April 2005

Illuminating the complexities of “Arcadia”

By: Judy Bradford

How does one provide lighting for a play that’s about ideas—not action?

That was the question keeping Kevin Dreyer awake at night prior to the recent opening of “Arcadia” at the Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.

As lighting designer for the play by Tom Stoddard, Dreyer felt challenged by its various abstract scientific and mathematical themes, and by its many sitting-and-talking scenes.

Kevin Dreyer

The play explores such topics as the second law of thermodynamics, which says disorder will increase until all energy, light and life are gone. Studying such theories can either drive you mad or enthrall you, making your days both timeless and timely.

“It’s wanting to know that makes us matter,” says a character in the play. “Otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.” Added to this portent are love and sex, mystery and abstraction in art, all colored by British social mores.

To provide stage lighting for this heady mix, Dreyer, associate professor and director in the theatre program, was able to draw upon his experience in the realm of dance theater, in which movement conveys a broad range of ideas.

A freelance lighting designer who’s worked for Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, in Chicago and on various tours including recent performances in Amsterdam, he’s been able to work with dance professionals from all over the world.

In addition to being somewhat abstract, dance lighting is also psychological. Dryer’s latest project with the Joffrey was “Dark Elegies,” a 1937 Anthony Tudor piece about accepting loss while knowing that life goes on. It helped Dreyer hone what he calls a “delicate touch,” which he employs for the intricate ideas that develop in “Arcadia.”

“People like big, bold, action designs, and this one (‘Dark Elegies’) was not,” Dreyer says. “I learned how to let the design envelop and hold the artistic event, instead of defining it. You have to give it a place in which it can exist.”

As a teaching exercise, “Arcadia” gives students experience in hanging lights, focusing them and then operating the light board in accordance with a written lighting plot compiled by Dreyer. They learn that a lighting plot—a roadmap to the location of every single lighting instrument in the play—helps communicate theatrical ideas, but also helps the designer organize his or her thought process, he explains.

Timing, color, hue and angles can be “pushed and pulled” in the abstract, beyond traditional limitations, and the equipment in the new DeBartolo Center affords considerable flexibility. For example, the theater department now has five times the number of dimmers it had while housed in Washington Hall.

Contact Kevin Dreyer at Kevin.C.Dreyer.1@nd.edu

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