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Digital Publishing
Fabrizio Crisafulli
Issues of Light in Contemporay Theatre
ISBN-13: 978-1494786922
available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble catalogue:
New release
This book looks at various important events relating to the poetics of light in
theatre production in the West in the twentieth century, from the great refor-
mists at the beginning of the century to contemporary artists such as Josef
Svoboda, Alwin Nikolais and Robert Wilson. The intention isnt to outline a
somewhat organised history of stage lighting, instead it is an attempt to iden-
tify some basic issues concerning its use. Lighting issues are unshackled from
the limited contexts of technique and image, where they often end up only to
be relegated, and examined in the context of the performances space/time
structure, poetic and dramatic construction, and the relationship with the per-
former. A section dedicated to the theatrical work of the author outlines the
distinctive point of view behind the book, regarding the creative processes
and the operational relationship with technique. The title Active Light is a
direct reference to Adolphe Appia who, at the end of the nineteenth century,
was one of the rst to deal with the issue of light explicitly as an artistic issue
in theatre, with his own writings and creations. As far as Appia was concerned
lumire active was expressive light, creating shapes, forming poetic matter
and dramatic substance.
Drawing inspiration from philosophers, artists and theatre-makers, Crisaful-
li exhibits a rich theoretical, historical and practical understanding of lighting
sensitive towards its emplacement, its mobility and its absence as well
as a prociency in activating architecture, bodies and shadows. Rather than
advocate a single approach or exhibit a signature aesthetic, his scholarly and
practice-based research illustrates a broad and persistent inquiry into lights
potential: dramaturgically, poetically and experientially. This book is an expli-
cation not only on how light acts, but how, as an event in itself, it activates
both things and thinking
Dorita Hannah, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
Fabrizio Crisafulli advocates an active role for light on the stage. In his book he
counters those who believe that light should not consciously draw attention to
itself in performance. He brings us back to the aspirations of Appia in providing
a reminder of the essential and dynamic role that light brings to performance
and also of its future potential.
Scott Palmer, University of Leeds, UK
Its a unique book in the context of Italian historiography on theatre, which clever-
ly combines rigorous historical research conducted through a solid and rened me-
thodology and aesthetic awareness fed by eldwork. This volume happily reconci-
les the almost constant discrepancy between historiography and scenic practices.
Renzo Guardenti, University of Florence, Italy
Its a ne example of combination of historiographic and artistic interests. For
many years Fabrizio Crisafullis theatre research has involved the in depth study
of all luminous and illuminating phenomena, where light is not just a stage
tool, but has transpired as a tool which makes you aware of reality in all its
aspects. Light is used in all possible ways and technique never sacrices artistic
Cristina Grazioli, University of Padua, Italy
Crisafulli focuses on the linguistic value of light. This book is an interesting and
useful contribution for those students and artists who wish to go deeper into
some aspects of theatre production that manuals usually skip or minimize.
Antonio Pizzo, University of Turin, Italy
Self-Analysis of Research in Progress
189 Place, body, light
204 Theatres of light, dramas of technique, mobile architecture
223 Afterword
by Luca Farulli
227 Sources of illustrations
229 Bibliography
251 Index
11 The Event og Light
by Dorita Hannah

17 Preface
Object Light, Body Light
25 Electric shows
31 Loie Fullers light dance
Cosmic Light
41 Mariano Fortuny: the distinction between sky and land
48 Adolphe Appia and light as the creator of form
60 Dramatic light, cosmic light: Edward Gordon Craig
70 Alexandre de Salzmann and the absolute light
Light as Action
87 The music of colours
95 The futurist illuminating scenogaphy
106 Vasily Kandinsky and the inner sound of light
115 Light and intercode: Lszl Moholy-Nagy, Ludwig
Dramaturgy of Light
129 Modes of active light
141 Structure of active light
Poetic Maturity and New Techniques of Active Light
151 Josef Svoboda and dynamic light/set interaction
162 Alwin Nikolais: light and body in decentralised space
166 Robert Wilson and the Theatre of Images
174 New technologies, new issues
1. Playbill for Danse du Feu by Loie Fuller
at Folies Bergre in Paris, 1897
The Event of Light
by Dorita Hannah
Ive learned from Fredegiso of Tours that darkness and
light are degrees of the same phenomenon, and from John
Cage that silence can be heard, therefore darkness can
be seen. From the 19th-century Swiss set designer and
theorist Adolphe Appia Ive learned that shadows are the
substance of vision, and from author Italo Calvino that the
most effective images are those that let people create their
own mental view of what theyre looking at.
Fabrizio Crisafulli
I discovered these inspiring words, chosen to preface this timely
book on Active Light, many years ago while ipping through a
theatre lighting magazine and was struck by a lyricism rarely
found in literature on the subject. Too often lighting design is
regarded as a primarily technological skill and expressive tool,
utilized to serve the overall poetics of a production, rather than a
collaborative and performative art form in its own right: capable
of challenging spatiotemporal conventions, not only of the stage
but also of the lived world. It is therefore no surprise that many
of the signicant players referred to by Fabrizio Crisafulli in the
following chapters are radical artists, directors, perform
ers, theorists and architects revolutionary thinkers and makers
who maintain light is indeed an engaging and challenging force.
Crisafulli himself encompasses such varying roles and here pres-
ents an erudite survey of modern lighting design as well as a
compelling exposition of his own creative work on and off the
conventional stage.
In English the word light connotes both a doing (as in the act
of illuminating something) and a thing done (as in illumination
itself). This conuence of verb and noun also applies to design,
which is both a creative undertaking and the resulting artefact.
Light Design designing the light and lighting the design
is therefore highly active. This book outlines how illumination
does more than give shape, drama or character to staged events,
but in fact performs as a discrete element within the sensory
performance landscape. In doing so it en-lightens informs, in-
structs, claries and undertakes theoretical work just as Cri-
safulli does throughout this publication and in his renowned
workshops with students and designers.
How wonderful to begin with Loie Fuller whose dance of light
was a dynamic amalgamation of spirited movement, ow-
ing textiles, coloured light and hyperbolic body. Representing
something utterly modern and dramatically excessive, Fullers
pioneering spectacle was dependent on technologies concealed
in both stage and costume. Less than a decade before the -
ery Fuller took to the stage, Richard Wagner had plunged the
auditorium into darkness when he inadvertently extinguished,
rather than lowered, the houselights during the inauguration of
his Bayreuth Festspielhaus. This happy accident, which shocked
the audience at the time, led to a general expectation that spec-
tators sit in the dark gazing towards a lit box of tricks full of
concealed technology. Yet, as Crisafulli expounds, the magic lies
not in the apparatus but in the artistry, which, since the audito-
rium went to black in 1876, has consistently challenged the box,
its machinery and performers, as well as those spectators caught
within its glow.
One of the major perceptual revolutions over the last century has
been the move from a spatialization of time to a temporalization
of space. Objects and environments are no longer immutable
material situated in perpetual time, but are understood as events:
active and mobile through elemental variations and a dense lay-
ering of realities and virtualities. Vibrating at a molecular level,
they uctuate in temperature while gathering and shedding mat-
ter. Such micro-performances are affected by light as well as
revealed and concealed by both its presence and its absence. As
a forceful temporal phenomenon, light itself can also be consid-
ered an event, or even a series of multiple events.
As time-based phenomena events occur at varying scales from
major epic occurrences, to produced aesthetic spectacles, to nu-
merous tiny incidents happening all around us and even out-
side the theatre their authenticity is called into doubt. The world
itself has become a stage upon which global politics and medi-
ated communication are played out through designed perfor-
mances, which range from advertising and socializing through
to acts of terrorism and war. Inuencing our spatial awareness
and temporal sensitivity, light plays a signicant role in the
delineation and experience of historic, dramatic and quotidian
events. An immaterial material it can have an unsettling impact,
dening our experiences and often signaling danger and the
uncanny: seen in the are of a match, the discharge of a spark,
the blinking of machines, the streaming of data, the luminosity
of screens, and the ash of distant bombardment brought into
our seemingly safe living rooms. All of these effects taking place
in ambient lighting, under a blaze of uorescents, within icker-
ing tributaries of trafc; veiled by gloom or through the haze of
smoke, mist and fog. Insubstantial light is substantially effective
and affective.
Crisafulli refers to the impressive accomplishments of Josef Svo-
boda who maintained that every time he faced an empty stage
from which to create sets and lights, it was like confronting an
active light
abyss: not only because of its darkness but its boundlessness.
Although often a box of limited dimensions, the stage dees
space and time in its sanctioned role of collapsing the here and
now on the there and then: calling forth its gods and ghosts and
temporarily transporting the audience to multiple places and ep-
ochs. As a phantasmatic force, light plays a critical part in the
spatiotemporal constructions, deconstructions and personica-
tions emerging from the void. Yet, as Crisafulli also points out,
the stage has left the theatre, seeking other sites with their own
materialities, atmospheres, histories and phantoms, or occupy-
ing the dislocated realms of immersive theatre and cyberspace.
While we have marvelled at Robert Wilsons three-dimensional
lightscapes where highly trained performers nd their marks
that allow for the precise illumination of a ngertip, and at Wil-
liam Forsythes experimentations in which dancers manoeuvre
mobile lights around the stage as a choreography of moving
shadows, we now have performance ensembles that utilize tech-
nology to connect audiences across dispersed locations. In Gob
Squads Super Night Shot the citys ambient light is employed
for one-off movies created by four performers who move cam-
eras through the streets an hour before the audience arrives at
the theatre to see the resulting live-mixed multi-projection. Blast
Theory also relies on existing urban lighting for Rider Spoke in
which each participating audience member cycles alone in the
nocturnal city, discovering and sharing sites via an intercon-
necting device with screen and earphones. Punchdrunk Theatre
creates events in huge multi-storied warehouses black boxes
nesting more black boxes through which masked spectators
randomly wander, encountering a labyrinth of barely lit, highly
detailed installations that momentarily become animated with
scattered performances. Fuerza Bruta orchestrates 360-degree
sensory experiences by transforming large spaces into night-
clubs for aerial performances with spectacular lighting accompa-
nied by the many glowing screens of spectators mobile phones
recording the event to be redistributed across social networks.
The mobile phone has become the new illuminated box of tricks,
replicated throughout the auditorium and conventionally extin-
guished with the houselights.
Drawing inspiration from philosophers, artists and theatre-mak-
ers, Crisafulli exhibits a rich theoretical, historical and practical
understanding of lighting sensitive towards its emplacement,
its mobility and its absence as well as a prociency in activat-
ing architecture, bodies and shadows. Rather than advocate a
single approach or exhibit a signature aesthetic, his scholarly
and practice-based research illustrates a broad and persistent
inquiry into lights potential: dramaturgically, poetically and ex-
perientially. This book is an explication not only on how light
acts, but how, as an event in itself, it activates both things and
1. Quoted in M. Clark, Avant-garde Artistry. Lighting Takes Center Stage in the
Works of Fabrizio Crisafulli, Lighting Dimensions, 3, New York, April 1997.
foreword active light
64. The Magic Flute by W. A. Mozart,
produced by Robert Wilson, 1991
This book looks at various important events in the theatre
production in the twentieth century, in terms of the poetics of
light. The intention isnt to outline a history of stage lighting
which is to a certain extent comprehensive, instead it is an
attempt to identify some basic issues concerning the subject,
which in my opinion have been given little consideration up
until this point. The title Active Light is a direct reference to
Adolphe Appia who, at the end of the nineteenth century, was
one of the rst to deal with the issue of light explicitly as an
artistic issue in theatre with his own writings and creations. As
far as Appia was concerned lumire active was expressive light
creating shapes, forming poetic matter and dramatic substance.
He set these ideas against the most common theatre practices of
his time, where light was basically viewed as illumination, a
technical, functional element, something which was secondary,
and even external, to the creative process.
One of the reasons behind this book is the fact that the ideas
Appia was ghting against still continue in present day theatre,
to a degree which is not insignicant. Innovative ideas such as
those of Appia, Craig and other artists who came later, some of
whom will be discussed in this book, have essentially remained
on the sidelines in terms of actual inuence on the methods
by Fabrizio Crisafulli
of using light. These methods seemed to mainly develop under
the inuence of business and production needs, then established
techniques and conventions, as happened generally in theatre.
Another motive behind this work is the persistence, in my
opinion, of a certain void in considering the poetic issues of
light techniques in theatre an uncertainty surrounding ideas
and in identifying the issues, which more often than not are
dened within the limited contexts of technique and image, and
which fail to also take account of the action, meaning, dramatic
construction, and space-time structure of the performance,
aspects which should be capturing attention.
The events and characters discussed have expressed, and
continue to express, a basic standpoint that light is an element
which is structural, constructive, poetic, and dramaturgic. Such
a standpoint is at odds with the idea of isolating light from the
previously mentioned artistic issues surrounding the theatre, and
contrary to the widespread idea of light as a surface element, an
afterthought to be dealt with in the nal days of rehearsals,
something that gives the performance its fancy wrapping or
spectacular effects.
Obviously only some of the most signicant experiences, past
and present, have been considered. As mentioned previously,
the idea wasnt to reconstruct a comprehensive journey through
The rst three chapters of the book deal with experiences relating
to the period spanning from the last decade of the nineteenth
century until the late twenties in the twentieth century. This is
a period in which I feel most of the important issues regarding
light as poetry, action and drama have been essentially outlined.
A particularly crucial phase was the period that straddled
the two centuries, due to developments brought about by the
advent of electricity. It was in this period that light acquired
new qualities which gave it a wide range of possibilities, even
if conicting at times on the one hand the possibility of
condensing light, making it a material which was malleable as it
had never been before, and on the other hand the possibility of
dematerialisation, in relation to adjusting intensity, determining
incidence of light, and using projection. Switching light off
completely was also possible for the rst time, and therefore
total darkness as a result. Furthermore, power was amplied
and reection, transmission and refraction were enriched and
multiplied, all very signicant conditions in creating drama with
light. In relation to these developments light acquired the totally
new potential of moulding space and time, of becoming music,
unspeakable matter, cosmological substance, and materialising
in objects and bodies, becoming the action itself. Basically
becoming a theatrical language and xture.
During the initial decades of the twentieth century this potential,
faced with a wealth of ideas, often came up against considerable
obstacles due to the inevitable lack of experience of technicians
and limits of instrumentation. We only have to think of the
many Italian futurist experiments which were real forerunners
at a conceptual level, yet failed when put into practice. Or the
gap between projects with great theoretical insight and poetic
signicance, such as those of Appia or Craig, and their realisation.
It was only in much later years, during the second half of the
century, that the right conditions transpired to enable the actual
union of expressive aspirations and effective possibilities of
implementation, as in the extremely important experiences of
artists such as Josef Svoboda, Alwin Nikolais and Robert Wilson,
to whom a chapter is dedicated.
I have put the chapter Dramaturgy of Light between the section
on founding events before the thirties and the section on recent
experiences. It constitutes an exploration through the issues
and an outline of the paths that light techniques in the theatre
embarked on throughout the whole of the twentieth century,
in the search for its own inner motivation and structural
A section is dedicated to the music of colours, a subject which
on the face of it seems extraneous to the theatre, because at
certain times it has expressed important aspirations of structural
research with regard to creating with light, even though it has
active light
mainly produced experiences of little signicance from an artistic
point of view. This is an important subject as it concerns the
effort to identify various rules (constructive, compositional and
dramaturgical) on which to base a possible expressive autonomy
of light autonomy that constitutes a necessary condition
for light to enter, as Kandinsky put it, on an equal footing in
relationships with other aspects of theatrical expression, such as
speech, the body, sound and movement. Chromatic music was in
this respect a benchmark for various artists (Balla, Kandinsky,
Hirschfeld-Mack and many others) involved in the search for
possible dramaturgies of light and its structural relationships,
especially with sound, form, and movement. The altogether
peculiar episode of the salle eclairante of Alexandre de Salzmann
in Hellerau, designed to assert absolute light in theatre, with
its own independent life, wasnt irrelevant to the aspirations
of chromatic music. In my opinion this episode represented an
extreme reaction to the service status that light usually had
in the theatre, in addition to a radical attempt to recover its
spiritual values.
Finally, it should be emphasised that this publication has arisen
from observations made in a working environment, rather than
from specic academic interests, given that it has been written
by a theatre director and not a historian. It is therefore the result
of convictions, motivations and emotional stimuli spurred on by
observations on the job. For this reason, a distinct part of the
book is dedicated to light in my own theatrical research, a subject
I dont want to give extra importance to in this context, other
than to better explain the viewpoint that led me to looking at
some experiences over others, and according to which problems
were identied and their reading directed.
Maybe it should be stated (though Ill come back to this topic)
that looking at the importance of light here is not the same as
maintaining that light design must necessarily have a leading
role in performance. This isnt the point. Light by its very
essence demands to have a poetic, constructive and dramatic
role in theatre, on a par with other elements, such as the script,
the actors, and sound. However, this could correspond as much
to solutions centred on the use of complex instrumentation, as to
solutions that require the use of very little equipment. The issue
isnt about the amount of equipment used or its technological
sophistication, or leading roles of light; its about the way
light is used, the quality of its relationships with the other
components on stage, and with the art it underpins. Regardless
of technicalities.
preface active light
Alcune iniziative romane esaltano larcheologia collocandola in uno spazio
di interferenza con altri territori []. A questi eventi si deve aggiungere lap-
porto diffuso dellarte che reinterpreta forme e luoghi dellarcheologia at-
traverso interventi site specific. Come nelle proiezioni di Jenny Holzer sul
Teatro di Marcello o sulla Mole di Castel SantAngelo o nellevento multi-
mediale di Fabrizio Crisafulli che a Ponte Milvio evoca i suoni e i colori della
battaglia di Massenzio.
Giovanna Donini, Paesaggi dellallestimento, testo introduttivo a Id. (a
cura di), Larchitettura degli allestimenti, Kappa, Roma, 2010, p. 27
archive / archivio
Et molto meravigliosi da vedere,
installazioni di luce sui ponti di Roma,
2003. Lintervento a Ponte Milvio
Archivio romi_Layout 1 9/10/13 2:13 PM Pagina 228
Artdigiland Ltd
23, Grifth Down - The Crescent
Drumcondra, D9 Dublin
Rep. of Ireland -
Et molto meravigliosi da vedere,
by Fabrizio Crisafulli
Installation, Rome 2003