Theatre of Light

Theatre of Light

Sydney’s annual Vivid festival has become a major international event featuring breakthroughs in lighting design and technology. FRANK HATHERLEY chats to Anthony Bastic, the Director of Vivid Light 2014.

Anthony Bastic describes Vivid as “an outdoor theatre of light”. The producer/curator of the lighting component of Sydney’s ever-growing Winter festival has, I find, a background in more orthodox theatre — what he calls “black box” theatre.

“I studied Drama years and years ago at the East Sydney Drama School [now defunct]. Then I acted and did lighting and sound with the Genesian Theatre Company [a venerable inner-city amateur group] before I went on to work in the programming department of the Opera House, and then at the Sydney Town Hall, producing concerts and events.

“I was always captivated by lighting. I wanted to create and produce large-scale events, explore how light can create emotion for an audience.”

Bastic was appointed Creative Director of live sites for the 2000 Olympic Games and went on to design such major outdoor events as the 2003 Rugby World Cup and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

He formed his own company, AGB Events, in 2007. “We produce public events — like the Lights at Christmas at St Mary’s Cathedral each year and the Australian Garden Show in Centennial Park each Spring. There’s always a strong theatrical narrative in the events that we create.”

He was hired for the first Vivid Sydney in 2009 and has been on board ever since. The festival is divided into three segments: Music, Ideas and Light.

“Each year Vivid Light highlights the creative processes of lighting artists, designers and architects working with the very latest advancements in lighting technology.

“More and more lighting companies want to partner with us, to let artists loose on the new technologies that are just about to enter the market.

This year there’s a new and intriguing Harbour Lights component, created and produced by cutting edge Australian firm 32 Hundred Lighting. Ferries, cruise vessels and water taxis will be decked out in LED lights that will change colour as they move between designated parts of the harbour. These ‘colour precincts’ will be computer-controlled using Intel technology and the very latest in satellite navigation geo-positioning.

“LEDs have made a huge difference,” says Bastic. “It’s energy-efficient lighting that has added a whole other dimension to the different colours that can be now used in urban lighting.”

Lighting the Sails of the Opera House remains the most keenly awaited of the annual installations. This year the UK company 59 Productions won the prized commission. They work often with Britain’s National Theatre, for instance producing the projections and animation for the recent Australasian tour of War Horse.

For Vivid 2014 they plan to use the Opera House as a screen on which to project, they say, “a dramatic journey through time — from the birth of architecture and civilization through to the pinnacle of human and technological achievement”.

Previous Sails installations have required 17 large-format projectors, all precisely computer-controlled to paint their sweeping pictures onto that spectacular ‘canvas’.

Also in this year there are newly commissioned projections on the sandstone façade of the Quay’s Customs House, new water shows at Darling Harbour and original programming at theatre venues Carriageworks and the Seymour Centre. 

“The whole city is our theatre,” says Anthony Bastic. “And this year our newest stage is Martin Place.” In the very heart of Sydney’s CBD, Martin Place will have two giant interactive light installations flanking the Cenotaph.

“We get amazing concepts from theatre designers working within the traditional black box. They come outside the black box and they see the vibrant city and it challenges them. It’s all about creatives changing the atmosphere of the city.

“Through the growth and popularity of Vivid, Australia is now considered one of the major centres of lighting design in the world.”

Originally published in the May / June 2014 edition of Stage Whispers.

Images within article (from top): Lighting the Sails Sydney Opera House (James Horan); Lighting the Sails Sydney Opera House (Daniel Boud); Vessels on Sydney Harbour join 'Harbour Lights' for Vivid Sydney 2014; Sydney ferry joins harbour lights for Vivid Sydney 2014; Emergence Martin Place (Brett Hemmings).

Below: Play Me; The Pool; Vivid Sydney (James Morgan)