UNOs: or, The Best Way to Procrastinate

Once a week, members of our community gather together in the time-honored tradition of UNOs to chat, eat snacks, and complain about homework assignments. UNOs is so-named because of its origin as a social meetup at Uno Pizzeria in Harvard Square, but when that Unos location closed in 2016, UNOs was rebranded. Now, the name is an acronym for “Undergraduates Neglecting Obligations,” which can be more or less true depending on one’s opinion of social vs. academic obligations and how likely community members are to bring homework with them to the event.

These days, UNOs are a calm point in the bustle of the academic semester. Members of HRG&SP are encouraged to RSVP to the weekly UNOs announcements by answering a question or prompt posed by the UNOs committee, which range from your favorite winter activity to a Gilbert & Sullivan-esque title that describes your life to your favorite body of water. The prompt or question also often relates to the theme of that week’s UNOs. Sometimes, UNOs is co-opted for group movie nights (such as a plan for later this semester to watch the 25th anniversary concert performance of Les Misérables). Other times, we hold arts & crafts events, play games, or tell stories. Most often, though, UNOs is just a time to sit around and talk with community members, about topics like the show, the latest chem pset(s), upcoming concerts, HRG&SP lore, and the most efficient path from the river houses to Agassiz Theater.

Over the pandemic, when all our activities were virtual, UNOs remained an important touchstone of our community. Despite being on Zoom, the themes and topics were as lively as ever, including Saturday Morning CartUNOs (where we watched cartoons), HallowUNOs (where people were encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes), and Mug Cake UNOs (where we made mug cakes together). Over the weeks and months, the comfortable familiarity of the UNOs routine, including the bingo cards that could accurately predict the most common topics of UNOs conversations, helped keep our community together, even in the midst of virtual tech weeks and online exams.

Now that Harvard has returned to in-person life, UNOs have become even more valuable. The pandemic has left its mark, of course – all UNOs attendees keep their masks on when not actively snacking – but we on the board of HRG&SP are grateful to hold these socials in person as we chat with old-timers and newcomers alike. (Plus, group social events are always more fun with snacks from Trader Joe’s, which are much harder to obtain in the virtual sphere.)

To any community members reading this post, I hope to see you at UNOs soon. RSVP with your favorite thing about HRG&SP. For example: Hi everyone, it’s Clarissa! My favorite thing about HRG&SP is getting to go to UNOs every week and eat snacks. Mmm, popcorn. See you soon!

Until Next week (Or sooner),

A Semester in the Life of a Lighting Designer

It truly takes an army to create a theatrical production, and at Harvard this is no different. In addition to its many talented actors and actresses, Harvard’s campus is home to dozens of musicians, directors, producers, writers, technicians, and designers. Today, I thought I would write about my experience within a subsection of these roles — my experience as a lighting designer.

Lighting is an aspect of stagecraft that is both obvious and invisible. Its design occupies a space between art and practicality; one of the challenges of the lighting designer is to make sure everyone on stage is visible, yet lit in a way that supports the show as a whole. To the average theater-goer, great lighting is unnoticeable because it fits seamlessly into the world of the performance. But how does one create a design that is both artistic and subtle, that adds to the message of the show without drawing attention to itself?

The first step in the process, as always, is to read the script. When I was the lighting designer for H.M.S. Pinafore in the fall, I read Gilbert’s libretto several times, keeping notes on the time of day, the ambience of each scene, and the number of people on stage. At the same time, I listened to Sullivan’s music to get a better idea of how the characters — and by association, the audience — were intended to feel.

Next, I considered the properties of light. Color, angle, intensity, and shape all influence the effect light has on stage. I knew I wanted warmer colors for Act I, set in daytime, and cooler colors for Act II, set at night. I knew Act II would have more light coming from the sides of the stage, which creates extra shadows for a secretive feeling. The more jubilant songs in the show needed brighter lighting to fit the intensity of their emotional impact, while dialogue and slower songs worked better under dimmer lights. Through considerations such as these, the outline of my design took shape.

To translate this design from my head onto the stage (or rather, above it), I first needed to look at our set. Sabrina designed a fantastic ship for our set, and looking at her skillfully-created model allowed me to picture where the physical lights could fit into the space. It was at this point that I got the idea to create an illusion of shadows cast by the ship’s rigging using a gobo — a special template, usually made out metal, with a design cut into it that changes the shape of a light.

Next came the paperwork. I managed to get away with only creating a light plot (a map of what lights are hung where in the theater), but usually a lighting designer generates many different documents to help communicate the lighting design to other members of the technical team. This can include a list of all the lights to be hung, diagrams of where the lights are to be pointed (or “focused”), and views of the theater from different directions to show the exact placement of each light. Needless to say, being a lighting designer is not a job for those who dislike paperwork!

Finally, the last steps in the process: hang, focus, and cuing. During load-in, when our show finally moved into the theater, I enlisted the help of my fantastic assistant, Emma Kay ‘23, and some members of the cast and crew to help me hang up and secure all the lights I wanted. Then, once the lights were hung, we set the exact position, shape, and color of every light — by hand! As you can imagine, light hang and focus is a tedious and tiring process, and I’m very grateful to the cast, the theater staff, and my fellow crew members for their help. Without them, our lights wouldn’t have been ready for the most important day in the lighting design process: cue to cue.

Cue to cue, also called Q2Q, is a process where the show is run in stops and starts as the lighting team creates and records all the specific lighting “looks”. Using the lighting console, which is connected to all the lights that have been carefully hung and focused, the lighting team (which can include the designer, one or more assistants, and sometimes a special lighting console programmer) adjusts which lights are on at what brightness and save those settings in what is called a “cue”. During full runs of the show, all the lighting operator needs to do is cycle through the pre-recorded cues as they line up with what the actors on stage are saying, singing, and doing, although that in itself is a job of no little finesse. Once the cues are recorded and any problems are noticed and fixed, the lighting designer’s job is officially done. (Or at least, done until strike, when all the lights must be taken back down again!)

I hope my rather long-winded jaunt down the journey of a lighting designer illuminates some of the mysterious work that happens behind the curtain for our shows. If you’re interested in watching a show with fresh eyes to see if you can pick out elements of the lighting design, I highly recommend coming to see Kiss Me, Kate! this semester. Emma Kay ‘23, my assistant for Pinafore, is our wonderful lighting designer, and she has put together a design that will awe and amaze you — if, of course, you can spot its influence.