Why my design for Miss Saigon is a failure

Posted on Posted in Musings about Light

Ok, that’s a strange headline, don’t you think?  But, I have to admit, it is sort of true.  I’ve been designing a production of Miss Saigon this week for McCoy-Rigby Entertainment and had gone into the process with two very specific design goals.

1. Use period (meaning 1970s) colors to tell the color story.

2. Don’t use moving lights to look like nightclub moving lights.

Well…  I tried.

I picked some of my most favorite old-school colors for lighting the back and side walls including Rosco 23 orange, and Rosco 73 Peacock Blue – both of which I remember vividly from my childhood, only later learning what these colors were.  Even the side booms flood across the stage with simple primary red, blue and green – in a sort of homage to low tech color mixing.  They look fantastic on the set, and the show really shines under these conditions.

The fatal flaw was the decision that, because this show will travel to another location, the moving lights would bear the burden of creating all rich color washes and effects in the show.

Moving lights, with their CMY color mixing can produce some amazingly rich color tones, and I couldn’t resist the temptation.  I avoided that full flag Cyan and Magenta mixture (we often call that congo blue), but mixed such a rich blue with lots of red that it fills the same function as congo blue. Technically, it isn’t congo blue, but without having the two colors side by side, who would ever know?  Additionally, the deep rich pinks that I’m using in the Bangkok section of Act Two are completely wonderful, and totally appropriate for the scenes.  They are just not the colors we had BEFORE moving lights.

Remember when moving lights started?  Like became more widely available and used?  It was the mid-late 1980s, and the band Genesis had bankrolled some research into moving lights and came up with some incredible stuff.  And the colors!  Using dichroic glass for filters, less light was lost and the coating process yeilded these unnaturally clean and crisp color that was worlds away from the colors from the decade before.

The original design for Miss Saigon used moving lights… sure… but in a way that rarely used color beyond the crisp white of the natural fixture.  Lots of pattern, some red.

The bigger question, I think, is whether or not the design we’ve achieved is the best design for the show.  I still wrestle with this, but I know that it isn’t incongruous to everything that is happening onstage, and that the audience is happy to be going along for the journey.  It tells the story; it reinforces the themes, the action, the overall intent of the show.

I’m still thinking about it, and I haven’t come to any conclusions.


One thought on “Why my design for Miss Saigon is a failure

  1. Hi Steven,

    Saw Miss Saigon last night. As an LD at a local university, I just wanted to let you know I was impressed with the design. I do see the point you made in this blog about movers/color, however after my experience at the show (as a audience member rather than a crew member, for once) it did not distract from the ‘vintage-ness’ of the show, nor were any of the slight movements distracting. I especially appreciated how some scenes conveyed a sense of space/depth with just the use of downlighting. Also the helo scene was awesome! Be confident in your work, because it was good!


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