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Aurora Nealand and Goat in the Road's KindHumanKind premiered at the CAC in March 2019, running for three sold-out, unforgettable performances. In April 2020, the work was scheduled to return to the CAC before COVID-19 cancelled our spring performing arts season. In lieu of bringing you the live performances, we are excited to present Behind The Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind, an interview series featuring chats between CAC staff members and the designers and directors of KindHumanKind to provide behind-the-scenes insight into their exciting creative processes.
Explore Behind the Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind:
This series is part of ArtOrbit, your online guide to art and artists from the CAC and around the world.
In Part III of Behind The Curtain: Designing KindHumanKind, CAC Technical Director Jo Nazro chats with Josh Courtney, Lighting Designer, about the unique challenges faced in designing the dramatic lighting techniques that define the diverse moods and scenes found in Aurora Nealand and Goat in the Road's spectacular and multi-faceted performance.
Jo Nazro: I'm here with Josh Courtney, the lighting designer for KindHumanKind. The one basic question that I've been asking everybody is how and when they got involved in the project.
Josh Courtney: Alright, let's see. The how is easy because--. Because I'm an ensemble member, any time there's a new project Chris comes to me and says, we're gonna be doing this soon, do you want to do it, and I just say, yeah I'm gonna do it or no, go find somebody else. But, I have only said no once since I joined Goat in the Road, and that was for Roleplay (Goat In the Road Productions, 2019), because I just wasn't available; I was doing August Osage County (Southern Rep Theatre). So that's the how. The when was early, in the very beginning of it as soon as it was officially commissioned, because I know I think it was in talks for a while, but once it was confirmed, and we all started working together with Aurora, that’s when I came on, the very first workshop in 2018.
JN: That’s great. It doesn’t always happen that a designer is involved so early. What was the collaboration process like for you? Did you start coming up with ideas during the devising process, and how did that all work together with the projections?
JC: I followed Jeb's (Jebney Lewis, Set Designer, Link to other article) lead on a lot of stuff, because the way that we were devising the show was so physical, and we did workshop weekends where we would spend all day together at UNO (University of New Orleans) in their thrust theater or sometimes at Dancing Grounds. Jeb had prepared some pieces, like flats and plants and chairs, random crap, and some small handheld items, and we had them all in a pile in the space and then Chris would say “Josh, Shannon and Dylan go up there” and then he would play one of the songs from the album from his computer and we would use the things and make something, some kind of weird movement, maybe slightly narrative and all of that was filmed. All these big, broad strokes got whittled down and whittled down and Jeb started to pull visual ideas from that. We were going to bisect the space and all of the little visual motifs were repeated throughout. I did my work based on what Jeb was doing.
JN: Very cool! One of the things that Jeb and I had talked about was this sort of moving boom--
JC: Yeah, that crazy thing.
JN: It was great, once it all came together it was really beautiful.
JC: I know, it was a batshit Idea, but it was something I felt was important to the way that we were trying to use the space. It's something that I wanted to do because we have moving lights that are at a fixed position but, for the last 10 or 12 years, I've really wanted to have an opportunity to actually have a moving light in a space, you know? Not just, like, a flash but an actual fixture that's doing something. And so during the process, as we started talking about when the audience would first come in the space it would feel very quaint and small, almost just like a small band gig in a coffee shop. I don't think we ever used that term but just that kind of small intimate, just a couple people on stage playing some songs, and that's the expectation that we wanted to set up for the audience. That way with every opening up of the space it got less intimate and more expansive. We were just subverting people's expectations about the space. So, as that concept developed and Jeb started to work with that a lot more, that's when I thought well now's the time to have a big punchy light source that moves throughout the space. It also had to do with the fact that we were doing it in the warehouse at the CAC knowing that we had 70 feet of depth to work with. Obviously, just opening up the space was really grand and majestic, but I knew that I wanted the moment where we actually utilized the full length of that space in a big grand sweeping gesture and that's why I was so insistent on it.
JN: Great, thanks! I thought that shot at the end where Aurora is walking backwards and the light is following, was just gorgeous.
JC: Thank you.I asked Chris that we have a moment where Aurora walks the full length of the space and we follow her with that, and we didn’t really know until we were kind of dry tech-ing a run through of stuff in Catapult. I said to Chris, what if after that, when she makes this like long journey all the way to the back of the stage, that's when I follow her with the moving boom? But that absolutely could not have been done without Jeb, because I had a totally different idea about how to execute it, that probably would not have been as efficient, so thank god that Jeb decided to just build a train track and put a dolly on it.
JN: Yeah, it was truly a great moment. I want to talk more about the composition of some of these visually striking moments to perhaps give a better understanding of lighting and how some of the lights work.
JC: True. This show is interesting because there were a couple of key visuals that I knew I wanted to make, like the Plant Band, when all the plants were lined up. We knew that we wanted it for a moment to feel like this bizarre rock and roll concert with these plants. Another nice moment was when all of the panels (projection panels, moved by the performers) lined up throughout the space. When they got pushed off to the sides during "Whistleblower," I knew that I wanted to end "Whistleblower" with an inverse of that (look) with lighting. That wasn't super successful, I don't think that read well, but it was something that I wanted to do. But that was a visual, and then, the big sweeping gesture on the rover was a visual, and then for everything else I just made a palette; I gave myself tools. Then at tech time, as you remember, it was so crunched, and we actually didn't do any lighting tech. I cued the entire show in one day with Chris in the space and no performers. We guessed on everything and then filled in the gaps 24 hours before the audience saw it. That was super scary. So, all of the design choices and compositions came out of, “gotta get something on that stage, because an audience is gonna see this in 36 hours,” you know. So, we included anything that looked good and felt like it has some gestalt and was cohesive. We got lucky. I think the show ended up looking pretty good, though not what I was envisioning it to look like.
JN: Would you mind just taking a minute to explain how the mouth specials were accomplished?
JC: I was working at Loyola (University), and thankfully they had a type of light that's called an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight, which is a very controllable beam of light that you can shutter off sharply to make little boxes of light or put in textures or templates. Loyola had little tiny baby versions that could fit in your pocket that I borrowed from them, and we mounted them to microphone stands and put them close to the performers so that it evoked a microphone on a stand but instead of them singing into a microphone, the microphone was beaming light at their mouths. So that was the visual conceit there -- a very specific kind of light that allows you to shape a specific beam, and ones that were tiny enough and low profile enough that they can be placed in front of performers without having too big of a footprint and being too distracting.
JN: Thanks! And then, to wrap things up, one of the questions that I've asked everybody is about their theater background, as you all have different experience, and you've been working in more film--
JC: That's true.
JN: -- and television lately. What's it like to work in live theater and why do you enjoy working in live theater?
JC: Well, I guess everything I’ve talked about in this interview, all the bad stuff about the tech process and how stressful it was, and how a lot of stuff that was planned wasn't able to get done and a lot of stuff that wasn't planned had to be done...as negative a light that gets painted all the time, retrospectively, immediately after you accomplish it, it's thrilling. It’s like a drug. That's why all of us do it because even though, financially, the fees are far lower than in film or other larger events, the stakes are the same because less money is spent on it, but less money is also earned on it. Scaled down the stakes are pretty high. And then the timeline is so much more of a crunch because it's live, it's not a piece that you can just delay the release of. There is a point of no return, and it's do or die. AndI think, like the rest of the artists probably, we all like to tell stories in some way, that's why we do art in general. But the reasons that I just listed are why I most enjoy telling stories in this medium.
JC: Thank you.
JN: Well thank you Josh!
JC: You’re welcome!
KindHumanKind was created by composer Aurora Nealand in collaboration with Chris Kamenstein and Shannon Flaherty, co-Artistic Directors of Goat in the Road Productions. The work was also created in collaboration with fellow cast members free feral, Tiffany Lampson, and Alexis Marceaux. The work featured projections by Kourtney Keller, lighting by Josh Courtney, costumes by Kiyoko McCrae, projection mapping by Dan Pruksarnukul, and an ingenious set that absorbed and refracted all these designs by set designer Jebney Lewis. Learn more about KindHumanKind at goatintheroadproductions.org.