Northern School of Contemporary Dance
Image: Brian Slater
For the past two years Bristol Old Vic Theatre School has been researching original stage practices including enhanced scenes lit by candlelight. Following discussions with Tom Morris, Artistic Director at Bristol Old Vic Theatre, and Prof Martin White, Emeritus Professor at Bristol University, BOVTS first explored the effects of candlelight in four scenes of the 2014 production The Innocent Mistress by Mary Pix, directed by Jenny Stephens in Bristol Old Vic Studio. This preceded innovations in use of candlelight in the newly opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Theatre at The Globe.
The project brought together practitioners from a conservatoire school, university and the performing arts industries in Bristol and London. Tim Streader of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre worked closely with BOVTS’s technical students and staff, training them in the use of five flying candelabras owned by Bristol University. These candelabras were also used by the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in their experiments in candlelight as the theatre developed its practice.
Use of candles on The Innocent Mistress was very successful in enhancing our understanding of the challenges and opportunities of this type of lighting. It developed our knowledge of the practice including the use of make-up for candlelight; the best choice of fabrics in costume and of paint; and the best relationship of candles to actors (height of the candelabras, the use of handheld candles, ensuring the candles are in front of actors as behind throws them into silhouette etc.). An atmospheric and engaging event, the production proved popular with audiences.
BOVTS developed this work further in 2015 with a production of William Congreve’s restoration comedy Love for Love, exploring theatre practice from the earliest days of the historic Theatre Royal.
This time the theatre school used the Theatre Royal main stage and the production was the first of its kind to use candlelight throughout an entire performance there in modern times. Knowledge gained through the experiments in the studio was applied. Again working with Tim Streader, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students developed a specialised technique to augment the candle-light. It is generally considered not possible to mix electric light with candlelight successfully because of the different qualities (candlelight constantly gutters whilst electric light remains still). Through programming all augmenting lights to continuously slightly move, the quality of candle light was maintained effectively.
The research was disseminated through live productions at the Bristol Old Vic Studio and documented through film and photography.