LD Meelis Lusmägi Lights Mamma Mia in Estonia

by Michael Eddy
Mamma Mia in Estonia lit by LD Meelis Lusmägi
Mamma Mia in Estonia lit by LD Meelis Lusmägi

TARTU, ESTONIA—Lighting designer, Meelis Lusmägi lit the first Estonian production of Mamma Mia, which was produced at the Vanemuine Theatre’s ‘big house’ in Tartu, Estonia. For this production Lusmägi used the Vanemuine’s house rig which includes a number of Robe moving lights, to light the lively and colourful show set on the Greek island of Kalokairi. This non-replica version of Mamma Mia was licensed by Musical Theatres International show and was directed by Ain Mäeots who assembled the creative team for this show.

Further information from Robe (www.robe.cz)

Andres Sarv, head of lighting at Vanemuine initially suggested that Lusmägi would be a great choice since he'd worked on previous musicals and other productions with Mäeots. The director understands the crucial importance of technical elements like lighting in any production and to the completion of his vision. He and Mäeots have a fluid creative dialogue with each understanding what the other needs and wants to achieve in respect of telling the story. 

Lusmägi has actually been working with Robe products since he first discovered the ColorSpot 1200E AT circa 2005, and has always been a big fan of the brand, a loyalty which has remained and grown over the years. Among the best things about Robe is the reliability he states. “Right from the start their products have been rock solid, which has been further boosted with all the LED technology now being utilised which makes them all the more indestructible!” 

He also finds the light weight of the products very useful. It means they can be rigged easily in a variety of places. So naturally he was delighted to be able to use the Robe fixtures at Vanemuine to light this stage show. The lights are all rigged on the big house’s extensive above-stage house bar system. The MMX Spots are being used for effects, gobo looks, texturing the set, etc. and for all the big dance numbers when the stage needs to come alive and look very animated. The MMX offers “an excellent range” of effects says Lusmägi.

Vanemuine’s house rig includes a number of Robe moving lightswith 20 MMX Spots, 10 600E Spots, 30 LEDWash 1200s and 12 LEDWash 600s. The LEDWashes are used for all the basic stage washes. “I love them, they are fantastic for theatre shows, the quality of the wash is smooth and even—and they can produce the full spectrum of warm and cold colours needed for any show.” The 600E Spots were used for specials and for supporting the MMX Spots with another layer of effects and atmospheric treatment.

Challenges of lighting Mamma Mia included large numbers of people onstage at certain times and ensuring that they were all well-lit, and also lighting the set—designed by Riina Degtjarenko from the Estonian Drama Theatre. Reflecting the balmy temperatures of the Greek Islands, the eclectic mix of characters, the different lifestyles and heady emotions of the story was a lot of detail to get across in a short time, so the scenic aspects included many white and pastel surfaces and props. While reflective and light coloured elements assisted lighting in some ways, Lusmägi was also under pressure to be very precise and detailed in focussing and choosing his effects and colours. It also made getting the few darker scenes properly dark an interesting task. He has enjoyed working on the production and with the entire team—creative, production and all the cast, “Everyone is fun and full of positive energy. It’s been a great experience all round”.

For Mäeots, who’s been a fan of ABBA since childhood when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and it was extremely difficult to access any ‘western’ music, ensuring the work is coherent, entertaining and superbly produced is an emotional as well as a directorial journey. “Estonian audiences are extremely critical when it comes to theatre, you can’t fob them off with clichés … it has to be a careful balance of humour and poignancy to get the narrative across.”

Director Mäeots recalls seeing the first Mamma Mia touring production in Tallinn 15 years ago, which he didn’t like. Proudly Estonian, he wanted to ensure that as the first Estonian production, this was one of the best and most critically acclaimed Mamma Mia’s worldwide. “Lighting and set are absolutely crucial to how the production is presented and received by the public. I really love the way lighting technology is advancing and increasing our options all the time … it’s like oxygen,” he says.

Vanemuine is in a unique position of having all the resources and talent in-house to produce big shows of this quality including the technology, technicians and engineers, actors / dancers and musicians. The production, executive produced by Marika Goldman, will also play the Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, and is expected to run for several months, such has been the demand for tickets.