Guy de Lancey is an award-winning producer, editor, cinematographer, photographer, light and set designer as well as an actor. At the heart of all his pursuits, which span a variety of roles in theatre, film and TV, is the art of storytelling. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a Fleur du Cap for Best Supporting Actor and Best Lighting Design (together with Luke Ellenbogen) for his involvement in Louis Viljoen‘s The Pervert Laura.
He studied at Rhodes University, New York University and Benetton’s Fabrica Arts and Communication Research Centre and his recent directing, acting and design credits include; Shakespeare’s King Lear (This time it Hurts), Urban Death, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Highway Crossing, As You Like It, Glengary Glen Ross and Through the Looking Glass. Guy is often vocal about the inequalities present in the South African theatre industry and doesn’t shy away from expressing scepticism when it comes to artistic accolades or the nature of creative institutions.
You have a multifaceted career spanning TV, film, documentaries, commercials and theatre work. All of these mediums focus on storytelling. What compels you to create, share and tell stories?
The understanding that, even in neuroscience, what is called ‘the binding problem’ describes how the brain (body) assembles raw data from essentially unconnected peripheral inputs, and combines these to produce continuity and meaning. That essentially, there is no one at home, but the stories we tell ourselves.
Initially, you started in theatre. What drew you to performance and how did your career interests evolve from stage to screen?
Performance is a way of expressing the binding problem. Mathematically, it is a higher more complex set of variables. My maths teacher hated me. In a school one act play festival, he saw there were other possibilities, and shared that recognition. Evolve? I noticed that most theatre practitioners had been obedience trained. To the point of reducing their capacities as story-tellers, to pleasing the invisible drama teacher that ruined them, or an absent parent. A sort of very narrow bandwidth therapy. The screen offered a way broadening the experience of storytelling, and becoming intimate with very with modern techniques of narrative, in a contemporary art form. The screen also functioned as a thought machine. Interdisciplinary blending of theatre and cinema techniques, not only material, but conceptual became interesting.
Who or what has been most influential to your aesthetic sensibility?
The philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Constant meditation on the importance in the idea of ‘what comes next?’
Lighting design is like visual poetry. One’s prompted to think about illuminating the subject or space but what can you say about working with darkness?
That is exactly the point. One evolves toward an understanding that lighting is done with shadows, not light. Diegetically, technically, performatively. It is a question of depth in imagination. Not signposting ones obedience trained compensatory behaviour towards the sanctioned flourish.
What is the guiding principle when it comes to conceptualizing theatre and lighting design?
What is the story about? Where are its tensions? What is its temperature? How should it feel? Remember it’s a theatre. Not reality. Abstract the idea. Use the space. Leave front of house lighting to those with the mentality and skill set of an airline steward. Light is thought. Simplicity.
On occasion, you have been both the director and designer. What comes first, the urge to direct or design and how does one process inform the other?
They are the same thing. There are no urges. Urges end up being attention seeking. And are old reflexes intended to please the drama teacher. Or get him off your back. A director designs a theatre or film piece. An actor designs a performance. A designer designs an atmospheric arrangement of affects. It is instrumental, toward the same end. Arranging thoughts to effect through story.
What misconceptions do people have when it comes to lighting?
Actors need to be seen. Doing ‘theatre lighting’.
Design wise, which projects are especially memorable to you and why?
King Lear. The simplicity of the gravel. Not only as material, but as texture, as virtual space, as audial comment, as obstacle, as literary sign. “Lear: You are men of stone”.
Theatre design is a small, niche industry. What are some of the obstacles facing designers and how do you think they can be overcome?
I think it’s a smaller industry than that. Like theatre itself it’s a cottage industry. Obstacles facing designers are thinking literally, gatekeeper administrators, established theatres, the notion of ‘representation’ in art, the Fleur du Cap awards, references to television ‘hit’ shows, directors who think they can design, not having travelled much, the theatre itself. Forget theatre.
Are you working on anything at the moment that we can look forward to?
Watching gifted theatre practitioners turn into hype-sucking fools. Sedition.
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