Night Theatrical Performance of the Lux Aeterna Light Theatre Under the Real Starry Sky and Moon with Lights at the Mukachevo Castle

There are periods in my creative life when I decide to temporarily abandon the use of artificial light sources and return to the world of fire magic, flames, and natural light emitters. I once again turn my gaze to ancient castles. In the early 1980s, my attempts in this direction were thwarted by Soviet bureaucracy, and now, twenty years later, the possibility of this production suddenly became a reality. I was offered to direct a night performance in the ancient Mukachevo Castle, located in the Transcarpathian region of present-day Ukraine and built, as is known, by the Hungarians. Although I was constantly doubting the very idea of trying to combine, in artistic production, non-electrical light sources with natural phenomena, fate favoured me that August night.

Summer of 2003, Mukachevo Castle, 22:15. It’s almost like being in a huge planetarium… The sky is studded with stars, the moon shines brightly – a perfect dome, only boundless. Along the way, I “borrowed” a few dozen conscript soldiers from the commander of the local military unit and three actresses from the Mukachevo drama theatre. Under this natural dome, in the space of the inner courtyard of the castle, towering over the city, with the help of simple means: a polyphony of musical noises, sounds, recitatives, as well as dry spirit tablets, candles, miniature torches, and sparks sprayed from the surface of smouldering charcoal, without a single live dialogue, we made the viewer freeze and tremble. Repeating with our viewers’ lips, “to turn back history, to witness firsthand what seems to us from the height of the 21st century a gloomy Middle Ages, to feel it with every fibre of our souls.” Daniel A. Freedman, dramaturg, stage director, and light-sound scenographer.

Night Theatrical Performance of the Lux Aeterna Light Theatre Under the Real Starry Sky and Moon with Lights at the Mukachevo Castle

At the junction of times and epochs, where history intertwines with modernity, truly magical events occur. One such event was the night theatrical performance of the Lux Aeterna Light Theatre in the ancient Mukachevo Castle. In this unique performance, illuminated only by natural light sources, viewers had a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the magic of the past under the real starry sky and moon.

Path to Realization

Daniel A. Freedman, dramaturg, stage director of the performance, recalls his long-standing desire to use not artificial light sources in theatrical productions, but live flame, candles, and natural lighting. After many years of obstacles and doubts, in 2003, a unique opportunity presented itself to realize his dream in Mukachevo Castle — a monument of architecture located in the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine.

Light Artists, scenographers: Attila Kurucz, Taras Vorotniak, Sashko Kasian

Lighting as Art

The basis of the performance was the idea of creating a unique light show, where the main “actors” were elements of nature: stars, the moon, and fire. Working in conditions where the only sources of light were natural, the team of light artists turned the night into a magical act, where each ray of light played its unique role.

Staging Technique

The performance used not only traditional theatre means, such as music and recitatives, but also unusual elements: dry spirit tablets, candles, miniature torches, and sparks sprayed from the surface of smouldering charcoal. This allowed the creation of a unique atmosphere in which the viewer could feel themselves a part of the distant past.

Viewer Impressions

The most significant result was the emotional impact on the viewers. Many of them noted that the performance allowed them to “turn back history” and “feel the Middle Ages with every fibre of their soul.” It was a truly unique journey through time, where the art of light and theatre merged into one, creating an unforgettable impression.

The night theatrical performance of the Lux Aeterna light theatre in Mukachevo Castle became a vivid example of how art, history, and nature can merge into a single whole, creating unforgettable impressions and emotions. It was a magical journey that will remain in the memory of participants and viewers for a long time.

Exploring the world of night-time theatrical performances offers a unique perspective on how darkness and natural elements can transform the storytelling experience. These performances, often set under the open sky, leverage the inherent mystery and beauty of the night to create immersive narratives that captivate audiences in ways traditional indoor settings cannot.

The Magic of Night-time Settings

Atmosphere: The darkness of night adds a layer of intrigue and depth to the performance. It can intensify emotions and heighten suspense, making the audience more receptive to the unfolding drama.

Natural Elements: Utilizing the moon, stars, and even the silhouette of natural or historical landmarks can add a breathtaking backdrop that artificial sets struggle to replicate. These elements bring authenticity and grandeur to the performance.

Sensory Engagement: Night-time performances often engage the senses in unique ways. The cool air, the rustling of leaves, and the distant sounds of nature all contribute to a more enveloping experience.

Challenges and Innovations

Lighting: While the absence of artificial light can add to the ambience, it also presents challenges. Creative solutions, such as the use of fire, lanterns, or modern, subtle lighting techniques, are essential to illuminate actors and key scenes without breaking the magical spell of the night.

Sound: Without the controlled acoustics of an indoor theatre, ensuring that dialogue and music reach the audience effectively requires careful planning. This can involve strategic placement of speakers or even adapting the performance to use the natural acoustics of the setting.

Audience Comfort: Ensuring the comfort of the audience in potentially cooler night-time temperatures or dealing with insects and other outdoor factors is crucial. This can affect everything from the duration of the performance to the layout of seating and facilities.

Case Studies of Success

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Although not exclusively night-time, the Globe’s performances under the stars capture the essence of how natural light and settings can enhance the theatrical experience.

Outdoor Festivals: Many festivals around the world have successfully incorporated night-time performances, using the unique setting to create unforgettable experiences.

Specific Productions: Unique productions like “Lux Eterna” at Mukachevo Castle demonstrate the potential for night-time performances to offer something beyond the reach of traditional theatre, engaging audiences with the allure of history, natural beauty, and the artistry of performance under the stars.

Night-time theatrical performances stand as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling when merged with the natural world. They remind us that before the advent of artificial lighting and modern theatres, the drama of human experience unfolded under the vast canopy of the night sky, a tradition that continues to enchant audiences today.

Integrating natural acoustics in performance design and engaging audiences in outdoor events are crucial elements for the success of night-time theatrical performances. Let’s delve into these aspects to understand how they contribute to the immersive experience of outdoor theatre.

Integration of Natural Acoustics in Performance Design

Outdoor performances present unique acoustical challenges, given the absence of enclosed spaces to contain and direct sound. However, these challenges can be turned into advantages with thoughtful design:

Utilizing Natural Landforms: Amphitheaters or natural bowls can serve as excellent venues, using the earth’s contours to amplify sound naturally.

Strategic Stage Placement: Orienting the stage to maximize natural sound projection towards the audience, considering wind direction and background noise, can enhance audibility.

Acoustic Enhancements: Temporary structures or materials that reflect sound towards the audience can be integrated into the set design without detracting from the natural setting.

Audience Engagement Strategies for Outdoor Events

Engaging an audience in an outdoor setting requires a multifaceted approach, addressing comfort, visibility, and interactive elements:

Comfort and Accessibility: Providing amenities such as blankets, seat cushions, or even personal listening devices for hard-of-hearing patrons can make the experience more enjoyable. Ensuring the venue is accessible and navigable is also crucial.Interactive Elements: Encouraging audience participation through interactive segments or incorporating elements of the surrounding environment into the performance can create a memorable experience.Pre-Show Activities: Offering pre-show events, such as tours, talks, or interactive displays related to the theme of the performance, can enhance the audience’s connection to the setting and the story.

Combining Acoustics and Engagement

The magic of an outdoor performance lies in the harmony between the natural acoustics and the engagement of the audience. For instance, a performance that utilizes the echo of a nearby structure for dramatic effect can leave a lasting impression. Similarly, engaging the audience with lanterns or lights they can control during specific parts of the performance not only solves some lighting challenges but also adds an interactive component to the experience.

Case Study: An Integrated Approach

Consider a performance set in a historic fort with natural acoustic advantages. The production could use the fort’s walls to project sound and incorporate the audience’s movement from one area to another as part of the narrative, using each space’s unique acoustics. Pre-show activities might include a brief history of the fort, enhancing the audience’s appreciation and understanding of the performance.

The success of such performances lies in the delicate balance between the artistic vision and the practical considerations of outdoor settings. By embracing the challenges and opportunities presented by nature and history, creators can offer audiences not just a show but an experience that resonates on a deeper level.