The notion of the ‘circuit of energy’ is a way of modelling affective communication and affective action in the theatre performance event. In mainstream Western lighting practice, the lighting operator is disconnected from the circuit of energy by their position (in almost all large theatres and many studio spaces) at the rear of the auditorium unable to see or be seen by the audience or often by the actors, and generally cut off acoustically and in part visually by glass windows.
I wanted to research how the lighting operator might be reconnected into the circuit of energy, as they arguably were in certain theatres and during certain historical periods. The practice-research project Passages was the platform for several related enquiries into theatre lighting practices, including an investigation into the relationship of the lighting operator to the performance. The Passages project was designed to explore the impact of connecting the operator into the ‘circuit of energy’ on the development, rehearsal and performance processes, and on the experiences of operator, actors and audience. I was also interested in the implications for the aesthetics of the production, but this was very much a secondary aspect of the research.
Passages was both rehearsed and presented at Rose Bruford College during July and early August 2009. The performance space – a black box studio space approximately 13m x 9m – was chosen because it allowed a large degree of freedom in deciding the spatial relationships between the stage, the audience and the lighting operator. The studio has no fixed control position or other elements that pre-determine its layout, beyond the position of the main entrance door in one corner.
I undertook the role of lighting operator/performer. The three actors and the Design Associate were students on the MA Theatre Practices programme at Rose Bruford College, while the director was a professional employed for the project (I use the term ‘actor’ here to refer to the three on-stage performers. I use the term ‘performer’ as an inclusive term, covering both the actors and myself as the lighting operator/performer). The Associate Director was an undergraduate Directing student, and technical and organisational roles were filled by Rose Bruford staff and students. The director also created and operated the music and sound score.
Passages was performed twice, once for an audience of invited academics and professionals (selected for their ability to offer feedback from diverse perspectives through a post-performance discussion and individual correspondence) and once for an audience of Rose Bruford staff and students, as well as guests of the company, giving an additional opportunity for feedback through a second post-performance discussion.
Rehearsals, performances and post-performance discussions were videoed throughout in order to capture the process for later analysis, and I kept a journal throughout. The day after the two performances, the company met to debrief from the project, and this was also videoed. Collectively these various methods of capturing the different experiences and perspectives of the participants (including audience members) produced a record of the investigation that has provided much of the material presented here.