Jane Cox’s Tony Award-winning Lighting Design uses ETC to Illuminate the Darkness of Appropriate

Date Posted: 6/17/2024

One of Broadway’s most talked-about plays this season is Appropriate, garnering eight Tony nominations and three wins, including Best Revival of a Play. Written by Brandon Jacob-Jenkins, the show is a portrait of a family unraveling in the wake of its patriarch’s death as three siblings begrudgingly reunite to sort through the detritus of their late father’s Arkansas plantation house. Lighting Designer Jane Cox received her first Tony award for her enthralling design that used ETC Source Four LED Series 2 fixtures and was programmed on an Eos Ti by Kelley Shih.

The play's sprawling two-story set, designed by scenic design firm dots, is a jaw-dropping feat of scale. Getting light to penetrate the cluttered, fortress-like plantation house was no small task. “It was a challenge, but there was something really right about this space where there's actually a lot of light outside, but the light can’t get into the space,” Cox explains. “As a lighting designer, one of the things I'm most interested in is how accessibility to a performer's emotions interacts with the audience experience. If you constantly have total access to a performer's emotions, it's actually hard as an audience member to really engage your imagination. But if you ask too much of the audience, they check out. So what's the sweet spot in terms of being able to see people clearly and having it take place in a mysterious environment?”

That sweet spot was found with the help of Source Four LED Series 2 with the Lustr array. The x7 Color System of the Lustr array combines nuanced color range with intense brightness for a powerhouse fixture. “The Helen Hayes Theatre has these great proscenium boom positions that are really unusually good, so we loaded them up with Source Four LED Series 2s that go through a variety of subtle color changes throughout the piece. We were delighted to have those.”

“Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ work really speaks to me,” says Cox. “I'm a sucker for a playwright who writes impossible stage directions that have to be solved through design.” This element comes along in the finale, with a series of jump cuts to different times of day that slowly speed up, evolving into a strobe. “The end of the play has hundreds and hundreds of cues in it,” says Cox. “I don't know how Kelley did it.”

Shih started by taking Cox’s base looks and applying a variety of triggers that sped up as they went along. “There's a section that was just follows, which is a very old school way of doing it. Then there's a section that's just MIDI triggers, and then there's a section with a looping second cue list, which I don't get to do that often,” says Shih. “It was really fun to be like, oh yeah, the console can cycle through 20 looks in 0.01 seconds each and create this cue that looks like a strobe.” Eos Ti’s straightforward user interface paired with its powerful hardware made programming this otherwise daunting sequence into a fun exercise. “An Eos is definitely my console of choice for a show like this,” Shih says.

Cox speculates that the production at the Helen Hayes (the show later transferred to the Belasco, where it is currently running) is likely the first Broadway show to have an all-woman lighting team. With a female lighting designer (Cox), associate (Bailey Costa), studio assistant (Tess James), programmer (Shih), and head electrician (Mia Roy), "it was a delight,” Cox says. “it's just a really, really pleasant environment to work in.”

Outside of her design work, Cox says that ETC has made for a strong partner in the pursuit of lighting research throughout her career: “ETC is a company that I've been able to have ongoing philosophical conversations with about how the equipment relates to artistic processes. I'm not really a gear person-- I'm the Director of Princeton University’s theatre program, so I'm driven more by research questions than the gear. I feel like ETC has always been sympathetic to that and is always driven by research.”

But as a designer? “I’ve always found the people at ETC to be really designer friendly, responsive, helpful, and great at building community.”

With a rig full of powerful lights and an equally powerful team supporting her vision, Cox’s first Tony award is well-earned.