Johanna Town is Lighting Designer for The Tempest. One of the UK’s leading Lighting Designers, Johanna has worked across theatre, opera and events internationally and in the UK, including Broadway and the West End. She’s passionate about creating sustainable lighting for every show she works on. Johanna is the Chair of the Association of Lighting Production and Design.
A lighting designer creates the atmosphere of the show, helps set the locations and shifts the mood of the play. From the moment when the lights dip at the start of the show we take the audience on a journey, creating suspense, excitement and changing moods, in the same way that the music does.
I go to rehearsals and talk to the director and designer about the concept of the show, then I design the lighting by deciding what equipment is needed to achieve the desired looks, this is then programmed into a computer that can repeat those looks for every performance.
Lighting the set
I approached The Tempest first by saying all the equipment used has to belong in-house, not hired. If we hire equipment it needs to travel from London to Stratford by road and that's unsustainable - I shouldn’t be hiring something just because, I need to find other alternatives that can do the same job or adapt.
Designers have different types of kit they like to use, kit they are more familiar with. I am putting myself in an area that I’m not necessarily comfortable because I haven’t used that equipment before, it’s exciting and is part of making the production sustainable.
Traditionally lighting was made from tungsten, which is now considered very bad for the environment - tungsten can burn more electricity than LED. But replacing existing tungsten lighting in good working order with brand new LEDs isn’t necessarily the solution. For this show, I’m using some kit that has been around for 60-70 years and is still in good working order - all that's been replaced is the lightbulb when it blows, a light bulb that can decay naturally into the earth.
I wanted to bring both tungsten and LED lighting together, the theatre owns both of these different type kit. I need to make sure we’re not burning a lot of tungsten over a lot of LED. So I am using the tungsten as a visual element for small bits of the magical work, rather than it being on all of the time - it's about thinking it through and making the kit work hard to do what I want it to do.
There’s an element of the show where the actors are involved with equipment, such as torches. We went to the prop store and dug out lamps, torches, jars and metal shades and asked 'how can we tell a story with what we’ve found?', as opposed to 'I want this, this and this'. That then became the lead into my design concept for the show. Some of the stuff we’ve brought into the room went back to the store, other pieces became part of the show.
This is the way forward to making theatre more sustainable - using what we have and what we find to tell a story, making our kit work harder. It’s exciting to do a production that tries to show where we are climate-wise; a production that makes us question everything, from how we design our shows, to how we interact with the actual work we do - basically, how we live our lives.