[Originally published in the Star & Wave newspaper on December 13, 2023.]
By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director
The holiday lights on Hughes Street not only amplify the charm of the Victorian homes lining the neighborhood, they also shine a light on what Cape May looked like in the past, and radiate hope for the future.
From the beginning of time, people all over the world have used light to triumph over darkness. The Dark Ages gave way to the Age of Enlightenment, which celebrated learning. Many cultures celebrate festivals of light today from the Diwali in India and The Fallas in Spain to The Lantern Festival in China and Saint Martin’s Day in The Netherlands.
In Cape May, Christmas inspires the most lighting displays, followed by Hannukah. A menorah on Washington Street Mall adds a new candle for each of the eight days of the latter. The name, “Hannukah,” means dedication in Hebrew and celebrates the rededication of the temple. There was only enough oil to last there one day, but the oil lasted for eight days.
Cape May Stage is ablaze with holiday lights this season both inside and out. For a performance, our lighting designers use light to tell a story. Sometimes, they use lights to provide literal information like the time of day (is it day or night?) or the place (is it an interior or exterior?). They also use lights to create a mood.
Audiences might not even realize that the lights are slowly shifting. Warm colors make us feel welcome and relaxed. Cool colors make us more alert and stimulate our senses. It is a fact that light can induce serotonin, the hormone of happiness. Little wonder we sometimes feel elated after a play.
As a director, I often use light to focus on a specific action by making extraneous areas of the stage disappear so that the audience sees only what we want them to see. Our current production, “A Tuna Christmas,” uses light both as a source of holiday cheer and as an important tool in storytelling. When one of our characters is abducted by aliens (spoiler alert: it is just a sound and light cue), the designer had to find a light that appeared to be other-worldly and suggests that he was taken away.
The Italians have a word, “chiaroscuro,” to describe the contrast between light and darkness. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Goya employed this technique masterfully to bring their paintings to life.
We in theater use chiaroscuro as well. Does a scene work better in bright light or in shadows? These are choices that directors and designers must make to bring their stories to life.
“A Tuna Christmas” runs through December 30 at Cape May Stage, with performances Wednesday to Saturday nights and a Sunday matinee.
For tickets and more information, click here.