August Tuesday: Q&A with Lighting Designer Yael Lubetzky

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Susanne Marley (Violet Weston) in August: Osage County. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

We are in our final week of August: Osage County and before the cast takes their final bow this weekend, we would like to highlight one of the many incredible design elements of the play: the lighting.

Arkansas Repertory Theatre veteran Yael Lubetzky is the designer behind the powerful lighting that helps capture the emotion of each captivating scene in this dark comedy.

We had the chance to talk to her about what sparked her interest in lighting design for theatre, her approach to a play like August: Osage County and more. See what she had to say for our final installment of August Tuesday:

Q: What piqued your interest in lighting design?

A: I think I was Intrigued by what lighting can do to help tell a story. I believe that light in the theatre can have a breath and movement to it in a similar way as music and dance. And the way these things combine together with storytelling was fascinating to me. Lighting can be a powerful tool in many ways in the theatre. It can tell you where to look, and when, as well as how you might experience something in a specific moment by the way it is lit. I think that I am mostly intrigued by the emotional aspect of lighting design in a production– how lighting can help define and shape those moments, sometimes in very subtle ways, and other times in very dramatic ways. And the collaborative process of finding the language of a story visually. In the theatre, we all try to collaborate as artists to help bring a vision to life. And sometimes you find things out during that process that you hadn’t thought of. Something incredible happens during the journey of trying things. Those moments are some of my favorite.

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Susanne Marley (Violet Weston) and Cassandra Seidenfeld (Johnna Monevata). Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

Q: How do you approach the lighting design for a play like August: Osage County?   

A: August Osage County is an amazing play. As in all projects I work on, I usually read the play or libretto a number of times and take notes about what the story and setting calls for and then after that I add in my other design ideas . Early on, I have a conversation with the director. In our case, the wonderful Bob Hupp and I talk through our initial ideas for the piece. And as soon as I see the preliminary scenic drawings, I have many conversations with the scenic designer. Mike Nichols designed the fantastic set you see in August. He and I worked very closely in a play like this to make certain things work. This particular play takes place in many rooms all over the house and different times of day. It is extremely cinematic the way the story is told, so that was extremely important in the lighting design. The other aspect was the transitions, and how in this play, the transitions through light, sound and staging is also telling a story and moving the piece forward. Some of the most important parts of lighting design is how you get from one place to another. That journey visually is a very strong aspect in the design of this show. We try to set the tone for where we are going, or where we just came from both emotionally and physically in these transitions, while also making any scenic/prop changes needed for the next scene.

Q: How does the set for August: Osage County affect your lighting design?  

A: The set– designed by Mike Nichols– for August: Osage County is a character in itself and a huge part of this play.  As soon as I saw his preliminary sketches and drawings, I loved it. I knew it was going to be challenging, but I was really excited to work on it with him and I am thrilled with the way it all turned out.

The set dictates some of what the light can and can’t do. We have hallways and ceilings and three stories with walls and windows taped shut for most of the show, along with two stairways and an outside porch and scenes take place in all of these places. But just like in a real home, we wanted to create the feeling of shadows and light in a house with hallways and ceilings. Mike and I worked together closely to try to figure out ways to hide lights in certain places to create this kind of atmosphere and also be able to light people underneath ceilings and walking in and out of hallways. And it was extremely important that each room could be isolated at times. Dan Kimble, The Rep’s Master Electrician, did an incredible job with the crew hanging and wiring all of these things to make it happen. The set has a ton of texture and amazing props to make it feel lived in, but at the same time it has a skeleton around it of beams. There is so much life in this house, but at the same time there is an eerie looming quality– light and absence of light– and being able to go between these feelings was really important in the lighting design.

Q: What is the best part about designing the lighting for theatre?    

A: That’s a tough question, but I would have to say the collaboration with the other artists and the discovery that you find together while working [is the best part]. I love being in the rehearsal room as much as possible while the actors are working early on if I can, because that is where a lot of discovery of the piece happens and being in that environment is always so enlightening. I think when you try new things even if they don’t work the first time, you learn and sometimes that will spark a whole new idea.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working at The Rep?

A: This is my fourth production here at The Rep. I feel very lucky to keep coming back. It is an amazing group of people and artists who work here. They all care so much about each production and it shows in the dedication to the work and that is a gift to get when you work somewhere. I couldn’t do any of the design work I do here without the collaboration with everyone in all the departments. I definitely feel like we are all a team here making the show come to life. And I couldn’t be more grateful to all the people at The Rep who make that happen.

Purchase your ticket to the play before it ends this Sunday online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405!