The University of Minnesota Duluth
Department of Theatre

The Conference of the Birds

Jean-Claude Carriere
Peter Brook

Directed by Ann Aiko Bergeron
Scenic Design by Patrick Landers
Costume Design by Bill Brewer
Lighting Design by Mark Harvey

March 1-10, 2001
Dudley Experimental Theatre

Lighting Design Approach

The Conference of the Birds is based on an ancient Persian poem about a group of international birds and their journey to find the meaning of life. The birds agree that life's purpose can be discovered only if they reach the presence of the Simorgh. The trip is dangerous, costs are high, but those with enough courage and good fortune to complete the journey, find themselves transformed as they discover life's true meaning.

Lighting for the production had to visually support the idea of travel and transformation. Throughout the play, the birds visited new places and were changed by new challenges. By constantly evolving the space with new visual looks, the lighting reflected the life-changing journey of the birds.

The play was produced in the round and the circle that served as the main playing space needed to be lit in a variety of ways. The space was divided into nine acting areas - the eight points of the compass and a ninth area at center. Symmetrical shadows on the floor became an essential part of the design.

The audience seating was bathed in a jungle trees gobo pattern as they entered the theatre before the play was to begin. Once the birds left for their journey, the idea was that we would leave their jungle home never to return.

It was important for the lighting to reflect time of day. Though not tied stringently to realism, color was used to provide the illusion of night and day.

Night Scene

Day Scene

Along the way, the birds heard stories of the corruption of the human race. Stories were acted out with larger than life puppets held high by two or more of the birds. Side light in two colors from seven different positions from outside the audience seating area was used for these scenes. The high side light (a first for me when lighting an arena production) was focused above the heads of the audience and only lit the human puppet characters as they were lifted above the playing space.

One set of side light, however, was focused directly on the birds as well as the audience beyond. The intent of these fixtures was to use rotating gobos to help support the illusion of the birds in flight. The passing shadows of the rotating gobos minimized the glare of light in the eyes of audience members, and the brief moments of passing light helped create the illusion of flight.

The traveling birds met many new characters during their journey. As each new character was introduced, a special pool of light was included to highlight that particular bird's costume.

In two corners of the black box performance space, behind the audience seating area, two sets of scaffolding were built to resemble bamboo nesting areas. The traveling birds used these areas for specific scenes and uplight was used to help give them the illusion of height.

The end of the play called for a dazzling white light to represent the birds coming into the presence of the Simorgh. To make this technically possible, blocking was restricted to a small area on stage while 32 of the 34 dimmers available for the production were repatched for the finale - a 50,000 watt ring of light encircling the entire audience and performance space.

Production Team

The costume, scenic and lighting designs
for this production were exhibited as part of the
United States entry for the
2003 Prague Scenographic Quadrennial.