Interview with Pavel Kotlík

Pavel Kotlík is the fresh prize winner for the lighting design, which was awarded for the fourth time as a part of the Festival of Czech contemporary dance and movement theater Czech Dance Platform. His path towards  lighting design led through a romantic running away from school to the theater and then across a range of theatrical genres – from opera, through drama, ballet, modern and classical dance, to independent projects in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Pavel Kotlik was awarded by the prize for production of Found and Lost by  Charlotte Öfverholm, a dance choreographer of the  dance association VerteDance

What is it like to receive an award for lighting design?

It’s a pretty satisfaction to certain degree, at the same time, there is a lot of feelings. And they are all super!

Do you think that the staging of Found and Lost deserved the prize or did you have another favorite?

I am completely satisfied. In the same season, I prepared a production of How much desire weight? for the same company and that is a performance for which I don’t have to be ashamed of, but Lost and Found is a cleaner, more compact in my view.

It seems that you’ve got the prize a little bit at your home ground, in the Ponec theater, where you work as a chief technician, where  the  VerteDance regularly performs and where the prize itself was handed over.

As I said, it’s satisfaction, because in fact it must have been the devil in it not to get the price one day! (laughter, pause) when I had so many opportunities. As Petr Voříšek says, this is the prize for longtime merits and so the price went to me this year.

At the time when the price for lighting design still wasn’t officially awarded, you have won recognition for the performance Last step forward by Slovak dancer Jan Viňarský. How would you compare these two awards?

Now I cannot judge, because the Last step forward has been played already several  years and it’s a performance rehearsed in detail and tested over time. In contrast, the Lost and Found is just over a year old, so these performances can be compared after, say, other 8 to 10  years.

I rather perceive it that it was a first great step forward for me. At the time of the Last step forward, I was much younger professionally as a designer so I had more courage and I ignored what anybody would think about that.  A significant part of the Lost and Found was created by a choreographer who, of course,  has an elaborate lighting design. Charlotte Öfverholm is much more experienced than Jaro was at that time.

How do you view the actual evaluation of artistic professions?

Certainly, it is very important. And furthermore nice! But generally, I have some troubles with it. Even though it has no financial prestige, her prestige in the community remains. And especially in this way, any price makes our work visible to the outside world. I mean just the rest of the theater, directors, choreographers, production managers. Finally after years, it becomes apparent that this field even exist and most importantly that it really is worth attention.

How would you look at the work of your colleagues as a potential juror?

I am an autodidact, so I don’t even know which criteria I should choose and for what give points. I see as the most important that the performance should form a whole. Light, sound, scene should work as streams that merge into a single stream, from which a river arises. Simply, that there be sufficiently strong inflow of light.

When you are, as you say, an autodidact, what was your way to the theater and lighting?

I started in 1996 at the Řeznická  theater. I got interested in Theater pilgrimage at the Střelecký Island and on Kampa Island. They were made by Forman Brothers, Eva Holubová, Václav Koubek, Buchty a loutky and many others. It fascinated me so much that I stopped learning to be a carpenter and decided to join the theater.

And what was the initiation experience, when you said to yourself, “Yes, I want to do the  lights!”?

I remember that quite accurately. It was Na voru Theater of Frederika Smetanová,  there was a French lighting designer there. And I watched how it worked. I remember that it was amazing to see what you could do with lights. Much, much more than I had previously imagined. But it fascinated me most that he studied at a college in France and graduated from the lighting of PAR. It was absolutely dreamy for me. And so it struck me clear at that moment.

I had been attracted to the lights already long time. As I mentioned, I worked in the Řeznická Theater at that time. It worked there so that everyone did everything. For example, we dismounted the scene, took away old scenery, brought in new, erected all, rehung lights, rehearsed, played the performance. I very often managed it technically by myself, it depended on the complexity of the production. In 1996, this was the standard  Řeznická  Theater. A completely classic in a small theater. The technology was manipulated by one person.

The Theater in Řeznická is a different type of a theater than the Ponec Theater, what was your shift from drama to dance?

The Prague Chamber Ballet. I worked there from 1999 with Daniel Tesař and later with Filip Šamalík. We were managing their performances and tours from the technical side. I learned the craft there. One can say that I was “educated” by Daniel there. He was very close to the ballet, he even worked as an editor for the Radio Classic at that time, had a good track of classical music. So I first met with what can be called a lighting design, and it was only a small step from there to Ponec Theater. School tours were great, which was being used regularly and mainly not only in Bohemia, so this can be a lot to learn.

Prize for lighting design was awarded to you for performance Vertedance, in which your wife dances as well. How this personal and work aspect at the same affects your joint work?

Verte is three of us, Tereza Ondrová, Veronika Kotlíková and me. It is set so from the very beginning that the girls dance and I am with them as a technician, lighting designer, lighting electrician.

Do you then consider yourself to be a full member of the group?

Definitely, it has been always counted with me and counts for the next production as well. I was at the kickoff of all performances. These productions come into existence on the basis of joint and intense work. From the very beginning of thoughts, idea  and forming  the style of work.

Can we therefore say that this intense and extra long-standing cooperation with a lighting designer is actually unique?

Yes, but I’m trying very intensely and closely to cooperate with other groups, no matter whether it is a family collaboration. Of course, the funny thing is that we deal at home with children and then with work. I take it at the same time as a bonus and a handicap of this type of profesního and human encounter.

Is there any other key to the issue, how you approach individual choreographies?

Each choreography is a unique encounter. That is the big advantage over the drama, where the text is firmly fixed, to which you must stick, the situations are firmly fixed in space and time, and very often in light as well. The dancing pool is much freer in this regard and provides many more options.

But this is beside the point, the main point is to suck people, the energy that’s in it – and I’m trying to get some kind of an expression of the atmosphere.

The lights are basically a servant of a performance where actors, dancers should be primarily seen. There are, however situations in dance where it isn’t necessary to see all the details, but only the whole of the scene, or vice versa to suppress the whole and to highlight a gesture. There is a limited amount of those options, how to lighten actor is actually really simple. But interesting are the moments when it is necessary to change the angle of view – for instance to select one of the possible directions of light based on the direction of the movement of a dancer. Only thanks to intensities, usage of the correct type of a light source and direction, it is possible to let others disappear and “pull” the vital part. It is not necessary to use additional special light.

You have your style, your own language, that you use and repeat? You are very often associated with intense color lighting.

I very much like to use fields and an evenly lightened whole of the stage. The most distinctively floor, front, back, side. This is the basis for me, I believe that dancers are best seen in the direction of the light from the side on a tripod or in the towers, usually at the level of the head. Furthermore, the light from the side models body well.

The direction and angle of light is just one thing, but the coloring will help to the production more. I am very often too descriptive, which means that I am trying to add color to the given situation as I perceive it. The key to all this is actually simple: for the sad atmosphere, I choose dark colors,  for a cheerful one happy colors. One old lighting electrician’s advice is that when a water goblin creeps out, use the green color, when the devil then red. (laughs) It works just in the same way, only I just created my own law. There’s a zero, showing the sort of “a normal situation”. This zero may not be used in the show at all costs. It serves as a sort of a springboard from which to I determines to myself what’s hot and what’s cold. It doesn’t have to be always blue and orange, it can be completely different colors, but they always stand  in contrast.

This means that a spectator can consider the pinkish white light to be white after an hour presentation… That is something I like and I am heading towards it.

So what is the “zero”, the center the case of the Lost and Found show?

243 Lee Flouroscent 3600K ** from the company LEE filters, that is the zero, which is, however, not used there.

So you define the “zero” as a springboard – as the basis from which you seek another color?  

Exactly so, and I proceed further actually quite intuitively. In the case of the Found and Lost, the “side lights“ are from PC 1Kw. There is 241 Lee Flourescent in the lower lights and warm 245 Half Plus Green in the upper ones. There is no 243, even though it was my “zero” at the beginning. In these colors, there is a dark green inserted into the PAR‘s. Par is stronger as you know in comparison with the PC, this means that the light gives warmer impression. The cold floor is used, for example, in the scene where the mother dies. This scene is so the coldest one, it’s such a dying light.

In the case of the Lost and Found, I got a request from choreographer Charlotte Öfverholm for hot and cold color, so I gave it to her. Only in shades of green. Red impacts there as a “work light” and on the other hand, profiles with gobama gives the nonwhite impression. ***

Many lighting designers talk about the stage as a canvas on which they draw their images. Would you agree?

It is a playground where you can play. It is not a canvas, the lights itself don’t exist. You can dance alone, but it’s stupid, you can play the music to yourself and it’s pretty good, but to turn on the lights to yourself, only   few fools as us really do that. I disagree and do not think that theater is like a canvas. It can be a canvas within a story, but it does not work like that as such.

Among the current staging trends, there is not only the inclusion of live music and musicians directly on the stage, but even lighting electricians also sometimes “play”. How do you perceive this?

A lighting technician is the captain on the bridge, who cannot leave the ship. I see it in the way that I am a sort of a helmsman who needs to bring the crew and cargo, respectively viewers (laughter), safely to the port. It is also one of the reasons why until now I didn’t know what it is like to thank the audience. I have already the premier behind me already. I think I chose a very nice situation where people thanked in a standing position at the performance Simulante Bande. It was a very beautiful and powerful experience in my life, comparable with the prize for lighting design. I have to say that the prize just gave me a certain permission to penetrate the stage.

You try hard so the live lights in each performance emanate from the moment at the scene, so they work with that given space?

Reprise – everything is here figured out already, changes programmed, it’s done in a kind of way. Actually, it’s just about to find the moment again and repeat it. But it’s damn hard in the theater. Of course I always try to find it again, so it work out, and of course, there are situations where it wouldn’t work out. And that’s what I enjoy most at the theater – mistakes, people make mistakes. That’s what makes theater to be theater.

It is also related to the fact that if I do the introduction in different space, I have extract maximum out of it. The Ponec Theater is a kind of a base, clean space for me. But every other house offers something new. Certain specifics, somewhere a column, portal, some limitations always lurk. It is important to sensitively combine what is happening on stage at the moment and what I have prepared.

Additional question – if your light a performance, do you prefer to control the panel manually with submasters or with the programmed time through the Go button? ****

Depends when, depends what. It is 50 to 50 at home. I light some performances from the GO, some by the hand. I usually have GO ready, but I blend them manually, I use some of them on time because of the timing with the audio and the like. I sometimes use submasters, for instance, where I have individual fields, which I then combine live according to what is happening on the stage.

You say “home” and think PONEC, your home stage. Do you see this as an advantage that you know every corner, brick, extension cable there?

Yes and no. I don’t know, how I would better answer this question. I’m at home in the Ponec Theater, I enjoy the space. It is possible to work there very well. It is not defined anyhow, because it’s basically just empty space.

How the experience of Prague Dance Festival does enrich you professionally?

It’s always very interesting to meet someone of the world importance.

The festival is visited by large teams that can afford great lighting electricians, great lighting designers, and it is quite nice to see the craft in such high quality. At the same time, I am pleased to discover that we have nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t do the craft below average.

And regions? Does the Prague Dance Festival tests the quality of the local technical equipment and technicians with its trips?

Regions are a challenge for me. Today, the locals make fun of me already. I am known for trying to make full use of theaters so the rake must be remodeled, space change, vacuum-clean, clean up, rehang (laughs). I see it as a mission and it’s nice that the Prague Dance Festival covers back quite nicely. By that I mainly mean the support in the form of materials, transportation, background, etc.. When someone works only for himself, he cannot be so much naughty.

Of course, the situation in the region changes. Those guys, and it doesn’t matter whether they are 60 or 25, see some quality of the work. How the lights can be used in a different way. We visit the regions for many years with this festival and it is quite interesting to disturb the taboos that they have. For example, that the PAR is used only to big beat and doesn’t belong to the theater. Today, they already have PAR’s in the houses, because they saw how they can be used and they use them in a different way as well. They know how to work with a profile, floodlight, and the barndoors are quite nice (laughs). That filters are quite fine and that it pays off to  change the position of the lights. Of course, sometimes it goes and sometimes it does not.

It makes me happy to go back to places where we were and look for things that I once deliberately left there. One time a screw hook, barndoors, color frames, ground tripod. I felt then that I had my share on that when a ground tripod started being used in a sleepy hollow. However, some places are bulletproof.

One can feel from this answer that things are changing for the better …

Something has changed everywhere, and definitely for the better, but it’s slower than I’m getting old (laughs). I thought that the change would still be faster, the generation would alter and new people would come. This is often done, but so many sunk into oblivion as well as the previous generation. Moreover, I feel that some resist the technology too much, it brings an extra work in their eyes. It follows from that to me that they don’t enjoy the work, and that’s a pity.

Is there a way of self-education that you would recommend to your colleagues?

Of course. Go to Brno, educate yourself there! (laughs)

Do you think of any particular place in Brno?

Yes, BA of the stage technology at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts. Which is unfortunately the only place in the Czech Republic where you can do something like this. The Institute of Lighting Design is indeed great, but it’s not a substitute of the highest level.

In regard to your career – is there any way that you went through and that could be followed?

Everybody has his way. As I said, I see myself primarily as a man of theater, this is such icing on the cake, my profession. I have long worked with the lights, but I didn’t see myself as a lighting designer. For a long time, I hadn’t even seen a lighting designer, there always had been someone who somehow did it –a director, set designer, lighting electrician, the co-operation worked in these different combinations. But there was no one who cared only about lights and at the same time had the power to change and determine the form of the performace.

What is the difference between theatre maker, lighting technician and lighting designer?

A theatre maker is someone who loves theater, does theater, creates theater. Lighting technician is someone who lights in the theater. A  lighting designer is someone who creates a particular light design in a specific project. A lighting technician can become a lighting designer as it has happened to me. A designer is a creator, he is the one who gives the soul to the lights.

If I understand well, a lighting technician is a craftsman who can work with the material, technology, whereas a lighting designer simultaneously sees beneath the surface of things, into the depth of a performance and creates on the base of all this?

I do not know if he always sees / feels, but he is there to give the soul to lights. In my case, when I participate on the creation of performances, there is nothing more important at that moment, only the theater. But in doing so, I have to stand firmly on the ground, mainly because I love my wife and kids.

Questions were asked by T. Morávek and  F. Fabián,  editor  A. Hejmová (Institute of Lighting Design)

Pavel Kotlik (* 1973), lighting technician, lighting designer and technical director of the PONEC theater. He was dedicated to lighting from his youth, he passed smoothly from school to the theater, first as a theater technician: therefore he also refers of himself as a theatre maker rather than a lighting designer. As many others like him, he is an autodidact in his respective field, although he was influenced by many persons. In the professional community, he is known as a tireless creator of visual compositions on the stage – only few can paint surfaces and accentuate details as he does. He is a permanent designer of the VerTe dance company and basically the Ponec Theater as well. In 2012, he won the award for lighting design for performance “Lost and Found” (VerTe dance and choreographer Charlotte Öfverholm).

Prize for lighting design – In the interest of  representation and setting standards for inventive, creative work in the field of lighting design, the Institute of Lighting Design awards regularly the Award for lighting design within prestigious home shows or festivals of dramatic arts. This award is understood as a step towards a wider social perception of lighting design as a field largely determining the tone of the scene, including the implementation of new technologies into the contemporary art.

Evaluation of the light components in performative arts is understood as a prestigious event in the field – whether for the individual creator, or for the culture of techno-artistic side in general. Declaration of a certain quality can be a motivation as for individual lighting designers in their work, as an incentive for broader discussion of the professional community.

Although the Institute of Lighting Design ensures impartiality, professional quality and authority of the jury / juror, (and therefore foreign experts are also invited), does not perceive the conclusion of the evaluation as indisputably correct, but rather as a stimulus for wider discussion on the topic, a milestone in the field for domestic venues or a possibility of comparison with foreign standards


side lighting – direction of the light from the side, placed on a tripod or in the towers, usually at the level of the head.

Lee 243 fluorescent 3600K – color correction for tungsten resources converting temperature closer to the warm fluorescent lamp (3600K, Warm White). It is a centre between L241 and L245filters.

GO is a button of a lighting console, which triggers the automatic blending of light changes (or sequences thereof) through pre-set time. Especially by longer times, it always provides the same course and duration of changes, on the other hand, it can be perceived as mechanical, artificial, so operators often blend changes manually, which allows them to adapt the dynamics of changes to the actual situation.