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Revisiting Tragedy

Jason Reberski • Answer Box • May 1, 2007

How a lighting designer for a college production created a dramatic fog effect that didn’t steal focus.

As both a theatrical design student and a freelance lighting designer, I’ve come across my fair share of difficult situations. The challenge posed in Deborah Brevoort’s play The Women of Lockerbie, at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was no exception. 

The play takes place seven years after the crash of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the script mandates that a few, very plot-specific, atmospheric effects be created. There was a lot of discussion early on regarding the subtlety of the fog effects that would appear throughout much of the show.

As lighting and special effects designer for the production, I was charged with developing a versatile system capable of delivering both subtle and dramatic fog effects onstage. Since the audience was in very close proximity to the action taking place on the thrust stage, there was also some concern of fog drifting into the audience and pulling focus.

There were many opportunities for the introduction of fog onstage with this set. However, most of the preliminary solutions looked great on paper but, in reality, proved to be far too visible in the intimate atmosphere of the Philip Lynch Theatre.

The scenic design was done by Harold McCay, who is the technical director of the theatre. His abstract set was reminiscent of Scottish hills and the ruins of Greek theatres. Harold decided to use a type of burlap fabric, which he painted and textured, for the fascia of the platforms that composed the set.

I realized that the burlap had a lot of open surface area and was actually porous enough to allow the movement of air through it. So I designed and developed a system in which the fog, from a Look Solutions Viper NT DMX fog generator, was drawn into an accumulator (stuffer) box by a 134 CFM centrifugal blower. The box acted as a plenum for fog and air, giving the aerosol time to expand. The blower pressurized the fog and sent it out through more than 50 feet of 4- inch ducting. After passing through several manifolds and subsequent sections of ducting, the fog emerged through the porous burlap fascia in six different locations on the set. The use of a quick dissipating fluid ensured that the fog didn’t drift into the audience or linger for any appreciable length of time once the cues were over.

The final effect was subtle and diffused. I like to think of the solution as a “scrim” for fog effects. Most important, perhaps, is that the thematic and visual elements of the script were supported by a combination of various technologies. It truly is “better theatre through science.”

Jason Reberski is a freelance lighting designer based out of Chicago. He can be contacted at JRLightingDesign@comcast.net.

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