The opera “Winnie,” which premiered at the Pretoria State Theatre in South Africa, tells the story of Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela. The complex story is told through music, libretto, settings … and light. Lighting designer Declan Randall describes below how he used color to create the world of Winnie Mandela testifying at the government’s commission (The “Now” World) and the world of her memories (The “Past” World).
Winnie Mandela played a key role in the struggle for liberation of South Africa, and there are many stories that cloud her past but as is the case with history, there are always two sides to each story. The libretto for the opera made no attempt to sugar-coat her past. It also covered many of the most controversial stories surrounding her life and the years that she was made to suffer both in prison and while under house arrest. Right from the start the director, Shirley Jo Finney, wanted to make a very clear distinction between the two worlds that Winnie was occupying in the opera. There is the “now” world where she is testifying at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and then there is the “past” world of her memories.
The way that I decided to approach this was to have two clearly distinguishable styles for the ‘now’ and the ‘past’. The scenes that took place at the TRC were treated in a cooler, whiter light and also a fairly harsh, stark light. We wanted the light to make her feel exposed and to a certain extent, make the audience feel as if they are witnessing the actual trials. The TRC hearings took place all across the country and in a varied selection of halls and facilities, with ceiling mounted fluorescent lighting often being the only source of light. Sometimes, we cast everyone in the sour green light that only an old, cool-white fluorescent tube can produce. Other times, we minimized the starkness (this is theatre, after all!).
The ‘memories’ were a lot easier to deal with. Here we had a lot more opportunity to push the boundaries and the light took on a more textured, warmer and softer feel in some scenes and became more shadowed and ominous in others. As we are seeing the memories from her point of view, I used that as a device which meant that we could present the scenes in almost any fashion, as memory is after all a completely subjective thing.
Color played an important role in re-creating Winnie’s two worlds. For the “now” world, I experimented with color temperatures extensively. The LEDs helped to shift a light as warm as 2700K, up to the blue-ish coldness of 8000K. The “past” world allowed for a little more freedom and here I used shades that ranged from pale straws and steels to the more saturated reds, ambers and blues. The color choices were mostly e-colour+ but I also used a combination of Supergel and Cinegel in the scrollers which were mounted on the booms.”
Scenes From The “Now” World
A colder, harsher light was used for “now” scenes. We used open white sidelight to give a bit of warmth to the faces. Overhead LEDs were color matched to E201 and E053, and the cyc was lit using E-Colour 119 at the top and E-Colour 120 at the bottom.
For the prison scene we used Rosco CalColor #4260 60 Blue and Cinegel 3420 Roscosun Double CTO as sidelight from booms. e-colour+ #201 Full CTB was used with gobo #77524 Squares. This scene also included gobo #77090 Bars.
Scenes From The “Past” World
The “Mothers of the Missing” were like a Greek chorus in the opera, watching and commenting on the scenes taking place. They were lit in more saturated colors to extract them from the reality of the scenes and make them seem more ethereal. Here, we used Cinegel #2006 Storaro Azure as sidelights from booms, and matched the LEDs overhead to Supergel #83 Medium Blue. In the scene where they lament over their children, lost to the struggle, we colored the overhead fixtures with E201 Full CTB Blue.
In the Brandfort scene in Act II, we wanted to simulate the oppressive heat and dryness in this South African province. We used Cinegel #3406 Roscosun 85N.6 and #3420 Roscosun Double CTO, as well as Supergel #38 Light Rose and #305 Rose Gold. The overhead LEDs were matched to E204 Full CT Orange.
Declan Randall has over 20 years of professional lighting and set design experience and has lit for dance, opera, theatre and musicals. His work has been seen all over the world, including Broadway and London, and he has won several awards for his designs. He has served as resident lighting designer for the Market Theatre in Johannesburg as well as the State Theatre Dance Company and Opera Africa. He has also authored a book: “Theatrical Lighting Design – Making the Light Fantastic.”