The Story of a Lamp

Artistic Director Gina Marie Hayes

Anyone with experience in shadow puppets will tell you that whatever light source you use is crucial. Some theaters that specialize in shadow work go so far as to develop and build their own light systems to eliminate as much of the inevitable fuzzy edges and distorted images as they possibly can. I’m not exaggerating when I say shows can live or die depending on that light.

Red Egg has a halogen spotlight we have used in the past for rehearsals, but this has never quite worked the way we wanted it to. For this show we wanted something new, that would give us lovely crisp edges but still have that nostalgic old-world feel. I would love to use nothing but candles, but with a shadow screen made of fabric, things can get hairy. There’s a reason so many theaters burned down before and in the early years after the invention of electric light. Then, of course, there is the problem of rehearsal. What if the light source you want to use isn’t available for the full rehearsal period? There’s no way to properly rehearse with a substitute light, but depending on the budget of the show that can get tricky.

As it happens, the light source we were to ultimately use was a lighting fixture that could not be powered in our rehearsal space, so we were in just the above dilemma.

Our first day of shadow puppet rehearsal I brought the halogen spotlight we had used in past shows, thinking that at least we could make do until we moved into the theater and could use the final fixture. Unbeknown to me, our Stage Manager, Jessi, had brought her own substitute light source, a small round halogen desk lamp from her office upstairs. Yes friends, it was the Little Lamp That Could.

Ian Fullmer as The Pied Piper.

I was amazed. The above photo was taken on that first day of shadow puppet rehearsal, using just a bedsheet and the Little Lamp.

When we moved into the theater, we switched to the professional lighting fixture… and you know what? The images were suddenly fuzzy and blurred and a strange washed-out blue color instead of that nice strong black shadow we were used to. What was the solution? “Bring out the Little Lamp That Could!” We just assigned a brave crew member to use the dimmer switch of the Lamp, and began using it to tech through the show. All worked beautifully.

On our last day of tech rehearsal we ran the show twice in the theater using the Little Lamp That Could. After a marathon notes session we began the third run, and it was fantastic – just the right pace, a haunting intensity from the actors, everything going smoothly on the tech side. Then… the light went out.

Everyone froze, even before our Stage Manager said the words that often follow a major theatrical problem, and seem to gain more intensity the worse that problem is – “hold please.” After a few moments of trying to determine what went wrong, we realized that the bulb had blown. With no replacement bulbs, we were done for the night.

The next day our SM, Jessi, bought a 6-pack of bulbs, and the Little Lamp That Could has been lighting our shadow puppet sequences dutifully since then. Lesson learned.

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1 Response to “The Story of a Lamp”


  1. 1 Julie Trahan April 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Gina,
    Congratulations on your show! I just saw it and was amazed at how well done it was. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I was quite charmed by it as well as thinking it was quite creepy and then at the end, sadness. Was really impressed by Boris and Noah as well as the woman who formerly played Guinevere. Loved the music too. Can’t wait for your next show!

    All the best to you,
    Julie


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