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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Defining Space: An Exploration on Lighting Hamlet

  • Author(s): Lundahl, Christopher Werner
  • Advisor(s): Burrett, Alan
  • et al.

Monolithic, concrete, square, and imposing are just some of the words that could be used to describe the production of Hamlet for which I designed the lighting in my completion of the MFA program at UCSD. In this design, it was my goal to create a world that was grounded in reality and in which ethereal and supernatural elements of the story would feel jarring, out of place, and prophetic. I spent most of my pre-production time examining and studying ways in which natural light enters and fills space.

Through my research, I found that light is trimmed by barriers; it slams against walls, is sliced in half by pillars, and is warped by plastics and vapor. Light manages to find its way into even the most obstructed of places. It finds its way through clear glass, cracks in walls, over lips of obstructions, and, by the simple processes of reflection and bounce, illuminates the space. To recreate lighting that behaved the same way in the theatre, I attempted to develop a plot that mirrored elements of natural light. For instance, to light Act 2, I wanted the space to be defined by daylight. I lit the set with golden streaks of light from one direction, while filling the sides of the set in with cooler hues of blue to mirror how shadows appear in reality. This was contrasted by scenes which were lit with silhouette, strong backlight, and often times coupled with a strong spotlight to represent the ghost and the supernatural world.

By studying how light behaves in the natural world, the process of replicating and incorporating these behaviors into theatrical environments becomes easier and more intuitive. In turn, once the natural conventions of light are thoroughly understood, the rules can be bent to make light interact in new ways that are shifted dramatically to create a new world for the story.

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