A Force of Nature: Lighting Design with Lynne Hartman

A Force of Nature:
Lighting and Lightning in Venus in Fur

For folks who have read the summary, or have done some light research into the play, Venus in Fur seems to be a risqué show about a dominatrix taking over a theatre audition. But it’s so much more than that.

From the top of the show, an ominous storm blows outside the audition room warning us of the impending force of nature that is about to whip into this space as Vanda Jordan takes our naive and unaware playwright Thomas Novacheck through a journey in his own play that he himself wasn’t prepared for. To capture these moments of power, focus, and control, lighting designer Lynne Hartman has her work cut out for her. We sat down with Lynne to get some idea of what is going through her mind as she works on the design of Venus in Fur.

So tell us a little bit about yourself, Lynne!
Uhh….well I can start at the beginning I’m a Norfolk native. My father was from here but we moved when I was 4 to Richmond. So most of my life has been spent between Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. I’m a freelance lighting designer, a member of United Scenic Artists. I’ve been professionally designing for probably over 35 years I guess. I got into lighting in college, I was a dancer and I was instantly hooked to the program. It was a different direction than I ever thought I would have gone but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So as you work on a design, what kind of things lead you to what we see on stage?
Well of course first, I start reading the script. Sometimes the stage descriptions are very specific and particular about where we are, what that time of day is. This is a newer script, more contemporary, so I was looking for time of day. We know that at the top there is an electrical storm so I’m trying to find...y’know how long does the storm last? So I keep track of that as I read through. There’s a moment when one of the actors actually changes the lighting at a console; it’s those clues that make up the subconscious environment of the show. Then I take those designs and ideas and speak with the director, and it has been really wonderful working with Jessica [Holt, director] she is just...so passionate about this show it...we’ve had some great discussions.

That’s a great lead in, I was going to ask what it’s been like working with Jessica?
It’s been really exciting, when I work on a show I get a little move in my head of what the show looks like and hope that the director is watching the same one. This project, we have been on the same page a lot of the way through. There’s been a lot of discovery, realization, and things we’ve noticed together that has made this project grow more and more...I think I realized it early on with Jessica “hey, I think we all really love this play!” and I think that will especially come through in the production.

So what are the kind of themes and ideas that our audience is going to walk away with at the end of this production?
I think, now more than ever, it’s going to be incredibly interesting and engaging to see how these figured interact in such an environment. It’s interesting, as Jessica’s described, this element of ‘magnetism’ and ‘electricity’ that’s present throughout the production. This power is seen from the storm at the beginning, to the moment when Vanda literally takes control of the lights in the room to manipulate the environment. This production has a little ‘play within a play’ going on, and just like that my light design is ‘a plot within a plot’ which is incredibly fun and exciting to create.

The elements of electricity, power, and nature are all engaging and ever present throughout the production. Since the beginning of the process, director Jessica Holt has been very passionate about the magnetism and power struggle between the two characters and this force of unattainable, misunderstood, and uncontrollable power. As Lynne mentions “electricity is something we have harnessed, manipulated and controlled in an effort to make our lives easy...but it hasn’t always been that…it has been an element of nature that if left unchecked can be destructive.” It’s interesting to see this electric, uncontrolled power on stage, and even more fascinating to watch how the lighting on stage works to paint a growing picture for us all.

Be sure to see this electrifying tour de force between the mysterious and enchanting Vanda and the buttoned up but constantly tested Thomas in our production of Venus in Fur, February 28 - March 19 at Virginia Stage Company.