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.”