In March 2008, I lit a Shakespeare show using chandeliers and tallow candles. This was a student 3rd year piece titled “Shakespeare’s Apocalypse” which was performed at “The Kazimir”, Liverpool.
I had been studying Chandeliers in some depth by this point and really wanted to use candles to gain a sense of how it might have looked. I enquired in to hiring chandeliers but most companies did not have the right style or had already had them converted to electric and so, I decided to make them.
I made two chandeliers in total and scaled them by way of pictures, drawings and snippets of information I had gathered. Some sketches I had were of people on the stage and so if I took an estimate of the height of a person from C16, I could get an idea of how large the chandeliers were. Using several drawings and information from Greaves’ “Lighting the Shakespearean stage” as well as information from the lighting museum in Israel, by cross referencing all this information, I believe the size of the chandeliers is accurate.
I made them out of copper because of the autheticity of this and also because copper is a very manipulative material. I began by making the candle holders, of which there were 8 on each chandelier. I cut a circle out of the copper and made it smooth. Then I began a process to made the copper softer and more malleable. I heated it up with a gas blowtorch until it glowed a cherry red . Then I cooled it quickly in water and dropped it into an acid bath for about 15 minutes. This made it much easier to work with when using the spinning machine.
After I had made the candle holders, I went on to the arms. These were made from copper microbore used in plumbing which was quite easy to bend. This all got soldered together to make it strong. I used old safety chains from the theatre to hang the chandeliers from the roof. I also used steel wire as a safety bond. The chandeliers were attached to pulleys so they could be flown in and out of the rig. As the audience came in, the chandeliers were down at body height then as the play started, the chandeliers were raised. This was in keeping with the Shakespearean stage techniques.
In addition to the chandliers, I made a large candlestick for one of the characters to give him a grand prop to signify his importance.
The candles I used were real tallow candles but I used a modern wick as the rush wicks did not burn for long enough. After some trial runs, the space was just too dark and the emergency exits in the corners of the room seemed to out-shine the candles and so I added some 50w par16 lanterns to it. These were dimmed to about 50% in keeping with the colour temperature but they added a little bit of light on the actors’ faces so they could be seen. I also added some extra candles to add some more ambient light. Shakespeare’s stage would have had footlight but due to the nature of the stage and the positioning of the audience, this was impossible. Hence the extra tungsten lamps were needed.
With thanks to the cast of Shakespeare’s Apocalypse: Louise Chalmers, Chay Olsen, Mark Morrison, Michael Brennan, Emma Lemming, Natalie,