Rozhovor s Guilhermem Bonfantim
In the Czech Republic and in Europe in general, there are only few art schools or other institutions that would systematically educate in the field of lighting design and people end up in the profession in many various ways. Which was yours?
In Brazil, we never had specialized schools for the education in lighting. My experience with teaching the profession of a lighting designer has started in the beginnings of 2010. My professional start followed the same direction as the one of colleagues from my generation. I went to work into theatre to occupy a vacancy in the audio area and then I changed to light and learnt while I was working. After some time working in small theaters and clubs, I was an employee of a lighting rental company and I learnt everything I could correlate to technology, still analogic. Then my journey into the lighting design led me into the Teatro da Vertigem (www.teatrodavertigem.com.br) and it was introducing to me the questions that made me to study and search. It allowed me to consolidate my knowledge in the esthetic and technological field.
Is lighting design rather an art or technical profession?
It depends on the area that you choose in the lighting. It can be technical (setup technician, console operator, rigger) or it can be artistic (light designing). In the case of the lighting designer, you must have a technical know-how to create, as does the painter, writer, actor or director. All the artistic fields need that technical to express it, but in dependence on the area in lighting, it will to determine if it get more technical or artistic. It is impossible to say for sure “work with lighting is technical or artistic in nature”.
Do you think that it’s possible to talk about personal “handwriting” or style of a lighting designer? What is that?
I am absolutely sure of this and I believe that it’s important to seek your style, your research, and your own identity. I think that this can manifest itself in the use of specific colors, equipment, angles and technologies, which starts to be recurrent in consecutive works. I believe this can be a tenuous line, for example what is a repetition of formulas and what is in fact a trace of research. But what can determine one point or another is how much these elements are connected with the scene.
Do you use any presentation software that would give you a simulated scene with lights?
As I come from the practical and I have been working with lights for many years and the use of this technology took a long time to come in Brazil and I leave on the ‘look into the space’ and its frequent use in the rehearsal room would make me ‘believe’ in my hypotheses and ideas. I think that it also works for the creative work, most in theater, like anything in the artistic field; so it shall have a dose of risk, of equilibrium. I try to keep my projects from the beginning of the planning until their execution opened to the accidents. I have time to prepare myself technically, to think about the equipment, to decide the angles, to make the choice of the colors and when I concretize all of that in setup’s day, I let myself be taken by the problems that emerge from it. Every step brings me questions that I’ll assimilate; I call that a process and I try to be attentive to what comes from it. If I create in the software and look technically at it taking off all of the possible ‘defects’, I will not know how the result would be, and it is a little bit sterile for me. I say that specifically about the theatre and about a certain kind of theatre, as the one in the “Teatro da Vertigem”, where we work with long processes. I could not say the same about corporate events, architecture and other fields of lighting. I believe that the software use is more than welcome in these cases. I can use the Grand MA, or Wysiwyg. Actually, I work with a team and dedicate myself to think, I give concept to the project and I share the other steps with assistants and interns.
Can you describe a typical content of a day of a lighting designer?
It all depends of the production, because here in Brazil they can change a lot. I will talk about my routine in the creative works of Teatro da Vertigem, because that is what interests me most. In general, we have long processes and we start with a theme (AIDS in Brazil, public health, fashion/consume/slave labour, family, work/capitalism today) and theoretic and empirical research, which I am part from the beginning. After this definition of the theme, I start my own research. My routine, I can say so far that starts with a bigger research about what the group is going to take to the scene (I work always with a team of interns, I like collaborators in the creation, I think a team is more effective than the solitary work, I choose specialists: technicians, architecture students who mastered the technical design etc). This theme gives the start of my esthetic, conceptual and material’s research. Depending on the time of process, it goes and results in experiments during the rehearsal. I’m present during all the practice and use it to experiment with possibilities of textures, colors, angles, material, and also possibilities of installation (map). Part of my work is to produce luminaires, in a handmade process, something that produces a dialogue with the architecture because we work with site specific; church, hospital, prison, stores, abandoned theater, a river and their ships. In the moment that the project consolidates to the technical design, with it in hands I check if everything is going to work right, which is some kind of on-site confirmation from the project executive. These steps aren’t isolated, they’re mixed up, but I’m separating them here so we can understand better that ‘step-by-step’ of the work. So then I start the setup and I follow experimenting, recording, changing positions if we need to, until the process is fully consolidated. So we go on to the final rehearsals and I follow the work looking and correcting.
Can we expect a new astonishing lighting technology that will surpasses all the current in the future?
The lighting industry and stage technology won’t stop themselves and this is very important for those who work in this area. Here in Brazil, we live in a transition that is very interesting to me to work in and to make research about it. The LEDs, moving lights, colors made of dichroic filters, the use of RGB in the composition of color, they’re all still not too much explored in the theatre, I don’t say that about the musical theatre but the dramatic theatre, experimental, this researching theater. This interests me a lot. We are living here through the same transition as it was during the invention of the fire, the gas, the electric light, the analogical controllers, the digital consoles and design software. It’s interesting for me to work in this place, to use this machines, between all what we have of most primitive, most archaic nature. This attrition is the moment I live from creativity and is my research. I await new technologies, but I still have to experiment a lot and to use the things at my disposal. I believe that Europe and United States have been through that, but we still have the time to assimilate what we got and loose the preconception about what theatre light is and what is not. I think technologies are for that, all can be used in the theatre, here we still don’t accept it, but what is the most important thing is what the scene requires and not what asks the tradition.
What are you working on in the present time?
I am still finishing the season of the last presentation of Teatro da Vertigem, “O Filho” (“The Son”), based on the Franz Kafka’s book, “Letter to His Father”. Simultaneously, I have finished the school year in SP Escola de Teatro (www.spescoladeteatro.org.br), in which I coordinate the Lighting Design School. In the first semester of 2016, we’ll begin to do the research of the text for our new project, “A Construção de F. Kafka” (“The Construction of F. Kafka”) that will complete our trilogy (Kastelo, Karta ao Pai and Konstrução). And in the next year, I’ve got some things already scheduled: a tour in Brazil with “O Filho”, two productions, the ending of a luminotechnical project in a Museum and FLIP (important literary fair in the country) and some few corporate events.
If you have a look on a scene at the stage, how would you tell good lighting from the bad? Is it possible at all to recognize what is a concept and what is a mistake?
It has to be something really evident, some ambiguities are hard to be detected. As I live by this and my sight’s been active and I am always attentive to the movements, shapes, use of color, angles. Sometimes I pay more attention to how the sense of precariousness becomes hard to be represented. I see my apprentices using an elaborated speech with a lot of justification, but a long way distant to what we see in the scene. The fragility of the design is always evident to the eyes of a specialist. It is impossible to have a convincing design without a technical domain and strong references.
What do the references in the lighting design mean to you?
My references are assorted and it depends a lot on the project. My current reference is the city. The urban light fascinates me. Its shadows, the contrast with the internal environments, the buses in movement, the different qualities of car headlights (nowadays with halogens, xenon, LED), the lights of the houses invading the street, from the Neopentecostal churches with the cold white light, til contrast among the environments seen of the streets, the wet road with the marks of the traffic. In short, one infinite world of light and shadow. Depending on the work, I’ll choose a perspective. Whether it is related to work, fine arts, cinema, cartoon, urban art, design. It interests me a lot to relate the equipment with the architecture of the scene, this why does exist a very big variation in the use of references. It is always connected to the work, for which I will design the lights. For the use of the color, first I let myself to contaminate by the project and by the guidelines of the scenography and art direction, then I write my own search. I am in love with the contrast and I started my career ‘drowned’ in bright/dark, expressionism, noir. I still think a lot about the shadow as a very strong possibility to the scene and I study new possibilities to the bright/dark. If I am not wrong: “We are instructed to do the negative; the positive is already within us”, Kafka maybe mentioned something about that.