Ostensive operation

To connect the lighting operator into the ‘circuit of energy’ with the actors and audience is to make the audience aware of the lighting operator. In Passages, I adopted several strategies for making the audience aware of me as the lighting operator and my role in the performance. Through these strategies the role of lighting operator performed itself and pointed to itself in a reflexive gesture (Butler 1990).

The ‘Theolux’ lighting control, custom-built for Passages (Hunt 2011, 2013b), had two features in particular that drew the attention of audience: the Pad and the Big Lever. The Pad was a drum-pad that could be struck with a drum stick to initiate a snap lighting change, while the Big Lever was a large, floor-mounted lever that could be used to fade lights in and out. Both of these controls are overtly and self-consciously theatrical, since they signal clearly how they are to be used (in Donald Norman’s terms (1998, 9), the lever affords pulling while the pad affords hitting) and the gestures they imply are large and demonstrative. (Indeed, the Pad is all performative gesture, since at a technical level it does no more and no less than any button or switch – it does not capture any expressive qualities the ‘hit’ might have, such as how hard, how sharp, or where on the pad it is.)

The Pad was used for the first lighting cue in the performance after the houselights had faded out, thus establishing for the audience the link between the lighting operator, the lighting console, and the light on stage, as well as starting to teach the audience the kind of performance ‘grammar’ with which the show had been created.

One actor in the Passages company said Theolux looked like a ‘performative piece’ that made one want to approach it and use it, and contrasted it with the ‘big grey boxes with loads of buttons’ of commercial lighting controls, which seemed to her very ‘foreign’. My intention in the design and construction of the console was to give it a different ‘character’ to that of commercial lighting controls, so as to suggest as far as possible an artistic instrument rather than a piece of technical equipment. While at some level the workings of any piece of electronic equipment must remain mysterious, or at least hidden (depending on the expertise of the viewer) as seen from the outside, the choice of materials, finishes and components were intended to emphasise the console as something to be touched and manipulated, and which is overtly crafted, not manufactured. Thus materials – wood, aluminium, copper, and so on – reveal themselves for what they are, and screws are left exposed.

With the auxiliary wing that houses the electronics and provides a surface for the notebook computer running the software, the usual ‘backstage’ black of a technical equipment rack was replaced with oiled and waxed wood, in a gesture we might read as a shift to ‘front of house’: that which is usually hidden behind the scenes as a part of the technical apparatus that supports the performance has become a visible part of the performance aesthetic, and indeed part of the performance itself. Furthermore, this shift from ‘backstage’ to ‘front of house’ brings the operator with it, presenting to the audience as well as to the other production personnel the ‘lighting artist’ as a performer of an instrument: someone engaged with the performance and who is intended to be watched as a part of the performance. In placing the lighting operator and Theolux console at the end of the seating rows stage right, they were not only visible to the audience through the show, but the audience members also had to walk in to the space past the console, so drawing their attention to it even before the performance started.