LD Mary Shabatura Conveys the Changing Moods of The Secret Garden

by Michael Eddy
The Secret Garden as lit by Mary Shabatura
The Secret Garden as lit by Mary Shabatura

For her lighting design for the Artistry group’s 2017 revival of The Secret Garden, LD Mary Shabatura employed a collection of Chauvet Rogues that were supplied by Monkey Wrench Productions. Shabatura used 15 Rogue R2 Washes in her rig for the musical at the Schneider Theatre in Bloomington, MN. Drawing on the color rendering capabilities of the RGBW moving LED lights, she created a seamless flow of immersive looks on stage to accent the story’s sweeping movement through space and time as it shifts from India to England, and as the heroine emerges from a nightmarish scene to see her garden grow.

Love, hope, and beauty have a way of transcending time, place, and culture. This eternal alchemy is at the heart of The Secret Garden, the Tony Award winning musical that follows the transformational journey of Mary Lenox, a young British girl, who moves from India to England after being orphaned and opens a window into a new life by rescuing an abandoned garden at her reclusive uncle’s estate. This metamorphic passage is conveyed in light via Shabatura’s artistry.

“In order to maintain contrast between each scripted location, the color palettes in the show were very specific,” explains Shabatura. “The Rogues were used as part of the rep plot of the space as backlight on the electrics, in tandem with an identical system of PARs. They were critical to creating the colors we needed as the story unfolded. Many of the saturated hues and tight specials came from the Rogue's ability to render solid, saturated color, as well as ‘zoom in’ on just a single character onstage.”

For the ‘India’ base in the show’s prologue, Shabatura used heavily saturated oranges and pinks paired with lattice gobos to evoke the image of tile work mosaic. Later in the narrative, when a cholera outbreak kills Mary’s family leaving her an orphan, the lighting becomes menacing. “At this point, colors of India took a backseat,” says Shabatura. “We had everything lit in a sickly green that washed the cast in a deathly pallor.”

When the story moves to England, Shabatura’s colors became much more neutral, with a lot of cool lavenders and blues. She also created streaky white clouds as well as cool moonlight for the night scenes. For the play’s famous nightmare scenes, she relied mainly on warm amber hues to convey the feeling of candlelight and shafts of cold moonlight emanating from windows of an eerie English mansion.

As the show takes a mystical turn and ghosts of cholera victims appear, Shabatura lights them in cool greens. “I recorded a basic home preset in the console that created a backlight wash that matched the PAR system,” she says. “I could then deviate from that as needed for tight down specials in the nightmare scenes. During these scenes, I used the zoom feature in the Rogues to accent ghosts.”

“I also used the Rogues as part of a lightning effect for the Storm sequences,” continues Shabatura. “I focused them onto scenic elements and members of the cast to maximize the effect, then used a cool white color palette with an effect that I built in the console. I randomized this effect with another effect that used sections of the pipe-end high side ellipsoidal system (gelled to R55). The Rogues were very successful in creating a lightning effect with a punch.”

Once Mary’s nightmare abated and her garden starts to grow, the lighting takes on a more natural and floral palette, with ambers, deeper blues, and accents of pink. The final scene culminates in a burst of highly saturated color that accompanies a lovely silk drop that flew in as the finale begins.

Looking back at her experience lighting The Secret Garden, Shabatura says that one of the most rewarding aspects of this project for her was working with a unique set. “This production took a slightly different take than others, as there were several scenes illustrated with puppetry,” she comments. “I’m referring to both shadow puppetry as well as conventional puppetry. The creative team of Justin Spooner, puppetry coordinator; Annie Henly, scenic/puppet designer; and our director Lisa Channer did an incredible job. We created some engaging visuals, and I’m glad lighting was part of the experience.”

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