Once – Lighting Design and Set Design Blogpost

In the world of “Once”, heart, soul, destiny and music come together. A down-on-his-luck street musician (played by Sam Cieri) meets a girl, (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) who’s always serious and gets him back on his feet. Although many characters have different interests, agendas, professions and degrees of likability, they can all come together as one through music (originally written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for the 2007 film written and directed by John Carney).

Since the main set for the show does not change outside of a few chairs, tables or musical instruments (more on that in the next paragraph), the lighting during certain scenes helps to focus the attention of the audience on certain areas of the stage while creating a new sense of setting on stage in the presence of a stationary set. In one of the first scenes of the first act, the guy brings the girl and her broken vacuum back to his father’s (Bristol Pomeroy) repair shop. In quick transition from the previous scene, the stage lighting goes black except for two, square-shaped spotlights shining down on the guy repairing the vacuum in one and the girl sitting with the guy’s dad in another. The guy has little vocalization beyond groans and noises in fixing the vacuum, but the awkward conversation between the girl and the father becomes the comedic center of the play for the audience under the spotlights. Another instance of attention-focusing lighting came during the second act of the performance. The guy and the girl ascend to the roof of the music shop after a long day of rehearsal. To give the impression of the darkness of night, the stage goes completely dark outside of a dark blue hue behind the set upon the backdrop and a string of yellow “Christmas lights” on the floor of the set to give the impression of the lights of a city from far away, creating a convincing and intimate atmosphere while keeping the attention of the audience on the actors near the top of the stage. In addition, the lights are subdued enough that they do not draw all attention away from the guy and girl with their dark figures standing out in front of the dark blue light.

Over the course of the two acts, the main pieces of the set do not move or change outside of lighting. But, the scenes in the play are wisely constructed to give the audience a different impression of the location, even though the main set behind the actors has not changed throughout the performance. The main setting appears as a barroom, complete with bottles, back mirror, swinging wooden bar doors with windows along with pictures in frames adorning the walls. In addition, there are a number of incandescent light bulbs on the walls that appear lighter or duller depending on the amount of light needed for the scene on stage. Members of the ensemble cast spend part of their time of the play up against the walls in chairs that can be moved freely when needed in the spotlight and then moved back when a musician needs a seat for another background musical number. There is a floor, that is meant to resemble tile-laminate, built for the set placed on top of the stage floor, giving the audience an almost convincing look at what could be a regular, stereotypical bar in Ireland, although the performance as a whole spends little time inside a bar or nightclub. Near the end of the first act, the girl and guy go to a bar in town that has an “open mic” night. Many of the musicians and ensemble cast are sitting in the middle of the set floor, their backs to the audience and instruments in hand, toward the “stage” (the bar counter) to give the impression that they themselves are an audience for the “open mic” night. With chairs placed about three feet away from each other in three rows, the ensemble is able to convincingly portray that the guy (about to be duped by the girl into singing in front of the crowd against his wishes) is playing in front of a vocal and intimidating audience of strangers. Another instance of giving an impression of different location comes during the first act when the girl brings the guy to her home to meet her family. Three multi-colored tables are laid end-to-end in a diagonal line to give the audience an open view of the girl’s family while giving the impression that the audience is in a new area than before, despite the bar room set still standing behind the tables and actors.

Part Two: With a set that stays stagnant throughout both acts, the lighting design by Natasha Katz adds mood and different senses of place throughout the show. During a touching reprise of “Gold” in the second act, the stage and background are immersed in a ray of the aforementioned color, basking the cast the shining light like a coastal sunset.

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