Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper on Illuminating King Lear

Geoffrey Rush

The State Opera of South Australia 2004 production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen began with almost three minutes of utter darkness. The pesky glow of seat markers and air-conditioner LEDs had all been painstakingly obscured or extinguished. Even the orchestra pit was unlit. In that bottomless nothingness, with audiences unable to see their hands in front of their faces, the first sound was the immense growl of a 32-foot organ pipe.

Trust a lighting designer to understand the primal power of darkness. Nick Schlieper, who was both lighting and associate set designer in that production, tends to terminate performances in a dead blackout, plunging audiences into a momentarily disorienting void.

For nearly 30 years, the prolific Schlieper has worked with every major performing arts company in Australia, his efforts gracing more Australian stages, more often, than any person. He lit the way as Australian theatre developed the severe Teutonic style and aesthetic of landmark productions such as director Benedict Andrews’ War of the Roses (2009) and Simon Stone’s Baal (2011).

In the past year Schlieper has lit four Sydney Theatre Company (STC) productions, including Waiting for Godot (restaged at the Barbican in London), and Melbourne Theatre Company’s North by Northwest. And yet his contribution goes more or less unnoticed.

“If you subscribe to the theory that theatre is an act of manipulation, light is one of the principal mediums for that process,” Schlieper says. “But the instant that becomes discernible to an audience, you’ve blown it.”

To read the full story please visit The Monthly.

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