A Conversation with Peter Kaczorowski
December 13th, 2011
Interview with The Road to Mecca lighting designer, Peter Kaczorowski
“Never light a candle carelessly, and be sure you know what you’re doing when you blow one out.” – Elsa quoting Helen
Ted Sod: What are the challenges of designing lights for The Road to Mecca?
Peter Kaczorowski: Well there are several, and Fugard is rather specific about them. First of all, the play begins at the very end of the day with just the low-anglEd Rays of the setting sun invading the house. Then, just a few pages into the play, he describes how “the light is fading” in the room…and then a few pages after that he says “the light is now faded.” So there’s no more sunlight.The final 70% of the play takes place in dark night. Additionally, the house in which the play takes place has no electricity. So it’s a pitch dark night in the South African desert…no moonlight (at least for a while) and no other ambient light sources outside (because she lives in the middle of nowhere). Inside, there are only a few kerosene style lanterns and then of course all the famous candles. So it’s with just these lanterns and all the candles that the actors will be illuminated.
TS: How true will you be to the stage directions?
PK: I think we all mean to be generally true to the author’s stage directions. After all, we are not doing a high concept rendering of this play. Michael Yeargan has designed a real house as requested by Fugard. And I intend to make the play happen in the time frame he suggests, i.e., “last bit of sunset into evening.” And we all will do our best to do justice to Fugard’s specific directions about the candles and the ambience they give to the room when all are lit.
TS: What kind of research did you do in order to design The Road to Mecca?
PK: Well, I did not know much about the actual woman the role is based on or her art work. So I looked at her house (a real place in Karoo) and I researched her art a bit mostly to understand how her brain worked. And I also got a sense of what the weather is like in that part of the world and what the natural environment is around the house. I also spoke with the director Gordon Edelstein and Susan Hilferty, the costume designer, who have both been to the place. And they described a very long drive to the middle of nowhere and the kind of solitude the place evokes. That in-person description of the remoteness of the location was helpful.
TS: What do you think Fugard’s play is about?
PK: I think it’s largely about exploring the theme of the artist as outcast; how the artist survives and continues to pursue his or her work in the face of isolation and pressure from outside forces to stop doing that work. I think it’s also about aging and the fear at an advanced age of an imminent, all-enveloping darkness. And it’s about commitment to your own principles even as society is urging you to relinquish your principles.
TS: What do you look for from the director before you start designing?
PK: Mostly I just want to feel secure that we are starting our work from the same jumping-off point. So I want to know broad-stroke information from a director: are we doing real or abstract? Are we setting the play as suggested in the text or are we re-imagining where the action takes place? I don’t need to discuss the play moment by moment. That usually doesn’t get sorted out anyway until the cast gets well into rehearsal and by then, my advance information has already been drawn and delivered for preparation.
TS: How do you collaborate with the rest of the design team?
PK: That’s a mixed bag. It’s always different on different shows. It really depends on a lot of factors. Quite often designers are very busy and not all that available for long intensive sessions on a developing design. On this show, we’ve had two or three sessions with all the designers and Gordon, and they were mostly about atmosphere and ambience and sensibility. More specifically, Michael has designed a set that tries to embrace and support the “magic” Fugard talks about when all the candles are lit and this involved inserting some light fixtures within the walls of his set, walls that turn out to be translucent. So we met last week at the shop in Connecticut and did a little experimenting with some light sources and some mocked up painted walls. Susan and I talked a bit about the colors she’s planning for each of the characters’ costumes.
TS: What factors go into considering designing lights for a musical as opposed to a straight play?
PK: That’s a somewhat complicated question. There are some plays that have a lot of lighting requirements. There are some musicals that have few. There are not many hard truths about designing a play versus musicals. But very generally speaking, for musicals you are more likely to need to have a great deal of variety in the light at your disposal to keep things looking new and fresh and surprising throughout the evening. In a play, you are more likely to have a narrower range of needs.
The Road to Mecca is playing at the American Airlines Theatre December 16, 2011 through March 4, 2012. For more information, click here.