The Chautauqua Dance Circle is putting the spotlight on lighting design during today’s “Views on Pointe” lecture at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Christ.
During the lecture, John Woodey, former lighting designer and production manager for Charlotte Ballet, will take the audience through the process of lighting a piece from the initial idea to the final performance. He plans to use visuals from Chautauqua dance performances, the Charlotte Ballet, and from his own projects.
Lighting designers work to make the vision of the choreographer or director come to life, Woodey said, and their ultimate goal is to help tell the story to the audience.
Dance has a sculptural element that other art forms do not, one that Woodey said lighting designers must take into consideration.
“Essentially, we are lighting a moving sculpture through space,” he said.
Woodey first came to Chautauqua Institution in 2007 to work on lighting for the Chautauqua Opera Company as Michael Baumgarten’s assistant. He returned a few years later when a position to light dance in Chautauqua became available. He became the resident lighting designer and later production manager for the Charlotte Ballet. He now teaches lighting design at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Woodey comes to Chautauqua each summer to work on various lighting and stagehand projects.
Some of Woodey’s Charlotte Ballet credits include “Rhapsodic Dances,” Dangerous Liaisons, “Last Lost Chance,” Peter Pan, “Queen” and “Gateways.” He also created the lighting designs for last summer’s inter-arts collaboration project, Go West!
“The challenge of working with the Charlotte Ballet is that they have a very intense and busy schedule,” he said.
The Charlotte Ballet performs four or five shows per year in addition to the Chautauqua season. The company also does a lot of community outreach programs and performances that keep them busy, Woodey said.
The schedule for a lighting designer in the Amphitheater is also a busy one. A typical production day at the Amp begins after the evening performance the day before, where lighting designers stay at the Amp until 1 or 2 a.m. focusing the lights and setting light cues. Woodey could be working four to six events in the Amp, and that’s on an easy day.
“It’s like a machine,” he said.
Once in the theater for rehearsal, lighting designers must work quickly to get the job done.
“The challenge with lighting design is that it is a lot quicker paced once we are actually in the venue,” he said. “With costumes, sound and scenic elements, you can develop them offsite. For lighting design, you have to actually be in the theater to create it,” he said.
Another one of the challenges for lighting performances in the Amphitheater is the unpredictable nature of the open environment.
“One of the main things about the Amphitheater — as opposed to your regular proscenium theater in a closed environment — is that daylight is constantly coming in,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, the sun doesn’t set until around 10 p.m. but by the end of the season it gets darker sooner.”
Extra street lights and lighting sources outside the Amp also must be taken into consideration not only by the lighting designers, but also by the choreographers. Situations that would usually occur in complete darkness, such as entrances, exits, and moving into position for a bow, must be choreographed as well.
“You cannot really get true darkness in the Amp,” Woodey said.
Woodey is used to working closely with choreographers to bring their vision to life and produce the best performance possible.
“One of the things I try to do is inhabit the mind of the choreographer or director to try to figure out what it is they are looking for,” he said. “I really try to immerse myself into the situation.”
Some choreographers have specific visions for the lighting designs while others trust the designers to experiment with ideas of their own. The ability to change or revamp the lighting once the choreographer sees the piece sets lighting design apart from other elements of theatrical production.
“You can easily change a color or level of intensity. It isn’t like trying to rebuild an entire costume or scenic element,” Woodey said. “Lighting is not concrete, it is something you have to make concrete.”