White Light Up to Mischief Movie Nights

Created by the Olivier Award-winning Mischief Theatre, Mischief Movie Nights recently made its much-anticipated return to London’s West End. Opening at the Vaudeville Theatre, this fully improvised show sees audience members suggest a film genre, location and title, which the Mischief team then use to bring the ‘live movie’ to life before their eyes. The lighting designer is David Howe who approached White Light to supply the lighting equipment. 






Mischief Theatre is one of the most prominent theatre companies in London’s West End, having created The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Magic Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Mischief Movie Nights is the first of their productions to open following the Covid-19 outbreak. David comments: “We had initially hoped that Magic Goes Wrong, which has been playing at the Vaudeville since last December, would be able to re-open; albeit with a few tweaks for the current times we’re living in. That said, as the situation evolved, it was proving difficult to keep adapting the show to match the ever-changing guidelines. As such, it was decided that Mischief Movie Nights would be a better option as it is an improvised show, meaning less rehearsal time, along with the fact that it was much easier to make any last-minute changes if needed”.    






Mischief Movie Nights was first performed back in 2009, under its original title of Lights! Camera! Improvise! at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It has developed over the years and David joined the creative team when it made its West End debut at The Arts Theatre in 2017. He explains: “Movie Nights is essentially centred around a film director who asks the audience at the start of each performance what type of film they want to see. This is then performed by the cast who are ‘controlled’ by the Director’s remote control, meaning he is free to hit pause, comment on the action or rewind/fast forward to other sections. The improv possibilities are endless, and it’s even been known to jump to a ‘Director’s Cut’, behind-the-scenes documentary footage or even deleted scenes, such is the nature of the show.  











As this is an improvised production which changes every single evening, this obviously impacts David’s design. He explains: “With the show having no set structure apart from the welcome to the audience, this means that the type of film they choose to watch dictates what design is required. As a company of actors, Mischief are an incredibly tight group and visual comedy is an important theme running through their work so it would have been hugely dissatisfying to present the show with a single ‘look’. Therefore, the rig I designed needed to have many options to add to their performance as well allow for bold, clear choices that clearly define space and location for everyone. Similarly, colour is important, and we have a Gauze Cyc that we can dial-up any variation of colour we need along with a range of gobo textures.  We also have a large range of specials focused around the set that the cast are aware of and often move scenes into these prepared areas, which then allows us to close the lighting down around them and focus the attention. 






He continues: “It goes without saying that the operator is a key (not to mention busy!) member of the team as the programming has to allow for the director’s frequent pauses as well as have the ability to rewind, fast forward through action and then re-call a state that perhaps had been used a few minutes before. As such, the programming is intense and has many cross-referencing macros giving us the options and flexibility we need.  We use an ETC-Gio console with a customised Magic Sheet and a fully loaded sub-master fader wing for manual control. Production Electrician and Programmer Ed Locke has programmed the show since 2017 so it has evolved a great deal as we’ve seen more and more of the ‘films’ performed and added to our store of locations and choices”. 






Once he discovered that Mischief Movie Nights was being revived at the Vaudeville, David approached the Hires Team at WL to achieve the exact fixtures he required. His rig includes a mixture of ETC Source Fours, ColorForce Battens, MAC Auras and MAC Encores. He explains: “The moving lights provide the intensity and impact I needed for the bold looks. There can’t be too much movement as there is no-knowing what might come next in the show and therefore nothing can be pre-set in advance. That said, I’m really pleased with the package we have and it’s great to see the operator and cast in total synchronicity, telling a story that uses the building blocks of light I’ve designed”. 








As Mischief Movie Nights was taking place during a global pandemic, this obviously meant for a slightly surreal rehearsal and tech process for David and the team. He comments: “Mischief and our producer Kenny Wax with Nimax Theatres spent a lot of time and effort in making sure that the theatre felt like a place we could all be in at the same time for long periods; something which we were incredibly appreciate of. The cast and crew were also all having regular Covid tests with quick results within 15 minutes, so we all knew we were safe to work. The turnaround was fast: we loaded-in on Monday morning, focused mid-afternoon and had a few states in the desk by the end of Monday night. Tuesday morning, we were all sent for Covid tests and then back to the theatre for a lighting and tech session. Since the opening three minutes of the show are really the only fixed point, it was then a matter of giving Helen, our Operator, the console and letting her rehearse with the cast as they refined their timings and I was able to make adjustments to focuses, colour palettes and timings. Helen has worked with us before on this show, so I watched in amazement as looks came and went with great panache. She deservedly gets a Bow in the curtain call”.






The show opened earlier this month and was originally intended to run until 31st January 2021. However, with London having now entered Tier 3, Nimax Theatres have announced that all shows within its venues will be suspended from today until 8th January 2021. 














David concludes: “It was a fantastic experience to be in a theatre once again, working with some brilliant individuals and creating a truly unique and equally hilarious show. It’s a shame that we find ourselves in this situation once again; particularly as everyone was so safe and cautious and the appropriate measures were all in place. It’s a scary and unpredictable time for so many of us in our industry and I am just hopeful that in the new year, we can return to some sort of normality and get back to entertaining audiences and doing what we love”.