'The Railway Children'The last month or so I have been working at my local theatre helping with the lighting for ‘The Railway Children’ by Edith Nesbit. It is a community theatre that puts on 4-5 plays a year and I try to help out with lights at least once a year. This blog will look at what challenges we had in terms of lighting, what we wanted to achieve and how we achieved the desired effects. 

Once I had committed to being a lighting designer and operator I was then committed to going through the following process:

  1. Read the play to see what the specific needs are for the show in terms of location and action that may require certain lighting effects.
  2. Meet with the set designer and walk the stage to see what the space would be and how the space would be used.
  3. Meet with the director to see what she had planned in terms of effects and stage meaning, also if there were any requirements in terms of mood changes, atmosphere, area changes that she wanted to be communicated through lights.
  4. Meet with my co-lighting designer to throw ideas around to see how we could use the lighting equipment we had, to the best of our ability, to meet the requirements of the show.

For the play there were several requirements we had to take into consideration and it was now our turn to make these ideas a reality. The following are 5 examples of the biggest challenges we faced and how we went about overcoming those challenges:

Outside to inside and day to night with the same stage area: During the play there is a moment where the children and their mother arrive at the station then walk from the station into their new home and try to find the lights. This all happens as they walk from upstage (USC ) to stage centre (CS) and down stage left (DSL). As they moved we did the following: For the station the lighting was a wash with a yellow tinge, bright and soft at intensity 80%. As they left the station we did a slow cross-fade to intensity 20% and the area light slowly changed from the USC area to CS. Again, as they moved into the house area the lights followed, them with an overlap of the CS and DSL to add a slight pink tinge for the warmth of the room and the night glow. When they found candles and lit them we brought the intensity of the lights in that area quickly up to 60%. 

Train pulling into the station: For this the director had the Old Man character in an arm chair on wheels entering from USL to CS to represent the train (sounds a bit odd, but did work in practice). As he entered we did a slow chase light (a short sequence of lights that goes from one place to another, in this case across the stage from USL to USC, adding lights to the stage areas as they come on) that followed him and the smoke machine was positioned underneath the set USL so that it could billow after him and follow his moment. The smoke machine was rigged up to go on at the same time as the chase light. The smoke grew with the increase of light on stage.

Night at the station around the coal pile: This was a scene where Peter was creeping to steal coal from Perks’ coal pile. We needed to swathe them in darkness then show a contrast when Perks puts his lamp on. We did a side and overheard light of pink at about 20% and then added some warm yellow light from the downstage lighting bar when he brought his lamp to Peter’s face, to light the area where the railway children were standing.

Land slide of trees landing on the platform: This is a moment in the play where the children see the trees literally sliding down the hillside onto the line. We had the area lit where the children were (USC) as they moved downstage we had a full stage wash, but then dimmed the lights as they took their positions CSR. Once they were up on the platform looking up at the hillside we could do a side light from CSR onto them and a chase light of green across the stage, repeated, to show the trees falling. This was accompanied by a sound effect of branches breaking and soil moving.  

Train passing in a tunnel: This is a scene where the children are in a tunnel looking for the hare in a paper chase that has not emerged from the tunnel. They are walking along the tunnel wall when a train passes. The stage was a very dim wash then as the train passed we put bright white lights on them as they screamed, before they were plummeted back into darkness. The lights on them were made more effective when them screaming as the train was imagined to pass them as the light came on. 

I hope that these ideas have helped you a little with how to think about lighting in your own work and what effects can be created by using colours, area lighting and some simple techniques.