Discover The Bridges of Madison County: Lighting Design

Posted on February 2nd, 2016

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When caught up in story, lost in drama, wiping tears of laughter
or sorrow from our eyes, we don’t normally think of the set and the lights as part of the journey. But they are. These design elements provide the context for the story — establishing the tone, mood and style of a show.

-Reflections from Two-Time Tony Award-winning lighting designer, DONALD HOLDER

How would you describe what a lighting designer
actually does?
A lighting designer “reveals the world of the play or musical,” and is responsible for not only what the audience sees, but “how they see it.” Light provides the visual context for a theatrical event, or the lens through which a play is seen. It informs style, and has a clear subliminal effect on perception. Working with a strong understanding of the intentions of the director and his fellow collaborators, a lighting designer manipulates light to tell a particular story or to evoke a particular emotional response.

How does the lighting design help tell the story of
The Bridges of Madison County?
The story of The Bridges Of Madison County unfolds on
a relatively open space, in front of a vast expanse of Iowa sky, and takes place over the course of just a few days. Although much of the story is told in a linear fashion time- wise, there are several flashbacks that provide important context and deepen our connection with the characters. The passage of time is central to the telling of the story,
and the sky, as rendered through light is the principal device used to communicate this, constantly changing during the course of the evening.

We experience sunrise, sunset, dawn, twilight, moonlight, starlight. And the color of the sky and the direction of the sun or moon has a strong influence on all the other light that is introduced in the space. It’s a world filled with ever- changing natural light, ebbing and flowing to respond to the emotional temperature of a scene or song. During the flashbacks, the sky takes on a surreal quality with very rich and intense colors, thus providing an important clue to the audience that we have stepped back in time.

Theatre is a collaborative medium. How do you work with
the director and your fellow designers?
Because light can be so influential about how everything
is perceived, it’s very important that a lighting designer understands the intentions and objectives of the director and his design collaborators. Early conversations that get to the heart of the production and its overall vision are really crucial. And a great deal can be learned by studying the set design, as it will always provide a lot of information about how the show has been conceived and will be staged. Because lighting

and scenery share the same stage space, the two disciplines must work in close collaboration. In the case of Bridges, Michael, Mikiko (scenic and associate scenic designers) and I spent a great deal of time working out the proper spatial relationships between lighting positions and scenery to get the sky looking just right. We also collaborated on the layout and details of the star field you’ll see throughout the course of the evening, and the kinds of materials that were used to create the spectacular skyscapes that really are the visual centerpiece of the production.

Can you share something about the lighting design for
The Bridges of Madison County that an audience member could look for while watching the show? What is part of the design they will see that could only happen onstage rather than in the film or book?
In Act One, Robert and Francesca meet at dawn as he photographs the sunrise at the covered bridge. It’s a special moment in their relationship, I speculate it’s when they fell in love. As all of this unfolds, the sky takes on a brilliant surreal red, with a single onstage tree silhouetted by a bright golden sun. It’s a dramatic and poetically heightened moment that we see once again in Act Two. During the song “It All Fades Away,” as Robert considers his own passing, he remembers Francesca vividly and the sky returns to that same intense red and yellow at the musical and emotional zenith of this song. To me, it’s one of my favorite images in the entire production.

A lighting designer “reveals the world of the play or musical,” and is responsible for not only what the audience sees, but “HOW THEY SEE IT.”’ —Donald Holder, Lighting Designer, The Bridges of Madison County



THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals February 2-14, 2016 at Music Hall Fair Park. Tickets are ON SALE NOW! Just click here to find your seats. For more details and a sneak peek for the show, click here.

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