Sinead McKenna studied Drama and Theatre at Trinity College Dublin and graduated in 2000. Working as a technician while studying, she developed a love of the medium of light. Since then Sinead has been fortunate to work with most of the major theatre companies, designers, producers, performers and practitioners in Ireland, and has enjoyed lasting and fruitful collaborations with many.
Recent dance designs include productions by CoisCéim Dance Theatre. Opera designs include productions by Malmo Opera House, Irish Youth Opera, Opera Theatre Company, and Opera Ireland. Theatre designs include productions by West Yorkshire Playhouse, Landmark Productions, Gate Theatre, Abbey Theatre, Druid, Rough Magic Theatre Company, Decadent Theatre Company, Gare San Lazare, The Corn Exchange, THISISPOPBABY, Siren Productions, Lyric Theatre, Second Age Theatre, The Performance Corporation, Semper Fi and Gúna Nua among others.
She has designed for commedians Tommy Tiernan, Des Bishop, Neil Delamare and Maeve Higgins.
Sinead is represented by Lisa Richards Agency, firstname.lastname@example.org, +353 (0)1 637 5000.
- Best Lighting Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2013 for "Howie the Rookie" (Landmark Productions and Project Arts Centre)
- Nomination for Best Lighting Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2011 for "Medea" (Siren Productions)
- Edinburgh Fringe First 2009 for "New Electric Ballroom" (Druid)
- Nomination for Best Lighting Design for a Musical, New York Drama Desk 2009 for "Improbable Frequency" (Rough Magic Theatre Company)
- Nomination for Best Lighting Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2003 for Skindeep (Guna Nua Theatre Company)
- Edinburgh Fringe First 2003 for "Ladies and Gents" (Semper Fi)
- Best Lighting Design, Irish Times Theatre Awards 2002 for "Ladies and Gents" (Semper Fi)
Early discussions were based around the idea of a light symbolizing Agnes Bernelle’s presence. David spoke a lot about her, his memories of her from his childhood. I was reading Fun Palace, staying at Castle Leslie and listening to her gravelly, singing voice all the time, full of humour, and darkness and this indomitability. Mostly what struck me about her was this persistence; she was a performer, through and through, she had seen most of the 20th century
Maree Kearns came up with this beautiful fading giant mirror upstage. Everything came from stuff you’d find around the theatre. Backstage was very important- the place of temporary comforts, of intrigue, of the offstage drama; and so the lounging around, the odd lampshades, the bentwood chairs, the faded chaise.
So the world became these simple items- the mirror, the reflective floor. Light bounced and sunk into the floor, dancers swung above, and their mirror images plunged below. That period of the nineties was when I was delving into the world of lighting and those memories informed many of my choices- the pictures we had of Agnes performing were all of tungsten washes, so I knew that the colour palettes would be mostly warm white tungsten with accents of colour. The pinspots spotting the bentwood chairs and then opening out to fill the space for ‘Shopping’.
I used some moving lights so that I could ‘play along’ with the dancers- these needed to be tungsten to be part of that world, so I chose Varlilite 1000s.
At the moment when the dancers turned to acknowledge Agnes, they pour her a glass of wine, light her a cigarette and salute her- I slowly faded the S-batten footlights up- because they are pointing upstage they glittered in the mirror- my own salute to Agnes, perpetually poised to go onstage.
If PAGEANT was a lightbox then AGNES was the glimmer from the darkness.
Early design discussion with Paul Wills shifted around glass, reflective/ cracked surfaces and a long profile backdrop and or possible floor. Mark O’Rowe, writer and director, was concerned with staying away from the literal, and didn’t want any representations of grimy inner city Dublin to frame the piece.
Discussions about lighting and atmosphere centred around the idea that the separate pieces ‘Howie’ and ‘The Rookie’ mirrored or reflected each other. There was feeling of constantly travelling or moving towards a point over the course of the ‘Rookie’ that would somehow be mirrored in Rookie.
In this version Tom Vaughan Lawlor was playing both characters – Howie and the Rookie are almost two sides of one –and as the Rookie’s body slides apart it made these reflections seem even more deeply unsettling.
The final design became a 14 metre long lightbox. We wanted to have control of dimming and colour all the way across it. It needed to be fairly slim to fit in venues on tour, particularly in Edinburgh- so we eventually settled on a profile 30cms deep, with vertical LED strips of RGB and warm white at 30cm intervals, to give a smooth wash across while still being able to control intensity and colour across the whole length of the box.
Hence we were able to roll subtle colour washes across it, or vary the intensities behind the character- at times when Howie’s reminiscing about ‘Mousey’, his brother, a faint warm halo surrounds him. Colours ranged from steeley greys, blues, through to steel greens- and into darker blues; at times leaching out colour- building and subsiding intensity and saturation behind him.
All of this is almost imperceptible to the viewer as we were concerned not to pull focus from the narrative at any stage.
And so we mapped the journey with lighting- subtle colour tones constantly following and framing his motion through the space; imperceptibly shifting tone and intensity behind him- following his physical journey around the space while mirroring or reflecting tone and narrative.
David often talked about late nights with Muirne figuring out large scale choreography for community casts in miniature around the kitchen table, amongst ashtrays and wine glasses.
And so the piece starts with David and Muirne at the table, the back and forth of the creative process, the juices flowing and the creative differences- and as they do so the dancers come on and embody this choreographic argument. The table was present throughout; the only object in Maree Kearns’ beautiful ‘blank canvas’ of a set; and became a little metaphor for the individual, a little thinking space- out of which everything grew. The set was a Pandora’s white light box from which it seemed all of humanity might play out. Both Maree and I had a fairly open brief; this piece by its nature was subject to lots of flux and flow. Knowing I’d need fluidity during tech- I went with LED fresnels, which give a good range of colour from the subtle to the saturated, and are kind on skintones too. These flooded the lightboxes with colour; I also used two downstage left and right to provide tone and fill on bodies.
We played with scale, the tensions of little and large. We mucked about with shadow play in the rehearsal room placing objects so as to look ridiculously big or small in relation to each other- but what we found most interesting were the interactions of people in relation to one another- and in a way that’s where the piece kept coming back to. Community, and family, and how important we are to each other. That year felt particularly grim with everybody feeling the metamorphic chill of cutbacks sinking in.
Dancers danced with their children in beautiful footage by Killian Waters, to a soulfilled score by Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty, and we mirrored each other’s ideas with playful projected shadows echoing the real shadows projected by the dancers bodies. Spaghetti curtains slinked across the stage backlit by old S-Battens pointing downstage so you could see their reflectors, reflecting ourselves back outward. To Ravels’ Bolero an angry and joyous thrashing of silk curtain billowing in voluminous parcan backlight segued into backlit shadowplay.
Marina Carr gave us ‘16 possible glimpses’ or snippets of Chekovian family life interlinked and overlapping with larger than life characters from Anton Chekov’s work. We see him as a multifaceted, complicated man- doctor, writer, lover, family man, the playwright struggling with criticism- all the while framed through the lens of his own deterioration and death by T.B.
Director Wayne Jordan was interested in exploring further glimpses, by layering and overlapping detail. Cast manipulated cameras, live conversations were projected onto a cinematic screen, incorporated into Naomi Wilkinson’s beautifully organic and textured set design, and Hugh O’Connor’s lush video design provided further layered detail and texture. Footlights were used theatrically to cast shadows and movement onto the backdrop.
The lighting needed to work with all of these varied scenic elements- technically to provide the right level of illumination for the scenes and camerawork while remaining subtle and sympathetic to the poetic nature of the dialogue.
A scrim of gauze downstage, sweeping across stage, inside a letterbox red false proscenium arch became a theatrical curtain, a framing device- the softness of muslin create a misty ethereal layering of time and place.
Practical lighting (lampshades, standing lamps, some theatrical footlights pointing downstage through the gauze, all worked together with layers of video to create varying depths and dreamlike segues between scenes.