Lighting and sound wizard Chris Neal was the last guest for 2015 in the series In Conversation with the Canberra Critics Circle and what a stimulus for lively discussion his work turned out to be.
A local lad, Canberra born, he was the sort of kid who starts out running sound and lighting for school assemblies, moving on to volunteer work for various Canberra theatre groups and companies. That volunteer technical theatre work turned into the firm Eclipse Lighting and Sound, the technical and design wizards behind such shows as Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds in 2012 and the more recent Jesus Christ Superstar.
Neal proved to be a quiet but impassioned talker who soon had the entire Circle discussing light and sound. He showed that it is possible to ‘build a job’ by finding out where the ‘gaps and holes’ are in local theatre and filling them.
He reminded us that unless, as is the case on big shows like Jesus Christ Superstar the technical and design preplanning has taken months or even years, it is lighting and sound that often has less rehearsal than any other departments. Yet the expectation of course is that they won’t sound under rehearsed on opening night.
He talked about newer lighting equipment and moving (‘intelligent’) lighting and the change wrought by new technology on the look and use of stage colours. It’s a revolution akin to that brought about when in the late C19 gas was replaced by electricity. (Fewer theatres went up in flames but many people missed the old ambience.)
There was a lively discussion too about mikes versus voice projection. Again, it’s about a technical revolution but there was a thread of nostalgia from some of the Circle for the old players who could fill a theatre with unassisted voice.
Not from Neal. There could have been a whole other session about lighting the ‘straight play’ but Neal’s joy has become making the big shows work, the ones that these days are full of spectacular technology of a kind that the audience has come to expect.
There’s clearly a whole thread to be followed, too, on the use of light in art and in galleries and projections on buildings in events like Canberra’s Enlighten and Sydney’s Vivid but that’s for another time.
Meantime Chris Neal’s enthusiastic outlook on what my old Leeds University lighting teacher Trevor Faulkner used to call ‘technology in the service of art’ served as a needful stimulus to the Circle’s thinking on such issues.