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Interview with Lighting Designer Jane Cox

TS: What do you think Inge's play is about?

JC: I have come to think that Picnic is about choices, and it is about sexuality. About how life choices relate to sexuality, and about how people's lives are confused or stifled by not understanding themselves or not expressing themselves. In Picnic, this is expressed through a group of female characters who are almost all trapped by their inability to picture themselves in a different life, and whose destinies are dictated by their sexual choices. I imagine that Inge had a particular empathy for how women's sexual desires and choices defined them since, as a closeted gay man, his own sexual choices dictated his life in the time period he lived in.

TS: What do you look for from the director before you start designing?

JC: Every relationship with a director is different. My job is to help the director create their event. In order to do that, I need to understand how they see or experience the play, and I need to figure out how to communicate with that particular director in a useful way for them. Some directors are able to be very articulate about their intellectual or emotional experience of the play (Sam is one of those people). Other directors express themselves primarily through their collaboration with the set and costume designers. Other directors don't really express much about the play until they are in a room with actors. I don't usually like to talk about light specifically with a director until quite late in the process. It is more important that I understand how they see the play, and that they trust me. I need time to work—sketch with light, erase it, sketch again once we are in the theatre together with the light and the actors. And if the director doesn't trust me, it is hard to get good work done. The bulk of the my work happens in the theatre, where I am making extremely fast decisions that affect everyone else in a very short space of time, well after everyone else has had a long process that they have invested a lot of time and energy in. I need to know everyone else's work well enough to be able to do my job fast and well.

TS: How do you collaborate with the rest of the design team?

JC: I collaborate with the other designers mostly through their physical work. I spend a lot of time with the set, ideally the model, but if not, photos of the model and the scenic drawings. I try to really understand what the set is trying to do—what is the essence of the space the play is set in. I stare at it for hours and I wander around with it in my head and wonder why I am not getting anything done. But this time is critical—the energetic essence of a space is how light hits it. I need to wonder exactly what shade of orange would make that wall glow in the exactly right gritty way. I need to wonder what angle of light entering the space produces the most interesting tension with the angles of the walls. And then, I work with the set designer to make sure that their space actually physically allows me to do what it seems to be asking me to do!

I relate to clothing mostly through color. I ask myself who needs to look the most magical in a scene, who needs to look the most depressing? By changing the color of the light you can change which person looks incredible or present on stage. In a larger way, there is a color palette being created between the set, clothes and the lights that has an energetic quality to it. It is my job to bring the three things together in an energetically appropriate way.

Light relates to sound in the most direct way. The rhythm of the show lies in the hands of the sound and lighting as well as the cast. Does the show move fast and aggressively? Does it slide smoothly from one time into the next? The sound designer and I make those decisions with the guidance of the director.

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Roundabout Theatre Company Roundabout Theatre Company is a not-for-profit theatre dedicated to providing a nurturing artistic home for theatre artists at all stages of their careers where the widest possible audience can experience their work at affordable prices. Roundabout fulfills its mission each season through the revival of classic plays and musicals; development and production of new works by established playwrights and emerging writers; educational initiatives that enrich the lives of children and adults; and a subscription model and audience outreach programs that cultivate loyal audiences.