Twinkle, and Shimmer, and Buzz: The Chromolume in Process

ChromolumeGeorges Seurat, the painter whose work inspired Sunday in the Park with George, is most often associated with the movement of Pointillism, but Seurat did not use that word himself. Neither a follower of Impressionism or Expressionism, Seurat called his theory “chromoluminarism” (“color-light-ism”). Impressionists wanted to capture a fleeting moment. Seurat wanted to break down the composition of an image to its tiniest elements, and then recombine them. He wanted to change the way we perceived the world around us.

In the musical, his legacy carries on in act two through his greatgrandson George, a postmodern 1980s artist who is creating light sculptures he calls “chromolumes.” As director Peter DuBois began working with the designers, he knew that he wanted to take George’s art in a different direction for this production. “Sometimes, in productions of Sunday, the chromolume is a send-up of 1980s art that looks like a Studio 54 disco ball or something that came out of ‘Doctor Who,’” says DuBois. “But George is showing it at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the great museums in the world, and he has been commissioned to create a piece that is a call-and-response with Seurat’s painting. That’s not a person who is a joke or a hack.”

For inspiration, DuBois went back to the original theory of chromoluminarism. “Seurat was trying to find a science to color,” DuBois says. “How does the eye put color and image together? Why do we respond to certain things differently than others?” DuBois drew the designers back to Seurat’s original theories, while staying mindful of the plot of the musical. “Early on, I knew that I wanted the designers to understand that George’s art drew on Seurat,” DuBois says. “I didn’t want to step on the comedy of the fact that when we meet George in the second act, he is stuck in a rut. The nature of the story is that he has been doing the same thing over and over — but I still wanted it to be impressive.”

To that end, DuBois and music director Eric Stern commissioned Michael Starobin, the orchestrator for the original Broadway production, to compose new music for the chromolume. “It was important to me that the Chromolume was not an object, so much as an experience,” DuBois says. “Michael, Eric, [projection designer] Zachary Borovay, and [lighting designer] Christopher Akerlind — we are all working together to create a piece of lighting and video that has its own twists and turns. Michael has created music, that while still grounded in the realities of 1980s composition, has more heart-stopping moments and then still carries us right back into the world of the play.”

– Charles Haugland

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