PRODUCTION STYLE AND TECHNICAL EFFECTS IN STAGE PERFORMANCE: A CASE FOR FUTURISTIC DESIGN CONCEPT
A case for futuristic design strategy is recently made, which exposes the experimental Crew of “Sunset At Noon?” to another realm of play production process at the Department of the Performing Arts, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. This is done in order to elucidate further the explorative tendency of an advanced course in a workshop context. Consequently, the need to harness the technicalities that are embedded in the play takes a center stage. Thus, the roles played by the following technical effects of theatre via-a-viz lights, properties (props design), lighting/special effects, sound and scenic designs can not be over-emphasized. To this end, and instructively for this work, a critical discourse on how these effects – in line with the chosen style-Shufflism, which weaved the stage (scenography),performers and performance with the audience, are enshrined in trado-African theatrics to form an organic hold, is considered. Whereas, the methodology adopted; which strengthens this work is embedded in descriptive analysis and participating observation; while the post-production assessment is equally carried out to further lend credence to our discourse.
Keywords: Stage, technical, design, concept
The technicalities, as well as the dynamics of aesthetic elements of technical theatre are critically being considered via the utilization of lighting, props, lighting effects, sound and set designs in “Sunset at Noon?”. In an attempt to ‘reinforce’ the explorative tendency of this workshop project, the above elements are carefully selected to give more meaning to the production. The performance, which was realized in satiric genre, drew more strength from its ‘voyage’ into the ‘world’ of three important factors in the theatre: the performers (actors/players), performance and audience. Often, the first two are in the focus; while the latter is given little or no consideration at all – especially in the proscenium4 theatre parlance. This perhaps explains why the crew conceived the factors as one organic hold in the course of realizing ‘Shufflism’ as the production style.
In this workshop production, the crew worked in harmony to comprehend the whole exercise as a ‘game’. Thus as the players (performers) got also engrossed in the game (performance), several theatrical/technical effects are designed and intertwined into constant rhythmic pattern, with pulsating effect to reveal the heartbeat of the players.
Moreover, the essence of theatrical lights, stage design, props, sound and special lighting effects being considered in this play does not run contrary to the major functions of lighting in production. For instance, all the lighting input served the main purposes of ‘clarification’, ‘intensification’ and ‘identification’ (Reilly and Phillips 1998:130-132); among others. In the process, the significance of actions in the play as the events unfolded became clearer in the mind of the audience, through their responses. Some memorable actions in the play that are meant to be intensified were eventually planned to achieve certain desires with the creative use of lighting effects. Since the locale and the characters in the play must be clearly identified, for clarification by the members of the audience, props, lighting and fragmented ‘set’ were also coordinated to project the overriding concept – hypocrisy.
However, the audience was in for a night of ‘brain storming’, because not all the utilization of the above mentioned devices/elements/effects were easily grasped during the performance. This was intentionally done to allow those who are more inquisitive among the audience to ruminate over what they have watched even several days after..
“Sunset at Noon?” is an unpublished workshop play written in 2005 and set in a Yoruba speaking village of Ollala in the South-Western part of Nigeria. There, a baby girl is born to the household of Tanimolas , after twelve years of fruitless ‘search’ for children.
As a result, their joy knows no bound in this community when the ‘precious gift’ finally arrives – having gone through innumerable challenges. However, there is a powerful medicine man in the village, Baba Faponle, who officiates at the naming ceremonial rites; and because of his inordinate ambition creates a web of calamitous scenario throughout the play.
As Baba Faponle presents the gift to the innocent baby girl on this fateful day, with a purpose best known to him, ‘playfully’ announces his intention of having her as his wife in future!. Whereas, the parents, including others at the occasion who consent to his request (pronouncement), do so out of ignorance and over-whelming joy. This mysterious gesture, which is borne out of the old man’s quest for self-assertion, later culminates into an attempt to truncate the promising future of the girl – Morenike!
Setting the scene of performance is not restricted to visual presentation alone. One may or may not combine oral or audio-visual devices. In this project; a distinct departure was made from total representation of production style in visual form to create or identify our performers with their setting(s) respectively. Although, our approach, which is also corroborated by both (Reilly and Phillips1998:134), that setting the scene “does not mean providing scenery, but sufficient simply to tell the audience where the action is occurring…”, was not to shirk our responsibility of providing physical setting for this kind of play. But far from it. Instead, we creatively coordinated a fragmentation of ‘semiotics’, ‘icons’, ‘indices’, ‘symbols’ and ‘signifiers’, (Oloruntoba – Oju 1999), in order to achieve our objective. These actually reflected in the choice of props items that were used.
Furthermore, the play – “SUNSET AT NOON?”, which was realized as a satire, explored the ‘experimental’ theatrics, executed in a more or less unconventional manner. We therefore allowed our style to grow and develop within the production style - “Shufflism”. The following aesthetic elements and principles of design were used to emphasize the style in line with the strategy of executing the technical aspects of the play. These are colour, which served as a unifying element, harmonized the line, shape (form), balance, unity, variety, (emphasis), proportion, contrast, harmony, etc, in the conception of the totality of the design.
To achieve better result the play was set on the following artistic and technical domains:
Production Concept: hypocrisy;
Directorial images: deceit, pain, gaiety, courage, confusion etc.
Lighting: 2 micro II dimmer-boards (of 8 channels each),
Lighting stand: I (Positioned at the Audience Right)
4 Lanterns (a) 1 flood (placed at DSR)
(b) 1 freshnel – Patterns 23 (500 watts)
(c) 2 Halogen Lanterns (1 – USC, 1 - DSC)
Gellatin: Green, Blue, Red, Purple/Magenta, Amber and Red. It should be noted that the number of available lanterns in the Department, were not limited to those listed above, rather, they were chosen in consonance with our experimentation. Also, the stage geography6 was greatly considered.
In order to intensify and register some significant events and actions in the play; ‘lighting effect’ with the use of flash unit (Achiever 828) of 14m coverage was used. This device was made to function in harmony with specific sound effect – coming from a computerized keyboard. Torch and light; powered by 2 (1.5V) batteries were used also to further enhance the effects.
Properties: These were selected and limited to only functional ones to be engaged. Thus, in this play, our technical involvement in terms of concept and style was further strengthened by the inclusion of only useful props. The following were utilized:
(a) 2 mats (at the naming and wedding introduction ceremonies for the visitors).
(b) Six stools (used for the elders during the above ceremonies).
(c) 4 small calabashes, each contains Bitter Kola (Orogbo), Kolanut (Obi), Pure Honey (Oyin), and Salt (Iyo). These visuals are the ‘icons’, symbols and ‘signifiers’of good life and better living in the South West part of Nigeria.
(d) A gourd (for palmwine)
(e) A basket (to carry food in and out of the house during the celebrations).
(f) Fire woods (for cooking – though no real cooking actually took place during the performance).
(g) Baby doll.
(h) Step Unit (Improvised as seat for the drummers on Upper Stage Centre USC)
(i) Rope (used for creating the door post, with two human beings standing apart to hold it).
(j) Cane shelf
(k) Pressing Iron (for domestic use)
(l) A cassette player.
(m) Mobile phone (for Labisi, the Lagosian)
Mixed Media approach was considered in collaboration with our style “SHUFFLISM”. This was further achieved through the use of lighting, music, sound, rope (for door) and the performers / Actors – who equally doubled as props (door frame).
As a departure from the conventional flat construction; the performers are considered to be the flat / cyclorama and wings against whom different scenes, mood and atmosphere are set in the play. Thus, they too have “technical responsibilities” to fulfill in the production process of this nature, (Ododo, 1999: 58). In carrying out their roles, their technical responsibilities afford them “to be so perceptive and receptive to their environment…”. That is why they formed part of the media we use for setting the scenes in this play.
Therefore, the performers are expected to “explore all the means open to them in order to realize …” these technical responsibilities. (Ododo, 1999:58). These ‘means’ are in the forms of the open space, props, costumes and other actors made available during the production. The bodies of the performers therefore play functional roles here. That explains the reason why by their shuffling, responses to rhythm, as well as meaningful movement around; particular ‘setting’ and locale would be realized. This was also established further by careful manipulation of lighting. Arinde, who was the artistic director corroborates thus:
In establishing the entrances and exists that are different from the conventionally theatre performers entering from the apron, in this piece, actors and actresses were made to observe their entrances and exist in a different way. Actors were to move as if in trance from their backstage position to the edge of the stage, from where they will transit to life and take their cue into the stage of performance. This is done to educate the audience that theatre can take place anywhere devoid of observing the conventional stage requirement; all that is required is getting a space, (Arinde 2007: 60).
Analysis of Technical Effects in “SUNSET AT NOON?”
The following technical effects (Lighting, colour, lighting effects, scenery / set and props) shall be critically examined along with the realization of the production’s style – Shufflism. Basically, lighting is meant to fulfill the law and principle of visibility (illumination). In a bid to establish locale and period, clarify roles and identify characters on stage via suitable illumination is crucial to it’s successful utilization. (Parker and Wolf 1990:363), take a look at the roles among others that the lighting designer must fulfill as he lights, that:
the lighting designer must also be concerned with revelation of form, with the mood of the scene, and with the over-all composition of the stage picture.
The above revelation still formed the basis of why we incorporated lighting basically to enliven the soul, spirit and body of this performance. Therefore, the use of lighting in this play transcended fulfilling only the law of ‘visibility’ or ‘illumination’ of the performance space and performers. For example, the way lanterns were ‘rigged’ or placed on a riser or tip of the stage was engendered by the type of the stage used. That was the Courtyard of the Department of the Performing Arts, which served as our ideal of Proscenium theatre.
In the prologue, lightings were manipulated to enhance the reflection on the past; showing the travail of the childless couple (Tanimolas). The flashback was established at different occasions by the inter-mingling of lighting effects. At the edge of Stage Right, a Food Lantern pattern 49 had it’s intensity reduced. As the events kept unfolding, green gel that was fixed on to the Halogen Lanterns at the up Stage Centre was constant with pulsating effect – revealing the ‘heartbeat’ of the performers. From the Stage Left (SL), Freshnel was rigged (at lowered calibration), it worked in harmony with the Halogen placed on the edge of the Down Stage Centre (DSC). By this, lights were made to register the mood as well as the feeling of the Tanimolas as they journeyed from one ‘spiritual’ home to another. The changing atmospheres were also established. We relied heavily on the use of colour in enhancing most of the envisaging cum pervading feelings and moods of the characters in the play. Thus halogen with green gel – was used to create the atmosphere of peace as it reflected the adherents of Islamic and Christianity religions at the Centre Stage Right and Centre Stage Left respectively. Green Colour was able to cast special effect on their white garments from their back and their profile positioning. As soon as the flashback was over; though, very brief, the sharp black-out was used to prepare the performers for the next scene.
Already, the other performers sitting on the Upper Stage area: – who equally doubled as representing the ‘cyclorama’ are all parts of the performance. Among them are the drummers (on the step unit); the make-up artists, costumiers, props arrangers, dancers and singers. Their cues were taken from there – as they begin to transit by ‘shuffling’. The intensity of the lights from either of the Stage Right and Left were also reduced.
On getting to the Tanimola’s naming ceremony scene – the full light was provided. At this event; the green light at the USC was faded out. To keep the rhythmic heartbeat of the other performers at the cyclorama being highlighted flowing; the halogen lantern at the DSC was engaged. As the light from this lantern punctuated their heartbeat, it also registered special effect of the occasion to project festivity – whereby a new child was being named. When the Narrator (Tunkete), a hunchback entered and navigated to the Stage Right, the flood lantern was on him serving as follow spot – taking over from the freshnel (at the Stage Left) from – where Tunkete entered the stage.
During the naming, the pronouncement of the Chief Priest (Baba Faponle) was highlighted by ‘sound effect’ from keyboard, which a special light effect equally registered. The latter was made possible by a flash unit to intensify this action. The entrance for the chief Celebrants in this scene was represented by two – male actors standing facing one another at a 2.2ft apart from each other. With a rope in their hands that was pulled at each end, and raised – above their heads…, a door flat was represented. This was an attempt to replicate what Femi Osofisan used in the Farewell to a Cannibal Rage – where “for instance, the scenographic conception was achieved by the actors’ bodies” (Ododo 1988:132). To keep the pace of the performance moving and its cyclical cord unbroken, this approach was adopted for flexibility. This was meant also to further strengthen the working relationship of the lighting with set in this workshop performance. (Oni 2000:173), corroborates this when analyzing some of the plays of Olu Obafemi, in that – “ in the realization of flexibility in staging … the use of stage lights for delineation and location of the actions is essential”.
The following scene (Moon’s play) was intensified with low intensity of light from the Stage Right, Stage Centre and Stage Left. Here the consideration for balance, harmony, and proportion necessitated this. Yet, the green gelled light at USC kept punctuating the consistent ‘heartbeat’ of the other performers. The lights depicted evening, when the village little folks played their games. Again, there was a sharp blackout on the girls after their snubbing of Morenike that was been wooed by Baba Tunkete. This took only 10 seconds for the punctuating light to come up again and continued. A special lighting effect was realized after the child naming ended; thus, leaving only the nursing mother, and little Morenike in the village. Feeding her under a tree was achieved with a human figure holding a torch to illuminate and establish evening. Although, the freshnel lantern with lowest calibration was combined to enhance this effect, the function of light to establish time of the day was finally realized. Nonetheless, this was poorly handled by both the human props and Mama Morenike respectively; for our initial intention not to use mostly conventional Lantern, became defeated. However, the marriage scene which was bereft of conventional dances, was enhanced by gels ranging from blue, amber to red purple.
At Lagos scene, where Morenike’s elder sister (Labisi) was depicted, other performers remained on the cyclorama area to form the wall. Also a fragment of props – shelf, iron and a cassette player were only provided. However, the performers (Labisi and Morenike) did not relate functionally with these props. The concept of hypocrisy being used could have better been projected if only they relate to the cassette player and listen to Christian religion music. Because, shortly after, the same Aunty was convinced by her friend, to go and consult oracle at their village, when the affliction on Morenike persisted. At this scene, another attempt also failed – in that the lamp holder that housed red bulb was expected to be on during the enactment of this scene to heighten the pervading mood. But, the props assistant forgot this significant moment. If he had done this, all the lights from Down Stage Right (DSR), Stage Centre (SC) and Down Stage Left (DSL), could have been lowered completely to enhance the effect of the red gel. Earlier, the mourning atmosphere that was created by the workings of red gel with the lowered white lights, was enhanced the green gelled light that flickered continuously. This happened when the suitor to Morenike died and was being buried. At the end of the play, the flashback was again intensified with the aid of flasher to remind the audience of what Baba Faponle said on the day of child’s naming. The song which signified the dilemma of a confused mind through which it was rendered, was also projected by the fluidity of all the lights as they combined to reveal and reflect the mind and characters on set respectively.
Instead for the light to fade completely as the play reached the climax (dilemma) …, the intensity of the lights became brighter at once; except one (Green gelled Halogen) – at the
Upper Stage Centre (USC), which was made to fade out completely!
The perspective drawing of the scenic design that projected the workshop production concept- Shufflism, used for “Sunset at noon?”; produced at the courtyard of the Department of the Performing Arts, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Set designer: Adesina Adegbite, 2005.
Knowing fully well that there can hardly be a perfect production devoid of any hitches, the technical effects utilization in “sunset at Noon?” was no exemption. Infact, experimenting with the lighting, special effects, sound, props and ‘set’ designs, play of this nature is highly demanding. This right from the commencement of the rehearsals, arriving at a concept became nearly impossible; because, the technical realization of the play’s concept kept changing, until the dress and technical night.
In the area of equipment that are available; we are satisfied with only four Lanterns, whose lamps were functioning. Although we could have others fixed with lamps; our quest for exploration and experimenting with only a Freshnel ( Pattern 128), a Flood (pattern 49) and two Halogen lanterns was germane to their successful utilization during the performance. Hence, the ‘feeler’ we gathered from the audience also reflect affirmatively. To some extent, ‘shadow-casting’ – which has since become the bane of our lighting system in the Department as a result of inadequate lighting/technical facilities; (Adegbite, 2004) was dealt with. This became possible because of the ‘washing effect’ that the green gelled-halogen provided from Upper Stage Centre, all through the performance.
In the area of special effect creation; the flasher we used to either register or highlight some significant actions, events and speeches with the programmed sound from keyboard in the production was a bit negative. We realized during the production that the ‘effect’ does not really function well. It was as a result of our inability to rehearse with the sound equipment – until the performance day. The cues earlier planned together with the sound from the keyboard either came late or refused to respond along with our flasher.
Props in the theatre are conceived to be the extension of or part of actors/actresses on set. Meanwhile, in the course of a production, performers are expected to make use of them in relation to their characterization/roles and also relate with relevant ones that are known as ‘set props’ and ‘props on set’. However, in the case of the performers in the play being considered, especially those in ‘Lagos Scene’, little attempt was made to revolve their actions around the props on set. Hence for instance, the Cain Shelf that was provided on stage, which housed a cassette player, some audio tapes, and domestic pressing iron was not adequately related with by the occupants of the room- when actually they have the opportunity of doing so.
Despite the instances of above hitches; the use of human beings (performers) to represent ‘flat’, ‘cyclorama’, ‘door flat’ and ‘tree’ was successful. Indeed, it was an area whereby the setting in the play was put to test. It enhanced our chosen style of ‘shufflism’ – which also thrived via flexibility approach. The attempt facilitated smooth scene changing and fluidity of our lighting technique.
In conclusion, our attempt to corroborate the approach of the likes of Adolphe Appia and (Duro Oni 2004); who conceive the possibility of using lighting as scenery did not end on that. Further effort in this production that gave special functions to lighting in terms of mood creation and establishment of atmospheric condition equally enhanced the brilliancy of the production of “Sunset at Noon?”. At the end, the whole production was able to make further aesthetic statement towards future design strategy. This approach we belief is capable of attracting many theatre patrons, especially for stage performance, where live and direct lessons are learnt.
More so, design in the Nigerian theatre at present is assuming a multi-functional role via the influence of global digitalization and hi-technology; it is expedient for all stakeholders to be prepared. As a matter of fact, the essence of the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015, can hardly be realized if innovative steps are under-estimated. Thus, creative and innovative approach to scenic design, that is borne out of workshop context, and in this case, as utilized in “Sunset at noon?” is a step in the right direction, especially in a stage production , that could bring about worthwhile design concept for future relevance.
1. “Technical Effects” are being considered by theatre technologists either as “Technical Elements”, “Technical Aids” (Ododo,1988), ‘technical aesthetics’ (Ododo, 2004), or “technical facilities” (Adegbite, 2004). Apart from the theatre and stage, these elements include: lighting equipment, special effects machine, lanterns, Colour wheel, electrical/electronic appliances, make-up kit, consume, props, set and sound designs. They are often incorporated into stage/film productions for aesthetic and significant import.
2. ‘Shufflism’ in this play is a concept which came out of a dynamic postulation that gives actors on stage a wide range of opportunity to express themselves.
3. Proscenium Stage is regarded as the most common type of theatre stage whose back areas are hidden from the audience is view and gives them the opportunity to watch play directly in front of the stage.
4. Stage geography reflects majorly nine parts that proscenium stage possesses. On these lie their qualities in tones and plane/levels. These also influence the placement and movement of the actors on set during production.
These nine parts are shown below:
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Parker,W. O. and Wolf, R. C. (1990). Scene Design and Stage Lighting (Sixth Edition). Fort Worth. Philadelphia. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
Reilly, J. M. and Phillips, M. S. (1998). Introducing Theatre (Third Edition). New York: Forbes Custom Publishing.