Theatre Tech Review – “Tribes” at the Barrow Street Theatre NYC

This summer I took my annual theatre trip to NYC for my ongoing study of lighting and sound design at professional theatres.  This year’s trip included “Ghost” (that review will be coming later), and “Tribes”, performed at the Barrow Street Theatre. 

This review is specifically for “Tribes”. The play was written by Nina Raing and directed by David Cromer.  Lighting design was by Keith Parham, projection design by Jeff Sugg, and sound design by Daniel Kluger. My primary interest is lighting, projection, and sound, and that’s what this blog is about.  If you want a snyopsis of the play, and come commentary about the acting, take a look at this link.  It’s a wonderful production, and we enjoyed the entire performance, story, and production.  It is running through January 6th at the Barrow Street Theatre.

It’s a small theatre space and this production was designed in the round with the audience on 4 square sides.  This is a technical review, and my thoughts and opinions follow:

Lighting: The lighting was straightforward and worked well in the space.  The set design included an overhead ceiling with 4 large window skylights which were very beautifully lit for preshow, and used in the play, yet appropriately understated to not draw attention and distract.  Daytime and fully lit scenes were nicely done, using a warm-to-neutral tone.  Night scenes were effective as a scene started, but ended up being too dim as the scenes progressed.  While perhaps realistic for nighttime in a house, most of the time I felt it was too dark to concentrate on the actor.  There was also an entrance at/near a set of balcony stairs that was used from time to time, which was really insufficiently lit.  I’m not asking for lots of light – it was usually a night scene, but focus seemed off for this corner entrance given how much time an actor was there.  Overall, lighting was well done.  Don’t read too much into my comments about “too dark for night scenes”.  My wife agreed it was perhaps too dark, but felt she could still see what she needed to see.  Keith Parham is the lighting designer.  Credits include: MistakesWere Made, Stop the Virgens, and A Minister’s Wife.

Projection: There were multiple projectors in the space, typically over the audience heads pointing across the space onto flat surfaces above the opposite audience space.  These projectors were most often used for supertitles for the sign language that is so important to this play.  Projections were also used for some optical effects with very good results, especially to provide visual support to “noise in the brain/ears” as part of an actor slowly going deaf in the show.  Each projector had a mechanical douser so there was no ugly video leak.  This was especially important because of the cross theatre positioning of the projectors noted above, meaning audience members would be looking at a glow from the lenses when the projectors were not in use. Jeff Sugg is the projection designer.  Credits include 33 Variations, Bring it On, and Chinglish.

Sound:  Very effective and subtle sound.  Preshow music was not too loud, and when a radio was played, the speaker was proximate to the radio prop, so the illusion was carried well.  I know this is basic stuff to put the sound source near the prop, but so often I see good community theatre where this simple thing isn’t done.  I just wanted to note that the professionals do it right and my readers should take note.  It’s not difficult.   As noted in the projection discussion above, there was a scene where an actor was slowly becoming totally deaf, and it was described as noise in the brain/ears.  At one point in the show, where the actor is experiencing this dramatically, a loud, modestly sustained, “noise field” was payed omnidirectionally in the space.  Not just white or pink, but a buzz with broadband noise added too it.  Annoying, without overdoing it.  I thought this was very well done and nicely thought out.  And when coupled with some of the visual effects from the projectors, got the point across perfectly.  Daniel Kluger was the sound designer.  Credits include: Map of Virtue, Lidless, After, and There are No More Big

Bottom line: Go see this show before it closes on Jan 6th.  It’s a gem, terrifically acted, and the tech is very well done.  I’m very glad we went.

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