Creative Process: The Nightline
The Nightline is a creative audio project about the city at night inspired by a collection of 700+ real-life anonymous voice messages recorded between midnight and 6am. This work draws on field recordings, phone messages, composition, performance and site-responsive design to create an evocative live performance experience.
Location and Site Responsive Design
The location at the first site inspection
We considered a number of venues around Sydney to find the most suitable venue for our production. We decided to use a workshop space inside the National Art School, a large building with a very deep and somehow dark history. The building has prominent large windows on both sides on the long walls and a high ceiling.
From the first site inspection it was immediately clear that the building existing features needed to be embraced and included in the overall production design, leveraged and enhanced to support the production core concepts and its visual narrative.
We didn’t want to use any theatre masking, or trusses, and we felt strongly that we didn’t want to have any traditional lighting equipment to be visible; everything needed to look natural, realistic and plausible in the space, in order to completely immerse ourselves and the audience inside the work.
Visualising First Impressions
My process relies heavily on visualising and sharing my ideas early and often to my creative collaborators.
This is one of the preliminary sketches I draw after the first site inspection, illustrating how I wanted the location to feel from a lighting point of view for some parts of the performance.
The white walls offered an opportunity to have some wash lighting all around, to fill the venue and surround the audience 360degrees. The existing fluorescents fixtures hanging from the ceiling could provide a rigging point to mount some light weight LED tape and illuminate evenly the ceiling, to complete the visual surrounding effect.
The large windows offered interesting design opportunities which I immediately committed to, to invite and let the “outside world” to visit the inside, supporting the narrative of the show.
Preliminary sketch after first inspection showing light sources and direction of light
Integrating Lighting into the Set
A table light showing the custom modifications
One of the central elements of the set design include round tables evenly distributed in the venue, each table has a phone and a patch bay for the audience to listen to the recorded messages, and a table light, to provide an intimate, contained and sheltered environment for each audience to connect with the depth and variety of the voice messages.
I tested extensively a number desk lights and a variety of bulbs, to find the one that felt more appropriate, both in terms of lighting quality and overall look.
At the end of this research we settled for something that felt visually simple, and that was casting a downward contained soft cone of light, to highlight primarily the phones and to keep an intimate feel.
Given that these lights had such a central focus in the overall design, I wanted to extend as much as possible their capabilities. Each table light had a warm dimmable LED bulb in it, evocative of a welcoming and familiar place ; each light was also customised to have LED tape mounted on the inside, to allow for shifts of colours, from subtle pastel to fully saturated, to work chromatically in unison (or “against”) the walls and the ceiling.
Sound Score & Lighting Flow
I wanted to use the lighting design to support the score as well as taking the lead to drive the visual narrative.
Throughout the creative development process, regular listening sessions were scheduled for the entire creative team to follow how the sound editing, score and sound design were evolving.
These creative meetings offered opportunities to keep discussing and refining the work.
This is a hand drawn sketch from one of those listening session, with some preliminary visual ideas, cues and color palettes illustrating some initial ideas.
Three arrows pointing left to right were superimposed in this photo for clarity and readability; they indicate the passing of time from the top of the score (0:00) to the end (35:50)
Preliminary timeline sketch showing lighting effects and colours combinations
Prototyping Ideas and Spatial Experience
Some of the 3D Renders used to spatially prototype lighting ideas
In parallel to this process, I was working in 3D and 2D environments as tools to explore ideas and prototype different aesthetics I had envisioned. This approach fed and cross pollinated into the creative process of the entire team and the technical-production team.
Here a short selection of 3D renders that I created to explore several lighting ideas, different feels, and color combinations between the tables, the perimeter, and the ceiling.
I wanted the location to feel small and intimate for some parts of the work, as well as having the capacity to become spacious and brighter in other sections, evocative of passing from night time to sunrise, or from realistic urban environments all the way to dream-like visions.
The lighting on the floor surrounding 360’ the audience illuminating the walls and the lighting above the existing fluorescent fixtures illuminating the entire ceiling provided a unique feel and a very articulated colour palette, while the table lights provided a contained focus for an intimate listening experience.
Leveraging the Location
The large windows provided a unique artistic opportunity that I was keen to embrace.
Several outdoor rated lighting fixtures were installed outside the building, casting light inwards towards the performing area through the large windows.
These lighting effects provided a complete different feel, changing the geometry of the space, and were used thoughtfully in crucial parts of the work.
One example is during a sudden passage of a bus early on in the show where I envisioned a car-like lighting effect appearing from outside through the windows, sweeping the space from one end to the other with light and moving shadows, to play alongside a beautiful hyper-realistic spatial sound design of a night bus suddenly passing by (drawn in green in the concept plan).
Another occasion was the sunrise experience that happens in a couple of sections of the work, evocative of hope, new beginning and life. For this part of the work I designed two separate clusters of lights cutting through the windows; one effect was wider and slightly washed, reminiscent of the first sunlight evenly illuminating the horizon with warm tones. The second sunrise effect, more prominent and detailed, had several parallel light beams, imitating a more established and direct sunrise, evocative of the sun appearing over the horizon (drawn in pink and orange in the concept plan).
Top view concept lighting plan, showing outside sources of light entering through the windows
The Refined Design
The final lighting design
This is the full lighting plan that I designed for this production.
We requested that the venue was completely emptied and refitted from zero to allow for maximum creative expression.
Inside the location, each table light was individually controllable. LED tape was installed on top of the existing fluorescent tubes pointing upwards, and flood lighting placed all around the perimeter.
Plotting session and rehearsals were schedule after dark.
A production photo from the Nightline performed at Sydney Festival 2022, with performer and collaborator Katia Molino, photo by Joshua Morris
This project was a unique experience with a steady learning curve.
Site specific design is incredibly challenging and demanding, but it’s also a beautiful and very rewarding experience.
I would like to thank the creative and production team that collaborated on this project.
We are all individuals, with our talents, unique skills, experience and personality, working in a collaborative environment.
This work is particular important to me because it proves that the highest standards can be achieved with thorough research, commitment and hard work, while maintaining a working environment that is pleasant, that facilitates creativity, that is respectful towards each collaborator contributions, as well as providing an environment that is emotionally and mentally safe to be part of.
For full production crediting and more images see Fausto’s website: www.fausto.design
Instagram Visual Journal: @_faustob_