Pure Research Submission Process
Pure Research Reports:
by Rececca Singh and Nick Carpenter
'Kinesthetic Transference in Performance'
by Erika Batdorf, Kate Digby and Denise
'The Unsuspecting Audience'
by Moynan King & Sherri Hay
by Moynan King & Sherri Hay
by Camellia Koo
by Cathy Nosaty, Laurel MacDonald & Philip Strong
'Voice, Music & Narrative'
by Martin Julien
'Beneath the Poetry: Magic not Meaning'
by Kate Hennig
Sound, Voice and Connection'
by Heather Nicol
'Exploring the Land Between Speaking
by Guillaume Bernardi
by Lois Brown & Liz Pickard
by Nick Fraser & Justin Haynes
Read Brian's article on Pure Research from the Canadian Theatre
Report - October 2005:
Theatre of Illumination by Shadowland Theatre
Facilitators: Anne Barber and
Glen Morris Theatre, University of Toronto October 19, 20, 21, 2005
- Michelle Ramsay, lighting designer
- David Duclos, set designer, artist, former director of the Theatre
- Anand Rajaram, shadow puppeteer, actor, dancer, writer
- Brian Quirt, Nightswimming
- Nightswimming Interns: Andrea Romaldi, Marie-Leofeli R Barlizo
- University of Toronto Graduate theatre student: Katherine Foster
What is Illumination Theatre?
Shadowland Theatre, maybe because of our name, has been playing
with light and shadow for over twenty years. We have done many shadow
puppet shows along with our other visual theatre activities. In
the course of creating our shows we came across the work of the
French artist visual Christian Boltanski. His use of light and shadow
is very moving, very emotionally charged, even as photo documents.
Thus inspired we wanted to pursue the idea of Illumination Theatre.
This would be a theatre where light is the dominant agent in communicating
the narrative. Our intent was to create a syntax, a theatrical structure
using light, time and image. We wanted to explore beyond the two
dimensionality of our present shadow puppet style and push into
the third and fourth dimensions as well as exploring new dimensions
of meaning and emotion.
Our researchers were invited to join us because of their own parallel
and somewhat alternative interests in the uses of illumination in
theatre, puppetry and the arts.
Over three days we pursued explorations through discussion, sharing
of images and memories and a series of practical experiments, using
a variety of hand-held lighting equipment and simple materials.
We started with a discussion with the basic question. What is light,
dark and shadow?
From the beginning we found the subject to be simple, straightforward
and yet very illusive. Light, dark and shadow illumination,
it seems is always closely related to something else, a subject,
an idea or an emotion, a memory, a dream. It was hard to pin down,
in an empirical way, the elements that make up the syntax for the
Theatre of Illumination. This was going to be more difficult than
it first appeared.
Our first exercise was to share individual experiences and significant
memories where light played the primary role. The responses all
gravitated to the picturesque, to emotionally significant memories:
long low shadows in the evening
pink light of sunset
blue shadows on the snow in winter
shadows of traffic lights at night on the ceiling
scary, black, black, black, fear of the dark
shadows of trees (cozy, comfortable, familiar) in summer
shafts of light coming in through a high church window
walking under street lights (watching your shadows move,
the darkest room in the house (the bathroom, with the sound
of dripping water)
darkness of a cave or mine (texture of dark, the sound of
dark dampness, cold)
a moon glade full moon in spring through new beech
shadows in the forest
covers over the head in bed
irrational shadows, where you cant find the source
German expressionism, Dr. Caligari
glaucoma when the world turns to shadows
shadows that disappear (ghosts)
Carl Jung shadow dreams
spatial memory with eyes shut
sitting in the dark before a movie
night time, a time of possibilities
glowing, fluorescent light amongst radio towers
light in night, fog, heavy rain, snow
blackness and claustrophobia
seeing colours in the black
strange, reflected light
light reflected off the water onto different surfaces, a
cottage ceiling, side of a boat
Onto our first experiment!
How abstract can we be? Can we get to the basics and eliminate the
stories and images? If so, what is the experience? It is predictable
when using light as an agent for viewing a subject, it is more difficult
when it is the subject itself. Could we run the entire research
period without using coloured light? Or, how far could we go before
it became necessary?
The materials we brought in were simple: household lighting sources
and paraphernalia, art supplies paper, card, wire, string
etc. We also had a theatre lighting rig available.
Experiment #1. The Dark.
a) sit alone in the dark for 20 minutes
b) lights on, write and talk of that experience.
The pure black, full dark that we had hoped for was never really
possible as the space was not light tight. At first with the lights
ringing in your brain it was very black, but fairly quickly shapes
and pin-points of light entered and by the end of the twenty minutes
it was possible to walk carefully around. This was the most primal
aspect of the project, the realization that the light, dark, sight,
brain, relationship is a dynamic one, that cause many shifts in
the perception of reality. Sitting in the dark and listening to
the brain chatter away, working overtime, trying to make sense of
the seeming lack of information when really there was no lack, rather
a flood of black and grey images to the eyes and a heightened sense
of hearing, feelings and thoughts. The brain worked hard at interpreting,
identifying the new environment.
With the lights back on each of us shared our responses. And rather
than remembering and linking images to the past it, our responses
were immediate and more abstract. We attempted to omit light from
our lives and it forced its way in. We were actively involved in
the battle between the elements of light and dark.
the room changed
your brain and all your senses respond
re-emerging structure of the room as eyes adjust
images were never hard edged
small changes in the weather outside = big changes inside
(pin hole camera effect)
it is hard to escape light completely
movement of the shadows as the mind tries to make sense of
darker seems colder, lighter seems warmer
darkness = quiet
the past is the dark, light is the future --
light strives to overcome the dark
being able to see like a cat, night sight
eyes feel starved, they seem to be hungry for light
eyes feel separated from the body
eyes fuzzed out
it was hard work to see
in the dark, is there a memory of the light?
1. What would the difference be in total blackout?
2. Can the black be more abstract?
3. Can we rid ourselves of image and narrative? Do we want to?
4. What is the meaning of black and light? (David Duclos suggested
it is a creation story in the beginning etc. everything grows
out of the blackness.)
5. Is this where ideas and meaning come from?
6. Can we exploit these ideas in the telling of the ideas/stories?
6. How can this relate to the craft of creating theatre or storytelling?
How does the
experience of the dark makes the artists and audience react?
Playing with light as pure and simple working on the
basics, the vocabulary
We tried different light sources (candles, flashlights, incandescent,
halogen) and surfaces (opaque, transparent and reflective). This
revealed some new information and confirmed many existing prejudices.
In the blacked-out space we used light to create shadows. This simple
idea once again became very complicated because imagery emerges
the moment light creates a shadow and little narratives creep in.
If the shadow of a chair is projected, it suggested a room. If the
shadow of a hand is projected, it suggested faces created by kids
playing at night. It was very hard to get beyond seeing the image
of fading light as an image of a sunset. The mind is frantically
creating layers of meaning, order and understanding.
multiple light sources, creating multiple images of less
multiple surfaces one image falling on an uneven surface,
as the viewer walks
around the image breaks up
abstract shadows beautiful and serene
hand shadows morphing images
shadows from multiple sources flattened down to create
uniform 2D shadows
shadow distortions effects created by changing the
light source/object relationship
two shadows the mysterious and yet somehow difficult
shadows within shadows
long shadows the suggestion of morning and evening
losing the source of the shadow scary
long shadows, change or loss of scale scary
fast moving light (unusual in Nature), modern, portable and
fast moving, ie. cars
big light is capable of being a shadow eraser
multiple moving light sources fascinating, exciting
It was a very broad survey and every set-up or experiment cried
out for refinement.
1. Where is the audience and who is the audience?
2. Why is the creation of imagery such a dominant impulse?
Study different light sources in a contained space.
a) Build maquettes, work stations
b) How does changing the light source change the shadow?
c) What feelings are evoked?
Light, dark and shadow illumination, it seems, is always
closely related to something else, a subject, an idea or an emotion
a memory, a dream.
candles soft, warm light, gentle flicker, peaceful,
pan-directional, complex, active
bees wax dense, rich light
candle in patterned container/lantern very active,
candles in a menorah ritual, bigger light, flickering,
complex warmth, busy, kinetic
phosphorescent paint low light, glow, eerie, charged
by light, no shadow
open flame primal fear, flame, chaos, large, chaotic
warm light incandescent (flame candle sun fire)
cold light fluorescent (moon)
halogen cold light, very crisp shadow even at a great
shadows the edge of information( the edge of the light)
(edge of mystery)
light is a common experience light on, light off,
light adds meaning and focus to what they illuminate
the brain works hard to create order out of the chaos of
movement of light suggests real events i.e. sun crawls
down a mountain
1. Need to know the science of light, theories of light and sight,
the physics, chemistry and biology.
2. What is the relationship between light and the "ahhh"
moment (revelation, illumination?)
3. Using light as a character can it be a protagonist, can
we personify it?
Task use light and shadow to create a visual sentence.
Method choose a light source, a place and an object to illuminate
1) Snow falling in a wintry light. Using white surround (floor and
walls), torn tissue and white floor lights, inspired by the comfort
of watching snow from a window.
2) In a dark boxed-in space with hand held flashlights. Light maneuvering,
one light overcomes and overpowers another.
3) Boat on water. A single light reflected on mylar creating complex
water-like shadows, a shadow puppet of a boat moving slowly along.
4) Peep show. Alternating blue light and red light in a totally
enclosed white foam-core tower with only a few peepholes for viewing
from the outside. Inside a woman as if in a shower stall.
5) A single incandescent light bulb as a human figure. The lit bulb
is crushed. Kill the lights; idea/persona gone
It was interesting to strip the experiments down to the bare bones.
To simplify the type of materials and the number of light sources
(we ended up using none of the lights from the rig) and to attempt
to reach the essential syntax of lighting. For example, in the experiments
there was virtually no sound used. In this word-oriented, noisy
world of theatre we were able to tell simple visual stories
but did light or illumination dominate in the telling? Dark and
quiet go hand-in-hand and tend to define the pace which we found
to be slower and less frenetic. This phenomenon is exploited in
theatre to help the audience be quiet and shift into that suspended
mode at the beginning of a show.
Significantly what the light did in all situations was focus. There
was a wonderful concentration in the room. Most people chose to
work on a small scale. We could have used the entire rig but that
seemed too massive; there was so much to discover in the mystery
of the small and intimate. There was often a meditative quality
in the experiments that allowed repetition, long held moments and
miniscule changes. Sequences were not necessarily narratives. The
purely visual medium allowed viewers to add their own memories and
associations. The viewers were forced to interpret what they saw
and the differences that were articulated.
We had difficulty in redefining our relationship to light and shadow.
Memories and clichés dominated our interpretations.
Light and shadow are strong emotional instigators conjuring time
and place (a learned response).
We found that light was a basic stage setting that evoked at first
response clichés like white light = day, or blue elevated
light = night.
Light and movement often first suggested the passage of time, ie.
Many people with flashlights in the dark is fun! It was very visually
interesting, kinetic and calls out for more work to be done in the
area of choreography.
It is great to be reminded of what the mind is capable of and how
it works at figuring things out and how rigid it is when it is confronted
by something new.
We did discover that different lights and surfaces lend themselves
to, or are more comfortable in the telling of certain stories. In
nature cool, white light = the night (moon), warm white light =
Distorted shadows are scary/unnerving. Reflection = water nearby.
Fire is old light. Man-made, electricity etc. is modern light. Fast
moving light is new.
A sequence, be it movement from one lighting condition to another,
or of a light itself moving, or even an object moving in the light,
evokes a response. A sequence (the creation of a sentence from basic
elements), though not necessarily story, seemed to focus
the viewer and the interpretation causing the struggle for recognition.
The "aaah" moments are moments of recognition, familiarity
and understanding. How prepared or able are we to look at something,
create something we cannot conceive of?
We discussed uses of light that challenged the norms and how those
affected our perceptions as audiences i.e. a production of
Chekhovs The Three Sisters where the night scene was done
fully illuminated; Shadowlands The Footprint, a shadow puppet
show with the snow done as black shadow.
We were able to create shadow within shadows with more than one
Many of us became intrigued by the potential information that the
science of light and human visual mechanics would provide to the
understanding in the creation of theatrical effects.
Colour is an aspect of light that we didnt get to in a significant
way. In fact we tried to eliminate it initially. But it was there
front and centre from the beginning and in fact we had to work hard
to keep it out. Black and white doesnt really exist in nature.
Shadows are not a uniform shade of black. It seems that the colour
of shadows changes with the changing of the light source. The objects
that created the shadow have colour. But the colour is lost in the
shadow. Is black and white natural or man-made? Mixing coloured
lights is quite different than mixing coloured pigments. Why? There
were many questions that called for more rigorous scientific input.
We were not able to successfully separate the light and shadow (the
medium) from the message, and we were surprised by that. So the
McCluhan axiom of the medium being the message was difficult to
research in our scientific survey. We didnt discover any image
so neutral that we could just mess with the medium. Any light suggested
so many ideas that it was almost impossible to disassociate ourselves
from them and get to down to the bare bones of Illumination Theatre.
All the experiments lead instantly to a revealing of meaning or
enlightenment of an idea.
BUT new information came to light just days after the project ended
from author Annie Dillards book Pilgrim At Tinkers Creek
(pg. 31). "I chance on a wonderful book by Marius Von Sendon
called Space and Sight". This is about people born blind
and getting sight surgically later in life. To them vision is very
abstract with no idea of space. Form, distance, size were meaningless.
Shadows looked like dark patches, not as defining depth. Some of
them never get beyond this initial phase and wished to return
to what they knew. Others learned to understand and some found it
miraculous. The idea of sight as abstract shapes that the mind cant
figure is a great avenue for future research.
Like the blind who are suddenly able to see, if you
do not know the language can you make a new image? Here we see that
light and sight are a learned language, as theatre is, and the vocabulary
of it can be strange to some.
We all understood the concept of "fear of the dark" but
a blind person would have had a different notion entirely. Our emotional
attachments to lighting conditions were clearly very strong, its
metaphorical force came to the fore very naturally.
What if had more time?
we would try to make pure black or pure light.
expand our simple sentence into something longer like poetry
expand our illumination vocabulary
study coloured light
more technical/scientific details about light and colour
interaction between additive and subtractive colour
the audiences relationship to light, where does the
light as a character
light control dimmers and strobes and flashes
work on the greater understanding of the evocative "ahhhh"
light as pure abstraction
Did we achieve our goal of Illumination Theatre?
No. We didnt achieve our goal but we did vacuum around the
edges a bit. We enjoyed the opportunity to work with like-minded
people and posed a lot of good questions. We opened the door and
each of the participants will pursue aspects of Illumination Theatre
in their own time. The project is ongoing. There is plenty to be
Michelle Ramsay sent us a CD of photos that she took and
the photos made us all look very intriguing nouveaux pataphysicians
in Plato's cave achieving some kind of alchemy.
We had great fun playing with like-minded people in the big sandbox.
Everyone added to the idea pool and worked in the congenial chaos
of enthusiastic explorers searching the well-worn road for new sparkly
Thank you for the opportunity.
Anne Barber and Brad Harley
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