Ed Bedford 12:18 p.m., May 22
Karin Filijan teaches a course at Cal State University, San Marcos, called "Contemporary American Theatre, Society's Taboos." One of the 12 assigned texts: Tony Kushner's Angels in America. She's taught the course several times, and each discussion reveals more about the play. "It's so huge. There are many lessons in this piece."
When Ion Theatre asked her to design the lighting for its production of Angels, her first reaction was "beyond a dream come true!"
Even the scope of the project didn't daunt her. Well, okay, some, at first. Angels - which runs through this weekend at the Lyceum Space, downtown - comes in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. Each runs well over three hours. So she must design for almost seven hours of theater.
An average production's about two hours, with maybe 8 or 10 scenes. "That's probably 50 light cues," says Filijan. "Angels," she adds, taking a deep breath, "has 60 scenes and 291 light cues.
"I was actually disappointed that it was only 291 - could've sworn there were at least 500." She would like to have added more, but ran out of time. "Theater is one of the few art forms with a built-in deadline: Opening Night."
The play calls for split-second leaps from a courthouse to an ice field in Antarctica, to New York's Central Park, Salt Lake City, a hospital ward. It also has "ghosts and an angel crashing through the ceiling."
"Each scene needs to be isolated in a different, limited location on this relatively small stage. Claudio [co-director Claudio Raygoza] gave me this concept early in the process: 'negative space' - the goal being visually to isolate each scene so it feels like it's floating in a void."
When she teaches the play, Filijan begins by analyzing its opposites - personalities, religions, personal morals. She converted Raygoza's idea into contrasting opposites with light, negatives and positives. "The set is entirely black, filled with internal nooks and crannies. All are negative spaces begging to be filled. The downstage pit adds an additional negative dimension."
Lights flip the dark, negative spaces into positives, and vice versa. Voids fill up, much like the play, which finds light in seeming darkness.
She loved the downstage pit most of all. "It's at the audiences' feet, and I had a blast making it come alive in response to angelic voices and dream sequences."
Most challenging: the "angel scenes," in particular when one descends on wires. Filijan envisioned flashy, over-the-top lighting effects, but "had to bridle that notion in a hurry." When she tried them out, a director's note said "too distracting."
"There's an old saying in theater: If the audience notices the lighting, there's something wrong with it." Put another way, the audience paid to see a play, not a light show.
But Filijan has embedded a subtle one into the design. She gives characters a signature color, a blue or a red. And as the character changes, so does the color.
What is she most proud of? "The key to staging this piece is fast, flawless transitions. Anything less would bog down the natural pace and make a three-hour play feel like 20. Good pacing takes an incredible amount of consistent teamwork from every member of cast and crew."
"I'm proud of that. And that we got 'er done."