When Bradley King first designed the lighting for the Off-Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 at Ars Nova, he used light bulbs instead of stage lights.
“Our space was so small that we couldn’t fit stage lights,” he told Playbill on the opening-night red carpet for the show on Broadway. “So we lit the whole show with light bulbs. It was super inexpensive because we had a budget of like $25. But then when we got bigger and bigger and bigger, we kept the light bulbs because it was the vocabulary of the show.”
In the video above, Tony nominee King reveals he uses 998 light bulbs, 37 chandeliers, and 1,950 cues to create the world of the Russian supper club.
The chandeliers also carried over from the original Ars Nova production. “Mimi [Lien], our set designer, had brought in some fabulous research of the chandeliers at the Met Opera, which looked like starbursts. So we tried to build our own, somewhat successfully, out of brass lamp fittings, and I put a bunch of light bulbs on the end of them,” King says. “When you turn them on really dimly, they look like stars, and I also had about 100 light bulbs hanging throughout the space.”
King put lights in every square foot of the Imperial Theatre so audiences could focus on the action no matter where it was happening. “I had a really good team [during tech] that sat everywhere on headsets talking to me, like, ‘Ooh, there’s something happening on the mezzanine’ or ‘Ooh, there’s something happening on that runway behind you.‘” King watched the show from 26 different seats.
Watch the video above to hear more about his lighting tricks to create The Great Comet magic.