Lighting Doctor Faustus: Part I (Pre-Production)

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http://www.doctorfaustusoxford.com

Job: Lighting Designer & Dancer (& Pyrotechnics)

Step 1: Creative Meetings & Bid

The bid deadline for Doctor Faustus fell precisely in the middle of the show week for The Phantom of the Opera (in fact, the day of opening night was also the day of the bid deadline, and we didn’t finish tech until shortly before the house opened for the first show) – so I didn’t actually get a statement written, because I was slightly too busy trying to make sure the eyelets on these didn’t fall off:

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The Phantom of the Opera, Keble O’Reilly, 2016. Photograph by Russell Johnson; set design by Abby Clarke; lighting design by Katrin Padel; costume design by Jennifer Hurd.

I’d been on the production team as lighting designer, however, since the previous term: Cai first mentioned the idea to me back in early Michaelmas 2015, while we were working together on The Three Musketeers. With a great concept, and a great team – I didn’t take much convincing.

By bid stage, we’d considered some of the basics of what we wanted to achieve with the lighting (the colour scheme – dominated by greens, blues, and purples – was clearly defined; the plan to use a cyclorama backdrop was in place; the plan to use gobos to create various floor patterns existed, and though we hadn’t finalized which ones, we’d talked quite a bit about fractals and pentagrams in both lighting and marketing; though we didn’t yet have a choreographer, Cai and I had talked about some fun ways to light the demons/devils; and the overall aesthetic of show was certainly something the production team had settled on fairly early).

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Some of my initial inspiration for the floor patterns and interaction between dancers and various conjuring symbols came from a show I’d seen at Assembly at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer  – 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures, which featured a  cast of four ballet dancers and four jugglers, with lighting design by Guy Hoars:

 

4 x 4 Ephemeral Architectures Gandini Juggling; London International Mime Festival; Choreographer : Ludovic Ondiviela; Dancers: Kieran Stoneley, Kate Byrne, Erin O'Toole, Joe Bishop; Jugglers: Kim Huynh, Sakari Mannisto, Owen Reynolds, Kati Ylahokkala; Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH; Royal Opera House; 13th January 2015; Credit: Pete Jones/Arenapal; www.arenapal.com

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There was still quite a bit, I freely confess, that was rather nebulous and undefined at bid stage.  I hadn’t had a chance to sit down properly to chat with the set designer – she mentioned some hanging green bulbs in her statement that I (and the director) had never heard of until I read it, shortly before the bid interview; we hadn’t worked out any sort of CAD plan of the space; and I definitely hadn’t much more than a very hazy sense of exactly what I was going to spend my £400 budget on. (I mean, I’d been asked to specify a number for the budget – and had given some thought to it, trying to overestimate to give myself breathing room – but in terms of a precise breakdown, I was a little bit behind. The precise list that eventually appeared on the Google Drive was first created on March 1st, a week and a half after the bid deadline but in time for most funding interviews.)

Initial lighting budget & breakdown (March 1, 2016):

£25 TAFF Hazer

£25 TAFF Cyclorama

£72 TAFF Coda4 Battens (cyc lights)

£120 Gobos

£24 Extra tank traps for booms

£30 Gel & tape

Total: £296 of £400 budget

Final lighting budget & breakdown (May 21, 2016):  

Lighting Budget_Breakdown - Final

Total: £398.14 of £400 budget

Step 2: Final Set Design & CAD

We lost our set designer shortly after the bid, but that actually didn’t derail the process nearly as much as it could have – since Alison and Alex (producer and production manager) stepped in to fill the gap. I uploaded a blank CAD plan of the O’Reilly to the Google Drive; over the vacation, Alex promptly produced a ground plan, elevations, and various renderings of the set.

Set design as of April 3, 2016 (drawings by Alex Beddall): 

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This was lovely, because it meant I could start, very early on, thinking about positions and angles and precise placements – nothing would be finalized without knowledge of the blocking, but as early as April 9th I had the beginnings of a draft CAD, with the lighting grid superimposed over the ground plan, and some options for boom positions inserted.

Step 3: More Creative Meetings

In early Trinity, in addition to our normal production meetings, I met twice with Cai (director) and once with Alice (choreographer) to chat through the show and talk mood, atmosphere, angles, colours, and gobos. Very helpfully, Cai had a clear plan for the blocking from early on, and Alice had finished most of the choreography (and taught it to the dancers, including me) by the end of 0th week.

In the interests of a coherent and cohesive design across all departments, I also tried to share as much as I could (on both the group Facebook and our Google Drive) about what ideas I had for the lighting, and what sort of colours and effects I was thinking about. This, for instance, went up on April 24th, after I’d spent some hours with a Lee swatchbook (borrowed from TAFF) and a Rosco swatchbook (which I’d ordered for myself), thinking about gel colours:

Faustus Colour List V1

We’d got the graphics for marketing up and running over the vac, and as soon as I saw the logo, it occured to me that we could use that as our ‘conjuring pentagram’, by ordering a custom gobo and projecting it onto the floor. I’d done some math (to work out the right size, based on the CAD plan and the beam angle of the Source 4 Zooms), emailed Goboland.UK to spec and price the custom one, and as soon as I could finalize the rest of the gobo order, I placed it – and thanks to some spectacularly fast production and delivery, it arrived on the same day I paid for it. (I’d even chosen the ‘slow’, seven-day production time because of the 40% discount on the price!)

Paid for the morning of May 6, 2016; arrived in my pidge by 1pm the same day:

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The moon and galaxy exist because Cai wanted astronomy-related gobos: originally, planets, but coloured gobos are expensive (£30-40 rather than £7.20), so I found these instead.

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Step 4: Rig Plan and Cue List

By early third week, I’d been able to talk through the entire show with Cai, and from those notes, I created the first draft of my cue list. At the same time, I’d been working out draft rig plans, and I worked out what was intended to be a major if not final draft. I also ordered gel at the end of 3rd – which might seem a bit early, without a final final rig plan, but I wanted some very specific colours to supplement the existing TAFF collection (I’d gone into the props store in 2nd week and made myself a quick list of the contents at that time!). I had decided to order from White Light in London, and shipping said gel to Oxford would have cost me £6 – but since I was going to London anyways on the Monday of 4th (May 16th), I figured I would just pick it up in person.

Throughout the process of drafting the rig plan, I’d also been working with a program called Lightwright, which is a very clever (if somewhat expensive) way of eliminating a lot of annoying work in Excel. Basically it serves as a database for every fixture in the show – including information like channel, dimmer, gel colour, accessories, wattage, and purpose:

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So it perhaps sounds like a glorified version of Excel, so far. But it’ll also let you record in detail  the intended (and actual) focus of each fixture. It’ll generate almost any piece of lighting design paperwork you need (channel hookup, colour schedule, instrument schedule, load report for how much power you’re drawing from the dimmers…) Want to know how many fixtures of a given type you’ve used, to make sure you’re still within the theatre’s inventory? Hit a button. Want to double-check that you haven’t accidentally assigned two fixtures to the same dimmer? Hit another button. Generate an exact list of what gel to cut? Another button. And it syncs with your CAD program (most easily with Vectorworks, but it can also share with others): enter information on your rig plan (change a gel colour, repatch a fixture) and it automatically updates in Lightwright. Update something in Lightwright and it automatically updates on your CAD plan.

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In short, it’s clever. Very clever. And it’s designed to produce exactly the sort of paperwork that lighting designers need – which is possibly why it’s used on every single Broadway show currently running. It’s possibly more than a little overkill for an O’Reilly show with only 72 fixtures.

On the other hand, it’s efficient and organized… and I like efficient and organized.

Step 5: Technical Paperwork and Sanity Check

We have a design – lovely. We have hire orders, and gel orders, and gobo orders – also lovely. None of this is any use if it isn’t a design that is actually something that can be implemented given the physical constraints of the theatre.

So, also in 3rd week, I did some more paperwork. One of the challenges of this particular design is the sheer number of floor channels required to implement it – or to put it another way, most of the O’Reilly’s sockets, to plug things into, are on the grid. Aka on the ceiling, six metres up. Not on the floor. There are precisely eight floor channels accessible in the O’Reilly, and precisely twenty-two channels required on the floor according to my rig plan.The design also calls for four fixtures, on booms, on the balcony. There are no sockets, or channels, on the balcony.

Right. Idea number one: run TRS cable from each socket on the grid down to the floor. Problems: Requires far too much TRS, and also would take forever. Idea number two (thanks to the O’Reilly theatre technician, whom I’d consulted over the vac): run socapex cables from the grid to the floor, which would drop six channels per soca cable off of the grid and down to the floor. In other words, let’s run two cables, instead of twelve. (We only have two usable soca cables with breakouts, which means that in order to get to twenty-two channels, I’m still dropping a couple directly with TRS, but it’ll still be much quicker to do 12 channels on soca, 8 from the existing floor channels, and 2 via TRS, than it would be to drop 14 lengths of TRS!)

This means that certain sockets on the grid (the ones that have been dropped to the floor) then won’t work on the grid – aka trying to plug anything into them would be A Bad Idea.

Hence why I spent a fair amount of time during Richard II climbing on a step ladder to stare at the O’Reilly’s grid and write down what sockets on the grid were connected to which soca break-ins: this information is conveniently written on the ceiling of the O’Reilly, but not on the O’Reilly’s grid plan in the theatre manual.

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The other key pieces of paperwork I drafted in 3rd week were a bar assignments/weights spreadsheet (not because we were putting anything close to the safe working load on any of the flybars, but more because I anticipated having to demonstrate to the O’Reilly theatre technician that we definitely weren’t putting anything close to the safe working load on any of the flybars), and a patch plan, for the O’Reilly hard patch – since the theatre is a curious combination of sockets directly connected to dimmers, and sockets that have to be hard patched.

With my paperwork all (theoretically) assembled, it was definitely time for someone other than me to take a look at it. Ideally, someone other than me who also knew enough about lighting to spot any glaring mistakes.

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Otherwise known as a sanity check, which in this case happened in Starbucks, because Sam Littley and I were supposed to be inspecting the TEDx Oxford sign, to finalize a list of parts to order for it, and the meeting to inspect it was – at the very last minute – pushed an hour later. Hence coffee and lighting chat. (Thanks, Sam!)

Step 6: One Week to Load-In

Monday: Pick-up and start cutting gel; count last few things in the O’Reilly to verify that they still exist while helping with Arcadia get-in. Ask Sam to explain the DMX patch in the O’Reilly. Edit rig plan to include more toplight because Sam pointed out that I didn’t have any. Order scroller tape, because Sam also pointed out that there aren’t enough gel frames for all of the codas.

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Tuesday: Cut more gel. Label it obsessively. Continue pre-programming show using ETC offline editor. Go to dance rehearsal and film one of the new dances I’m not in so I can work out the precise timing of the lighting changes.  Send in final updates to hire order to Startech.

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Wednesday: Meeting with O’Reilly theatre technician to go over plans. (Theatre technician: “This is going to take a while to rig.”) Three-hour dance rehearsal. Film another dance I’m not in. More pre-programming. Try to figure out how to set up and program timecoding in ETC offline software. Keep trying. First four and a half scenes of the show programmed. Yay.

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Thursday: Make get-in plan. Do some actual academic work. Argue (“debate”?) with the sound designer about OSC. Ask John Evans exactly how to tension the cyclorama properly.

Friday: Do actual academic work. Dance rehearsal for an hour in the evening.

Saturday: Do actual academic work. Check over cue list in preparation for paper tech. Write draft of this blog post. Notice at 10pm, while doing so, that one of my lanterns is plugged into a dimmer that doesn’t exist. Fix this.

Sunday morning: Paper tech. Drink coffee. Help finish the set in the producer’s backyard.

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Sunday evening: Show up at Arcadia get-out to help and to cross-rig the flybars.

… and it’s show week. Here’s where I am at the moment – a (hopefully final) copy of all my paperwork is below, and we load the show in tomorrow morning!

Final paperwork:

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