Behind The Mask: Our Lighting Designer

Jane sits at her desk with her computers in her living roomIn her sun-lit living room, Jane Hakaraia laughs as she recalls the reason she got into theatre at 18-years-old  — David Bowie. Theatre has been her passion since.


So you got into theatre because of your love for David Bowie, but how did you get into lighting design?
I started as an actor and I worked at a company that had revolving roles, so everyone would have a turn at everything. I was already kind of interested in the technical side of things. And then the company got a new, high-tech lighting desk and I stayed up all night playing with it; that was me, I was hooked.

What was it that hooked you?
It’s telling the story, painting the picture, setting the scene through light. It’s just the magic of it and that it can transform things — it can hide stuff, it can expose it, it can make it look really pretty.

You’ve lit opera, theatre, dance and even rock concerts. How do the genres differ in their lighting needs?
Theatre is about telling a story and it’s about being able to see the actor’s faces. A lot of directors are big on ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’, so they want to be able to see all of the emotion in their eyes.

Dance is about the body. So you don’t need as much front light, and that’s quite magical because you’re lighting shapes and motions created by the dancer’s bodies.

And then opera and concerts, it’s about seeing the form, the person. Opera has got other considerations — it’s got an orchestra, musicians need to be able to read their scores. You can’t leave them in the dark.

Two of 80 pages in a planning document for Welcome to the Murder House: Jane notes where the action takes place. Oh, and she and notes to get ‘instruments of torture.’What are you working on now?
I’m always learning. Right now I’ve been playing with LEDs a lot, and now I just want to go back to tungsten [incandescent bulbs], the old-school lights. LED is great but it’s got a quality that it’s obviously LED. You can tell.

Tungsten gets into all the nooks and crannies and wrinkles. It’s a nicer quality of light. My next show is going to be all about Tungsten.

What is your process when designing a show?
I read the script and I fill out an excel with things like the time of day, what the actors are doing and the location. It becomes quite a dense document. Then, I have meetings with the director and the document evolves as we do that. We watch rehearsals and start watching the movement.

The shows you have designed for Indian Ink are worlds apart.
The Elephant Thief is a crystal-ball glance into India in 50 years, Welcome to the Murder House is a musical set in the dawn of electricity and Mrs Krishnan’s Party is in a dairy’s back room. How did you approach each design?
I treat every project as a new thing, as a starting again. There’s no carry on from “this show looks like this, so we’ll this show look like that.” I read the script and talk to Justin (Lewis) and John (Verryt) about what the feel is.

So what was The Elephant Thief like?
I still think about that a lot as far as the themes go. There are some really relevant themes about climate change and immigration. It haunts me. That was tricky to light because there were all those white panels. If you backlit them you could get them to colour but as soon as you hit them with front light they were just white.

It was epic because that [the panels] changed from the mountains to space. And then there was an elephant the whole way through it! We were trying to get the epicness of that tale.

How did the lighting convey the epicness of that tale?
It had a lot of colour in it.
Jane Hakaraia at her home-office, where her dog Ludo keeps her company as she designs lighting for sets and shows.
Justin (Lewis) had given me a lot of pictures of an Indian city with lots of brown and lots of washing hanging up, so we got an idea of the colour and the dust. That’s basically how we did that one: We had images that were references for each location, and we whipped through them, trying to make every space recognisable.

How did you build the edgy atmosphere of Welcome to the Murder House?
It’s historical, a bit gritty; I saw it as a sepia-toned. It was about pools of light with dark edges.

And then, some colours that represented scenes or transitions. The scene in the men’s club was quite red and quite colourful, and others were quite stark. We had a lot of fun with electrocution and flickers. That was fun, working out. I sat there for ages just trying to work out the timing so I could programme it into the lighting desk.

And, Mrs Krishnan’s Party?
It was a party. It had to go from being dim and dark like a backroom of dairy and then it had to be a full-on party at the end. It was building and building until that final moment of everyone partying together.

Spoiler — without fail, the audience gasps in delight every time the fairy lights come on in the show. What is it about those lights that get us?
Fairylights do something funny to an audience. They’re pretty simple, but you turn them on and everyone in the audience goes ‘Oh!!’ and gets all silly!

…It’s the same with mirror balls.

Set design for The Elephant Thief. I guess it all goes to show the impact lighting can have on your mood?
Yes, there’s a lot of psychology because, with colour, it’s a subconscious thing but people associate different colours with different emotions, so you play with that. Anything warm and ambery is happy, whereas blues are cold colours and reds are warm or angry or love.

Can you share a trick of the trade with us? Maybe a lighting hack you have up your sleeve?
We found a book years ago that was published in 1965 and it had back sections full of tricks with effects. One of them was how to turn tinsel into a fire.

Go on, let us know how!
So, you’d cut the tinsel into ribbons and put a fan behind it and then you point a light at it and the light bounces off and hits the mirror and bounces up to a site – and you’ve got flames.

That’s neat, would you still use that trick now?
It was cool just because it was so DIY. Now you just buy a light that makes the effect — which is cool, but not as cool.