There are many theatre lighting design textbooks in the world; however, few female Asian lighting designers have published their life experience in designing lights yet. Shoko Matsumoto just finished her brilliant book, Awareness Of Light, in April 2017, from the University of the Philippines Press, and we cannot afford to miss this rare jewel of design books for its rich Asian perspectives and contexts.
Shoko Matsumoto is a lighting designer who emerged from the backstage so called as “a man’s dominated world” in 1987 and has become an active female lighting designer internationally. This book of hers gave us a whole picture of her lighting career and shared her secret process behind the curtain as a lighting designer generously and rigorously. She is also a member of Japan Association of Lighting Engineers & Designers and a founding member of Sinag Arts Foundation in the Philippines. In Sinag, she has cultivated huge amount of new generations of technical theatre workers and designers in Philippines and Asia. In 2004, she was assigned as a Special Advisor for Cultural Exchange by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan. She is also the founder and the director of the group Technical Theatre for Aspiring Asian Women (TTAAW).
She has designed for opera, musicals, theatre, and dance productions in the US, UK, as well as a number of European countries, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Australia. She is also venturing into designing interior lighting for various public spaces and events.
She is originally from Japan but she has lived abroad for more than 25 years, of which she had spent more than 20 years in the Philippines. Presently she is based in Taiwan.
In 2010, the Center of International Studies in University of the Philippines (UPCIS) has established a technical theatre library and archive based on the precious collected theatre materials and documents donated by Shoko Matsumoto. In 2012, she created TTAAW to share her talents and expertise through technical education work, workshops, and consultancies. As a whole, she is a multi-dimensional lighting designer and technical theatre educator dedicating to lighting design and technical theatre education all over the world, particularly in Asia for more than 20 years since 1987.
Awareness Of Light is what Shoko Matsumoto has carefully selected from the rich materials of her own archive and invited her collaborators in theatre to contribute to cover her life-long design career, experience, and concepts including 395 different productions she has designed. Her archives can be broken down into 164 productions, 36 events, 6 residence and interior designs, 7 exterior gardens, 43 workshops, 19 exhibits, 9 conferences and 53 features/interviews and 19 personal notes and notebooks according to her editor Prof. Cynthia Neri Zayas, the director of the International Studies in University of the Philippines (UPCIS). Her book not only covers the richness and variety of the productions but also explores her lighting process. Her unique perspective on Japanese aesthetics, as well as her poetic and theatrical approach, have shaped this excellent volume on lighting design.
She has divided her epic book as a theatre event itself in lighting terms such as “Q1 to Q10” in each Act of the book and arranged the contents of her book in the style of theatre script such as “Act 1 to Act 6” which is very original and accessible for theatre audience to catch her lighting story and logic in the book. She designed the book as the following brilliant lighting script: “Fade in” (including two prefaces written by her editor and her collaborative artist), “Act1-Profession,” “Act 2 Venue,” “Act 3 Type of Performance,” “Intermission-Conversation with Shoko,”
“Act 4 Words, Tools, and Practice,” “Act 5 Design,” “Act 6 The Archives,” “Fade out- the Show Must Go On.” As we can see from the title of each section, this book contains the whole spectrum of lighting design process and you can almost use it as a manual to guide and map out your own light career according to her magic design as well as an inspiration book to develop your related ideas about all kinds of design.
In the “Profession” section, we can see a variety of artists from famous directors, playwrights and choreographers to significant stage designers and actors in various productions who talk intimately and creatively about their amazing design process in collaboration with Shoko to understand the most important process of collaboration in theatre in detail and in fantastic lighting archive photographs to see the magic on paper before your very eyes. These wonderful essays come from different disciplines of theatre world and they are an inventive collection of their responses to Shoko’s question to them, “What is your awareness of light?” So they all write how they have worked in the past with Shoko Matsumoto individually or they write about their own comments of Shoko’s profound question as theatre artists. Altogether this section forms a unique collection of Filipino theatre artists’ reflections on the collaborative process of working with a lighting designer and how they think of the awareness of light from their different perspectives and angels. It stands out as a collective and subjective response of artistic reflection on theatre lighting and its process, and it helps the future designers to go on their journey of theatre lighting design with inspirations and insights.
In the “Venue” section, we see a rich collection of different venues Shoko has worked in and lighted to have a whole picture of how a lighting designer can work with her theatre differently and give these theatres their different colors and accents. With her precious lighting plans, focus notes and magic sheets, the section of “Type of Performance” leads us to have a clear understanding of the bits and pieces of her lighting process in different types of performance separated from “Q1 to Q10” including drama, musical, opera, dance and ballet, community theatre, traditional theatre, concert with workshop, fashion show, event and party, and exhibition. In the lovely section of “Intermission,” we get to a break to hear how Shoko views her whole career in theatre from Black Tent to those exuberant art scenes in the Philippines and how and why she becomes a lighting designer and what she thinks about herself as a lighting designer and compares and reflects on her various lighting experiences in different countries and cultures.
In “Act 4,” Shoko guides us to a comprehensive tour of her close friends as she considers in her lighting work–those important technical and backstage words, the tools, and practices in her preparation and paperwork when doing lights. This is a precious record and a hands-on manual for many beginning lighting designers to get hold of the technical side of lighting under its mystic façade. Then Shoko moves on a unique section of her book, “Act 5-Design,” in which she explains the lighting design process with a clear schedule and meticulous plan and employs Japanese Ikebana Method (Art of Flower Arrangement in Japan) to propose her unique lighting aesthetics from what she learned and practiced in Ikebana to consider some of the most important lighting design elements such as angle and balance. This is really unique in all of the world’s lighting design books. I believe it is truly original to refer to Ikebana a Japanese aesthetic approach for developing lighting concepts, and her originality deserves many future developments and discussions among lighting worlds.
Last but not least, Shoko gave a complete layout of her archives in tremendous details for further researchers to consult and explore in the future. I was deeply struck by her final words in the book, in which she talks about how she chose lighting design as her lifelong vocation. These words exemplify her straightforwardness, her relentless passion for theatre, and her remarkable career as a reserved and highly disciplined lighting designer. Shoko Matsumoto gave herself and her life to the theatre, and as an unreserved gift, she gave us this book, Awareness Of Light, to show us her utmost dedication to the art and magic of light. As her name Shoko literally means “light child,” she enlightens us with her magic book, not only with lights but also with her words. That echoes why I think in the first place, we cannot afford to miss this unique lighting book from an Asian female lighting designer, one of its kind, the only Shoko Matsumoto.
(Prof. Wan-Jung Wang is a theatre researcher, teacher, director and playwright who has worked together with Shoko Matsumoto in many different productions, museum theatre, community theatre, and educational theatre settings in the Department of Drama Creation and Application, National University of Tainan, Taiwan.)
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.