Lighting design can be understood as a sort of carpentry
Daniel Tesař belongs among the best Czech lighting designers and can be compared to his foreign colleagues, although he has not studied this subject. Since 1999, he has been fully devoted to theatre and event lighting as a lighting designer, technical manager, to supplies and provision of equipment. He currently works as a lighting designer for major domestic venues (the National Theatre, the State Opera, the Estates Theatre, Ponec Theatre, Archa Theatre, NoD etc.), prestigious events in the Czech Republic and abroad, collaborates with renowned choreographers and directors in the field of dance, opera and drama. He is a co-owner of a business company that is perhaps best known in this field.
For many younger colleagues, he is an embodiment of a mentor and always willing advisor, either in the field of technical or creative issues.
Obligatory question at the beginning: What was your path to lighting and lighting design?
In 1991, I started working as an electrician in the Theatre Behind the Gate II. That’s how I was trained and then I worked in the ČKD Tatra enterprise for four years. In the theatre, I quickly got into lighting and discovered the world that had been hidden before. Director Otomar Krejča paid large attention to lighting and I became enchanted by that work. The concept of lighting design was unknown, one used lighting as good as he could. Performances of the domestic companies were quite challenging, even if measured by present-day standards. I met the lighting design during the productions of the companies from abroad, which performed at the venue from time to time. They were dancing companies, I cannot remember the names, from Holland, Germany, Israel, Finland. There were not few. And I was fascinated and wanted to do it as they did. I wanted to be a part of the show. I learned the basic craft in the TBG II. And after the closure of the theatre, I worked as a technician for the Prague Chamber Ballet for five years. I created first separate lighting designs there for performances by Petr Zuska, Robert North and Joachim Heckman. The Prague Chamber Ballet had a good name and played at big venues all over Europe. I have added experience to the basic craft and I was very ambitious, too.
You often work for opera, is it your favorite genre?
I work for opera among other things, but yes, I like it best at the moment. Today, it is a complex, highly professional genre where everything is at stake.
You are known for your skeptical attitude towards the lighting design as an artistic field – what is then lighting design for you, how would you define it?
Yes, I am skeptical in this respect. I understand the lighting design as an important component of a performance, but it’s just one of the crafts. Rather a technical and servant craft. It cannot aspire to be an artistic field as the integrity of its author is not at stake and it will not stand by itself. It will prove well in the service of the task. As a good chair serves for good seating. We can admire a really nice chair for its functionality and beauty. But we do not perceive it as art. So I understand the creation of a lighting design as a sort of carpentry.
What have you recently found interesting in the lighting design – in architecture, theatre, music, or anywhere else?
Lately? Well: I really enjoyed the performance of my friend Johanna Mai Vihalem. It was called Light up your life, I saw it in the Kampa Theatre or whatever is the theater’s name now. A great example of creativity, simplicity and wit. Johanna knows what she wants to say and how to say it. I recommend it. I also liked the performance Red Cliff by the Beijing Opera. The lighting design was not complicated, but corresponded well with traditional scenery. Night architecture is infested by tasteless, embarrassing lighting of buildings without any context. Possibly the most horrible example may be the lighting of the Týn Church. On the other hand, I always appreciate how nice, tasteful and casual was carried out the lighting design of the Prague Castle. It is a very old work, I think that the author was a French designer. No ego or arrogance towards the space looms from the design, everything is clean, moderate and somehow discreet. Anyway, I’m not sure whether there should not be just darkness at night. Except for street lamps. Light of a low-pressure discharge lamp is beautiful.
Is it possible to talk about personal “handwriting” or style of a lighting designer?
Certainly, each of the designers has his style and an experienced spectator recognizes this style. However, this is not too much important for the spectator. It is essential that the director, choreographer and designer are familiar with the style. For cooperation, you choose such people that you trust and you know the way how they work. Creativity is only one of the requirements. Others are reliability, ability to communicate with other components that form performance, organizational talent, the ability to pay attention to the details, not to give in to stress. There is so much that needs to be covered for you to accomplish the goal. Furthermore, each of the designers is subjected to the period trends, experiences his own evolution, and copies the others a little. Each and every designer is usually a bearer of a certain concept, which he develops, improves, if he has the opportunity, multiplies technical means and then repeats. After the time comes to new possibilities of expression and the process begins anew. Over time, he will discover possibilities of a new expression and the process will start again. The more he is experienced, the wider the range of expressions is available to him. Then you will acquire self-confidence and become freer.
The field of a lighting technology, and especially in the theatre, has its own language – for one thing the jargon of the theatrical background, for another often technical terms, which are borrowed or even made Czech, based on international practice, i.e. universal English. How do you look at the Czech branch “terminology”? Does it make sense to seek Czech equivalents to already-established expressions?
The world of lighting, sound and stage technology is multicultural and English dominates here. Respectively – all essential comes from the Anglo-Saxon region. Technology, innovation, way of work organization, all the trends. It’s similar as in other fields. What is essential comes from the outside. We are here on the periphery. According to me, it has no meaning to search for Czech equivalents to expressions, which became familiar in the language of lighting technicians and which express general phenomena based on the context. How to express the concept “wash”? Watering? A little weird, right? For example, the concept FOH, which stands for Front of House – the lights placed against the stage, but not on the fly bars and not on the ground. How to say that in Czech? Front light? The lights from the front? Or lights that are located outside the stage? It would certainly be possible in many various ways. But the concept FOH is understood by anyone in the field, it is entirely clear what lights, or more precisely positions are meant. Expressions that are not based on the context can easily find translation. An example is the English term dimmer, “stmívač“ in Czech. There is no context here, it concerns a specific device. Anyway, let each one uses such a language what’s his preference.
Photo Hana Smejkalová, source: http://www.narodni-divadlo.cz/en/show/5871?t=2015-05-03-19-00
Can we expect a new astonishing lighting technology that will surpasses all the current in the future?
I do not think that a revolution would be lying ahead of us in a foreseeable future. After all , nothing of the sort has ever taken place. Technology develops faster in one moment, slower in the other, depending on the development of the related fields. The future is likely to be influenced by the speed of the development of LED, AMOLED and PHOLED technologies, implemented this way or another in lighting technology. Development and application in practice is a lengthy process. Let’s not expect an astonishing technology for the time being. Let’s use the one we have so far. On the other hand, what I know about tomorrow: Vacuum bulb, which changed our world so much, is only 133 years old.
Which light source from the point of view of aesthetics / quality of light do you prefer, lamp, fluorescent lamps, LED …?
HMI 2500W discharge lamp, 5600K.
If you had to take eight most essential technical tools, devices to an abandoned theatre, which they would they be?
Leatherman*, Maglite **, coffee, cigarettes, gaffa ***, Lukáš Valiska, a roll of the filter 201 C.T.B. – the first filter that I’ve ever used in my life – a good, adjusted profile, so I could make a nice sharp square. I would dare to any performance with this arsenal.
Is your job still a (craft) hobby for you?
It is work. I chose this job and I try to do my best. Professionally and with commitment to the cause. The concept of a job and hobby implies two different worlds, but for me it’s connected issues. I was able to sacrifice a lot to profession, I often took the risk. But the world and the field, in which I am in, have never failed me and made me happy.
The question that must come across at the end: What is beautiful light for you?
It’s a huge cliché. The long shadows of the setting autumn sun in our latitude. A boundary between day and night.
Questions were asked by T. Morávek and F. Fabián (Institute of Lighting Design)
Translated from Czech by Jan Purkert
* Leatherman – a brand of a folding multipurpose tool for engineering professions, usually includes pliers, screwdrivers, knife, file, scissors, etc. depending on the type
Maglite ** – a brand of professional battery lamps
Gaffa *** – an universal adhesive tape, indispensable in a theatre