Laramie Sparkles

Never having been in the tech booth for a show, I had no idea what I signed up for when I offered to run the light board. I’ve acted, directed, and built/helped design sets for shows, but have never had the privilege of running around backstage in all black making sure that all those magic moments come together.

For a show like Laramie, where there are literally always 13 people on stage, lights play an integral role. After watching a run in regular work lights and then again in Chuck’s carefully choreographed lights, I really see the difference. Lights take the show from a staged reading to a real, full-blown performance. Sure, the actors have certain tricks they employ to throw focus from one to another, but with lights, there is no confusion about where one should look and who one should pay attention to. The entire performance looks so much cleaner. Not only that, but the colors of the set really start to pop as well! The set takes on a new role in the lights, too. During the blue-lit candlelight vigil, the set transforms to a twilight version of that “sky blue sky that you just can’t paint.” And not only is the performance more engaging for the audience with lights, but also for the actors. Somehow, when there is a spotlight shining down on you as an actor, you become more aware that people are watching. You are being observed at all times. Suddenly all the gratuitous twitching and fidgeting stops on stage and the sense of “collective witnessing” that we’ve been talking about so much, finally becomes palpable.

I must say, my favorite moment as the light-board operator is activating the light cue for Dennis Shepard’s speech. Unlike the hundreds of the other cues that all take about a second to complete, this cue takes a full 30 seconds. As Dennis Shepard describes Matthew’s last moments on the fence, the twinkling Christmas lights up above slowly light up, and the set is flooded with bright blue light. All of a sudden, we aren’t in Shaefer theatre anymore. We’re in Laramie, Wyoming looking up at the brisk night sky wondering how one human being could have endured such brutality and caused such a shock wave throughout the entire nation. Though none of the theatre’s natural architecture is hidden or masked, somehow the moment is so magical that we all sit in awe as we are transported to the site of the incident. It’s a moment that’s loaded with so much emotion, that when our eyes finally snap back to the stage where Spencer (as Aaron McKinney) is lit brightly on stage in his orange jump suit, his look of utter inner deadness jolts us. THIS is a notable moment for me. To be so transfixed one moment and then to be brought back to such a harsh and serious reality. To realize that not only is one young man dead, but that two others are now facing death as well. This is truly a moment of Brechtian theatre–theatrical magic followed by harsh story-telling. This is what this production is all about. Two-hundred and seventy light cues later, Laramie finally does “sparkle.”


2 thoughts on “Laramie Sparkles

  1. Jenny —

    I had to leave before this scene happened today and reading your description of it I’m aching to see it! But I had the same reaction to the addition of lights. I love the feeling we get when all the chairs are lit before the actors sit in them. The sense of anticipation is palpable. And I did look during Act 1 and saw everyone in those lights paying great attention and “witnessing” what was unfolding. It’s so hard, especially at the end of a very long tech weekend, to remember that we’re all hearing these details for the first time. Lights go a long way to really transforming the physical space in ways that make it easier to hear again for the first time.

    I also love the way the spotlights come in on each person as they are introduced in Moment #1. Rebecca Hilliker says something about how much the sun shines, and slowly over the course of that scene, the sun has “risen” and the scene that Sgt. Hing describes of being outside in the blue sky has happened inside the theater. Just terrific. Jeff talks about “setting the contract with the audience.” It’s so easy to see that being done from the very top of the show now with all the facets working together.

    I’m so glad you have signed on for light-board op duties, Jenny. It is so good to know that another aspect of the design realization is in your capable, thoughtful hands!


  2. Jenny,

    This is a great post. I am so happy you have been such an integral part of this production on so many levels. Your committed support has been a strong part of our process from before the beginning of the class! I loved that you spoke up and told the story of finding the Laramie audition monologue at the talk-back yesterday. I am so looking forward to working with you in Acting Class in the fall. I had such great respect for the growth you underwent from the rehearsal to the performance of UNDERPANTS in the fall.

    I love the light cue in Dennis Shepherd’s speech as well. I love the way it exposes the girders and the ceiling and still maintains the beauty and comfort that Dennis speaks of. I am not sure all of the audience sees it, and to that end there may have been a better way. But I could not think of it. I did not want the effect to be so far down that it sentimentalized the moment. But I wanted to “take the roof off the theater.” After all of our focus on the horizontal, this moment of vertical seemed important to me. Both a nod to the night sky that Dennis references and a reminder that we are still in a theater and that we still have control over our actions in the here and now.

    You were a dream to work with in tech rehearsals. I am so glad you got to work with Chuck. He is a very special friend in my life and he and I love to work together. Your work on this show has been rock solid.

    Thank you for helping to make the show all that it is. It will remain in my 35 years in the business one of the most memorable experiences I have shared with a company.

    All Best- Jeffrey

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