happy. And slightly less ignorant. I mean, still pretty ignorant. But slightly less so.
I’m a theatre lighting designer. We take 3-6 weeks to think about a design. Every instrument is carefully positioned, focused and plotted. We pick our colours carefully, analyse scenes and then spend anywhere between 12-72 hours stuck behind a lighting desk carefully constructing every single moment of a play. Added to this, I know little …View full post
After my week (and a bit) off from all the scribbling and shows, I am now in a position to update my views on 24 with the following note on things that Jack Bauer (who, at the time of writing, has been shot, stabbed, tortured twice, beaten, electrocuted, suffered a collapsed lung and is still …View full post
Thanks must go to a very lovely scribbler who’s had to listen to too many of my rants for showing me this… which, as a scribbler and an LD who’s been on the receiving end of such sterling criticism as ‘can light the little red ball seem more red than the curtain it’s on?’ or, …View full post
Remember when 24 first came onto our TV screens? I was at school, and I was riveted. As who wouldn’t be? Every hour of real-time ended on a cliffhanger, a twist, a betrayal, a gunshot, a mysteries baddy doing something mysteriously bad. It was the televisual equivalent of every paragraph opening with the word ‘… …View full post
There is an accusation levelled against theatre that it’s ‘not for the masses’. When Margaret Thatcher was buried, the funeral cost ten million pounds. When the Arts Council budget for the entire country for the fiscal year was announced, it had been slashed by eleven million pounds. Again. Every year publishers seek this year’s success, …View full post
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/21/the-higgs-boson/
I’m a theatre lighting designer. We take 3-6 weeks to think about a design. Every instrument is carefully positioned, focused and plotted. We pick our colours carefully, analyse scenes and then spend anywhere between 12-72 hours stuck behind a lighting desk carefully constructing every single moment of a play.
Added to this, I know little about music. Don’t get me wrong… I can play a couple of instruments, sorta, and have lit more musicals in the last few months than the mind can comfortably conceive, but it’s something of a running gag among my friends that my knowledge of ‘popular culture’ (whatever that means) gets a little rusty around 1707.
Which makes the fact that I’ve been lighting gigs at a local venue, really kinda odd. And I’m loving it.
There’s a fine balance to be found between trying to enhance the music, create a mood or lift an exciting experience, without actually becoming distracting. It’s a similar balance to what you do in theatre – light a moment or make a place without drawing attention away from the thing happening on stage – but far more heightened and (this being the slighty nerve-wracking bit) you have to do it without the advantage of fore-knowledge.
That said, I always try and do my research, and look up whoever it is I’m about to light to get a feel for their songs. But even if you know what you want to do, trying to achieve it on the fly is tricky. Particularly when using a lighting desk that was obsolete in conception, let alone in construction – a hideous bit of technology manufactured by people who wouldn’t know a good lighting desk if it fell on them from a great height with a ribbon round it.
Sometimes, I’m beginning to suspect, you run into less technological, than creative difficulties. One group in particular wanted everything dark. As a lighting designer, I read ‘dark’ for being ‘moody’. But oh no. We’re not talking moody. We’re talking dark. A very lovely lady stood by me throughout the gig going, ‘darker, darker!’ and as I pulled channels out and intensities down I felt the overwhelming urge to scratch at the back of my eyeballs. ‘It looks great!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’d look better in blackout!’
‘It’d look black, in blackout,’ I replied. ‘It’d look like nothing that can look at all.’
How to describe the horror of this experience. Of having everything you know, everything you’ve experienced, everything you’ve been trained in, dedicated years of your life to, pulled out beneath your feet by someone who is, technically, more senior (but less experienced) than you hollaring, ‘darker! Darker now!’
I came away from that gig actually shaking. Not merely shaking with aesthetic displeasure – that’s fine – but with the horrible thought that perhaps this was what people wanted. Perhaps people liked their gigs to be invisible, perhaps they wanted to not be able to see the band, perhaps they were okay with the only light source on stage being a bit of red front light. Perhaps all my career I’d got it wrong. The thought horrified me, and for a few days I actually fretted that perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps what I’d been doing was wrong, and I was only a theatre LD, and didn’t know how to light gigs, and I was… wrong.
Thankfully, one week later, my faith in lights, gigs and to a degree, myself, was restored by another event at the same venue. This was for a group led by a woman called Laura Mvula, who I hadn’t heard of (presumably because she was born after 1707) but who it turned out was something of an up-and-coming someone. More to the point – and this is why she actually gets named here – her gig was one of the best I’d seen, both musically and in terms of atmosphere and interaction with the audience.
And she had a proper lighting designer. Proper, in the sense that he was clearly a trained LD with experience of lighting gigs. Lighting designer as well in that, as I had done first time I walked into the venue, he sat down in front of the desk, took one look at it and pulled a facial expression of horror and dismay, at which point my respect for him surged.
And he started programming, and building states, and I helped out as I could with advice on the (hideous) desk (blimey, even as I write this I’ve just had a minor revelation about attribute control off submasters… anyway, moving on…) … and as I watched him work the realisation hit me – joy! Joyous revelation, but he was doing PRECISELY what I would have done in his circumstances. In fact, as I’d already been in for an hour and a half already, he was exactly replicating what I did, but in a slightly different control manner. As there wasn’t time to tell him the full story of how my faith had been shattered the week before, he must have been a bit confused my my jubilant grin, but lo, the gig started and he made exactly the same artistic choices I would have, and I was relieved. Deeply, and utterly relieved.
Lighting designers and writers both don’t get out much. Lighting designers certainly get out and meet directors and designers a lot, but very rarely do we interact with other LDs and thus, after a while, you start to forget that you are part of a community of peers. Sure, there’s the once-monthly meeting of the Association of Lighting Designers you could attend, but generally the conversation is about plugs and control equipment, and you can’t exactly turn on a theatre lighting grid in the pub and go, ‘what do you think of this?’ In short, LDs spend a lot of their time working with people who don’t really get what they do, and trust them to do it well, and thus it can become easy to forget that yes, you are doing a thing that is generally considered Good. And Right. And what others of your professional kin would do in your circumstances.
Writers in many ways have a similar problem. We can read other people’s books and judge them extensively (and we do) but being so immersed in our own writing it can be hard to remember that there’s a world beyond the pages we are absorbed in. This in many ways is why bad reviews hurt writers (and LDs for that matter) so much. We exist in a little bubble of unlikely expertise, absorbed in doing something that not many others do, and when strangers disapprove, we take that as a universal condemnation, having nothing better to go on for ourselves.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/19/lighting-gigs/
After my week (and a bit) off from all the scribbling and shows, I am now in a position to update my views on 24 with the following note on things that Jack Bauer (who, at the time of writing, has been shot, stabbed, tortured twice, beaten, electrocuted, suffered a collapsed lung and is still ok) has NEVER done.
Jack Bauer has NEVER:
1. Waited for a bus.
2. Filled out a tax return.
3. Bought a Japanese peace lily.
4. Sung ‘I did it my way’ at karaoke night.
5. Had to reinstall Windows.
6. Played sudoku.
7. Made a souffle.
It can be tough, serving your country.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/15/24-a-postscript/
Thanks must go to a very lovely scribbler who’s had to listen to too many of my rants for showing me this… which, as a scribbler and an LD who’s been on the receiving end of such sterling criticism as ‘can light the little red ball seem more red than the curtain it’s on?’ or, ‘is there any way you can make them visible without actually letting us see them?’ and my personal writerly favourite – ‘are you sure that would happen?’
- this appealed to me hugely.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/13/worst-client-comments/
Remember when 24 first came onto our TV screens? I was at school, and I was riveted. As who wouldn’t be? Every hour of real-time ended on a cliffhanger, a twist, a betrayal, a gunshot, a mysteries baddy doing something mysteriously bad. It was the televisual equivalent of every paragraph opening with the word ‘… suddenly…!!’
I was recently reminded of this when finishing the last round of lighting designs. Two weeks in tech is bad enough – two weeks teching musicals back-to-back is bone-shattering, and at the end of it a week of doing very little at great length seemed called for, and what better than eighteen hours or so, stretched out, of adrenaline-rush American drama? Buckle down, wipe the sweat from your brow and start asking the immortal question… is Jack alright?
That said… certain lessons can be taken from this wonderfully over-the-top bit of TV.
1. Never trust foreigners. They’re out to get you. And if they’re not out to get you, then someone’s out to get them, and you’d better say goodbye to them now because pretty soon a mysterious assassin with a questionable accent is probably going to kill them anyway. Thankfully, foreigners can easily be identified by their incredible leers.
2. Never trust politicians. At best they’re wishy-washy liberals unwilling to Do What Needs To Be Done; at worst they’re shifty war-mongers out to manipulate the people of America for their own nefarious ends.
3. Of course there’s a mole at CTU! OF COURSE THERE IS!!
4. Torture – it’s gonna hurt me as much as it hurts you.
5. Everywhere in Los Angeles is no more than twelve minutes away from everywhere else.
6. Bullets interfere with microwave transmission. For observe: when your colleague needs to phone you during a quiet moment, that’s okay, but the second the bullets start flying and you need to call for backup, that’s the moment your phone runs out of signal.
7. Bad facial hair is the sign of the devil.
8. Love can only hurt, almost as much as the torture. Which often stems from the love anyway.
9. The United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists.
10. For god’s sake, if you see a bathroom, use it. Play safe, people. Plan ahead.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/12/24/
There is an accusation levelled against theatre that it’s ‘not for the masses’.
When Margaret Thatcher was buried, the funeral cost ten million pounds. When the Arts Council budget for the entire country for the fiscal year was announced, it had been slashed by eleven million pounds. Again.
Every year publishers seek this year’s success, and they model it on last year’s triumphs. Thus – vampires were popular in 2010, so the shelves were flooded with rip-offs in 2011. Bondage and sex was popular in 2011, so the shelves were flooded with the same in 2012.
It’s not about what we want, say the makers of TV soaps, the producers of glittering musicals and the producers of mild porn. It’s about what people want.
To which I say: enough.
I love my trashy TV, my entertaining books, silly films. I lounge in the sun and read comic books, tune in for Dr Who, turn up the radio for harmless rock.
And I love theatre. I believe that Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in human history, that politics are for the masses, documentary should be complicated and challenging and that it would be a brave publisher in this day and age who promoted Catch 22 or 1984 over the next Fifty Shades of Whatever. My views are not elitist. It is not elitist to love good books, or be moved by a brilliant story. It is not elitist to be frightened for a character, concerned for an outcome, to be moved by music or enthralled by fact. It is not elitist to enjoy complexity, or to say that this is to your taste, and that is not, without reducing the entirely subjective thing you dislike.
And it is offensive – so unbelievably offensive – to say that there is such a thing as a ‘lowest common denominator’ in culture. How will this play, ask producers and executives, but how will this play to the stay-at-home Mum? How will this play to Middle England Grandmas, how will this play to the 18-something demographic with their iPods and smart shoes?
How repulsive – how utterly demeaning it is that those who hold the reigns of cultural power in our society ask such a question. How angry every stay-at-home Mum must be, every Gran and every iPod owner to hear themselves so grouped and demeaned by the notion that theatre is not for them, that they will not love this thing for it is elitist. Beyond their scope and their reach. So let us promote the next Fifty Shades of Whatever; let’s make sure that the world knows the airing times for Eastenders but that no one’s challenged by a documentary with too much content. Let’s simplify the news in case people get bored, let’s cut back on theatres and spend the money instead, on a day of spectacle that comes and goes with as much significance as match in the rain. Let’s fill our newspapers with celebrity tattle and not distract anyone with stories of global significance, because this is not what people want. It’s too elitist.
To which I say: to hell with that. Because time and again our culture has proven that it can love stories which are beautiful, not merely spectacular. We are held enthralled by intelligence, we – the great big ‘we’ that is far too big a demographic to be easily contained, the great big ‘we’ of a species that thinks for itself – we can delight in so many things that are powerful, not merely punchy. Yet now, where there were just a few tabloid newspapers satisfying our guilty pleasure – and it is a pleasure, and that is fine – our guilty pleasure for celebrity tit-bits and catchy headlines about stranded cats – now they are everywhere and it isn’t simply that we want a little more complexity in our lives, it’s that more and more, no one seems willing to give it. No one will promote the complicated thing; no one will risk putting the difficult story on the shelves. How much longer, I wonder, until as a society we fulfil George Orwell’s prophecy and take not-thinking for granted?
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/09/elitism/
I am asthmatic. And that’s absolutely fine. I’ve had asthma as long as I can remember, and only one has it landed me in hospital, when I was young, and only a couple of times have I been forced to go onto a nebulizer to breathe clearly. It’s just a part of my life.
But sometimes I wonder – that same ‘what if’ that I’m sure hangs over every only child (another box I tick) or schoolgirl with spectacles. What would it be like without asthma? Or with siblings, for that matter? I have no way of knowing, having never experienced this for myself. Perhaps nothing would change at all, save a tweak in my routine of daily inhaler and prescription costs saved once every three months. Perhaps more than I imagine. Perhaps when I run, my breath will flow easy and clear, for certainly, particularly in winter, it’s not my legs that let me down half so much as it its my lungs. Perhaps in spring, I won’t become hayfever ground zero, and if I do, perhaps that hayfever won’t trigger throat and nose trouble. Maybe I’d sleep better, sing better – and then again maybe a runaway brain and the inability to hold a tune have very little correlation with lung capacity. I take it for granted that I carry an inhaler everywhere – it’s not a worry, it just is. Just like asthma itself.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/03/asthma/
I think that’s the bit that makes me really, really angry. Every few days I get emails inviting me to go to the theatre on the cheap, have an over-indulgent meal at half the price, take out a not-very-cheap couple of sessions at the gym, or have a haircut.
But mostly, what the email suggests I do, is experience colonic hydrotherapy. Because what I really need is a hosepipe up my bum.
This is accompanied, invariably, by pictures of serene looking people against a warm background, their lives restored, improved, enhanced by this altogether absurd, medically disproven and scientifically unfounded practice. Not even scientifically unfounded – scientists have had a rare moment of unity on this one and declare without hesitation that not only is it unbeneficial, it can be actively harmful and has serious risks of long-term side-effects.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/05/01/stupid/
You know what I’d like to see?
A really good film or play adaptation of the Odyssey.
I mean, I love the actual text. The text is awesome. And in no way do I suggest reducing it or demeaning it or any other of the accusations that are usually levelled at film adaptions, particularly of something as awesome as a +2000 year old piece of spoken poetry. Hence the word ‘good’ in my initial suggestion.
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/04/29/the-odyssey/
It’s deja vu. The overwhelming sense of ‘haven’t I read this before?’ even though technically, I’m the only person in the world (so far) who’s read what I’m currently reading.
And worse – a worry that my word count, as I edit, is getting longer. Longer!
I believe in deletion. Editorials are a glorious opportunity to cut out the nonsense, trim away the redundant crap, hone and refine. What the hell is this stuff doing getting longer?
Clearly I need to stop editing, take a long holiday, and maybe try again later, when it’s less fresh in my mind…
Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2013/04/26/more-editorials/