Download a PDF - Stage Directions Magazine

Download a PDF - Stage Directions Magazine

• Gravity works — So your rigging had better, too

• Winning (and other opportunities) at the ACTF

• Powering up the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 7

New projection tools

and techniques

Acting in the age of

digital possibilities

Theatres that gained

by going green

Table Of Contents

N o v e m b e r 2 0 0 7


34 A Festival for Success

The American College Theatre Festival showcases

students’ commitment to excellence.

By Nancy and Thomas Hird

38 Defying Gravity

Whether an experienced or novice rigger, brush up

your skills with this refresher. By Erik Viker

Special Section:

Lighting & Projection

41 Hitting the Spot

Is it time to retire your theatre’s ancient followspot?

Or simply salvage it? Here’s how to evaluate…

By Lisa Mulcahy

44 Greening the Green Room

As the concept of “going green” garners international

attention, theatres can make environmental

strides, too. By Amy L. Slingerland

48 Something Old, New Again

Video tools and techniques to give new life to

Pepper’s Ghost and greater impact to your projection.

By Robert Mokry

52 Is It Live?

Video technology is transforming live performance.

What does this mean for the live performers?

By Tim Cusack





9 Letters

High school video on a budget.

10 In The Greenroom

ETC lends a hand to a documentary of High School Musical:

On Stage, The Human Race Theatre offers a new musical

theatre scholarship, Shakespeare and Company gets a grant

to keep bringing the Bard to schools, and more.

By Jacob Coakley

16 Tools of the Trade

The Audio Engineering Society convention just took place in

NYC. Here’s the low-down on new gear for the theatre.

18 Theatre Space

The Cobb Centre’s John A. Williams Theatre in Atlanta emulates

the nostalgia of an opulent vaudeville venue, but with

ultra-modern enhancements. By Bret Love

22 School Spotlight

Air Academy High School’s fledgling theatre program starts

to soar. By Erin Blakemore

24 Vital Stats

Lighting Designer Ryan Wentworth paints the stage with his

palette of lights. By Kevin M. Mitchell

26 Sound Design

Everyone knows the horrors of good audio gone bad. These

designers found ways to stop the madness.

By Bryan Reesman

30 Sound Advice

Three different perspectives of sound all need to fit together

in a performance. By Jason Pritchard

60 Answer Box

Love, death, poetry and a pool of water contend with wireless

mics in Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Romeo

and Juliet. By Thomas H. Freeman


7 Ed Note

How would Stanislavski deal with Genlock?

By Jacob Coakley

55 TD Talk

Does climbing the ladder of success mean you have to get

down from the wooden one in your shop?

By Dave McGinnis

56 Off the Shelf

This month it’s a balancing act of books for actors and directors.

By Stephen Peithman

57 The Play’s the Thing

Plays that confront the different choices for and obligations of

the modern woman. By Stephen Peithman


ON OUR COVER: Lauren Ambrose in The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo and Juliet


Dan Hernandez

Editor’s Note

Slowing the

Speed of Light

I love making theatrical discoveries.

Whether it’s a new play,

a new designer, a new troupe, a

new venue, a new way to interpret

text or a new staging technique

— whenever I’m surprised, whenever

there’s a new twist to be added

to the mix, I’m thrilled.

Sometimes, these new twists

are most easily recognized when

they’re technical in nature. While it’s popular to mock the

‘80s invasion of big British spectacle musicals, the fact is,

the first time that chandelier soared or the barricade came

together — that was thrilling. They were oversized stories,

staged in oversized ways.

But sometimes the thrill comes from a different direction.

I recently saw a production of Have You Seen Steve

Steven by Ann Marie Healy, produced by 13P in a small offoff-Broadway

house, and the show was terrifying. People

were shrieking with dread, even though the dialogue

consisted of talk about brownies. It was riveting and unsettling,

and while the tech element was well done, the effect

of the show came from the script, the direction and some

very strong performances.

So how do we resolve the human and technical elements,

and how does each camp get what it needs to make

a riveting show? In this month’s special section on lighting

and projection, you’ll note that, in one article, we talk about

some groundbreaking projection tools that companies are

using; we also talk to the actors working with these same

companies in another article. These new tools offer new

challenges to actors that go beyond just hitting your light.

Trying to remain present enough to tell a human story

while being mediated by a camera and a projector, and

without the benefit of multiple takes, can require new skills

and a different focus. Especially when the technicians are

probably facing challenges of their own.

It’s unfortunate that for most productions the tech

and the human elements don’t come together until tech

rehearsals, which are laborious, repetitive — and short.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that some of the companies

we talk to this month in our features on projection take a

long time to develop a new work. During this process, the

actors, designers and technicians all work together in the

same room and in real time to create the show. This isn’t

required — or even feasible — for all shows, but if you’re

looking to create something thrilling from both the human

and technical side, it’s one place to start.

Jacob Coakley


Stage Directions

Publisher Terry Lowe

Editor Jacob Coakley

Editorial Director Bill Evans

Audio Editor Jason Pritchard

Lighting & Staging Editor Richard Cadena

New York Editor Bryan Reesman

Managing Editor Geri Jeter

Associate Editor Breanne George

Contributing Writers Erin Blakemore, Tim Cusack, Nancy and

Thomas Hird, Bret Love, Dave McGinnis,

Kevin M. Mitchell, Robert Mokry,

Lisa Mulcahy, Jason Pritchard,

Amy Slingerland, Erik Viker

Consulting Editor Stephen Peithman


Art Director Garret Petrov

Graphic Designers Crystal Franklin, David Alan


Production Manager Linda Evans


Web Designer Josh Harris


Advertising Director Greg Gallardo

National Sales Manager James Leasing

Audio Advertising Manager Dan Hernandez


General Manager William Vanyo


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Bill Sapsis

Sapsis Rigging

Richard Silvestro

Franklin Pierce College


High School Musical Video

I teach Theatre/Entertainment technology at the grade

11/12 level. Our current mainstage production is Man of

La Mancha. We would like to use four data projectors and

screens all projecting a different image at some points, the

same image during other times. All video will be prerecorded

or animated — nothing live or realtime. The screens and projectors

will be located at a different locations in the house and

would ideally be controlled by an area at the FOH mix area.

Any suggestions on software/hardware options that can

help us achieve this? Oh yeah, on a budget as well. :-) Any info

or your thoughts/directions would be greatly appreciated…

Shawn Clement

Burlington Central School

Burlington, Ontario, Canada

Shawn —

At the risk of offering too little help, I would first refer you

to a video professional in your area. The type of video you’re

talking about — multiple source streams running to multiple

projectors — is not an easy set up, and could easily involve

video mixers, distribution amps and media servers.

Now, having said that, here’s a couple of budget options.

The cheapest way I could think to do something like this

(and this may not fit your aesthetic) is to edit your source

material so that all your transitions, crossfades and effects

are included in your video. You could keep these video

tracks on your computer or burn them to a DVD.

Then, find a distribution amp that will accept the video

output and route it to all your projectors. You can find DMXcontrollable

shutters for projectors, which will cover the

projector’s beam. Send all your video to all your projectors,

and if you don’t want certain projectors to play the video,

simply keep the shutter closed. This way, you can have one

video stream in multiple locations, and even switch between

locations with some simple mechanics. You also can build

a very cheap projector shutter that you can operate with

trick line, depending on how long the run from FOH to the

projector is.

The next step up would be to buy something like the

Kramer Electronics VS-5x5. This particular piece of gear is a

5 x 5 video matrix switcher and is available for less than $600,

but any switcher that’s at least 4 x 4 (since that’s the number

of output streams you want) will work. Burn your video files

(again, with all your fades and transitions already edited

into them) onto DVDs and route four DVD players into the

switcher. Then you can just select the source and send it to

the proper projector with the push of a button. This option

will let you have different video files playing on different

screens simultaneously.

I’ve also taken the liberty of posting this question online in

the SD forums at Anyone

who has an idea on how to help Shawn out (or who wants to

read more solutions to this) can head on over there.

— Ed.

By Jacob Coakley

In The Greenroom

theatre buzz

Sundance Institute Taps Storytelling Fellows

The Sundance Institute and Time

Warner Inc. have started a new

project called the Time Warner

Storytelling Advancement Fund.

The Fund provides substantial support

over four years to help fund

Sundance Institute’s development

and celebration of independent artists

across the Sundance Institute’s

core programs.

The new Time Warner Storytelling

Advancement Fund has two main

components. The first is the establishment

and specialized support

of the Time Warner Storytelling

F e l l o w s , a t a l e n t e d g r o u p o f

Sundance film and theatre artists (up

to 20 fellows over a four-year period)

whose work uniquely positions

and advances the concept of storytelling.

Fellows will each receive a

grant to enable them to focus specifically

on the advancement of the

narrative and voice in their projects.

The second component is the piloting

of activities to explore ideas in

advancing storytelling throughout

the broader arts landscape, including

public readings and creative


Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson

has been chosen as one of the inaugural

Fellows, based on her project

The Good Negro. Wilson will receive a

$5,000 grant and will be given a combination

of year-round guidance,

residency support, mentoring, work

presentation, professional development

and ongoing investment.

Shakespeare & Company

Festival Receives Grant

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.,

has received a $5,000 grant from Berkshire Bank

Foundation targeted directly to support the company’s

19th annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare. The festival

is a nine-week residency program, which brings

Shakespeare to over 500 students and 10 high schools

participating, largely in Berkshire County, Pioneer

Valley and eastern New York. It concludes with a fourday

marathon of Shakespeare’s plays performed by

the students at Shakespeare & Company’s Founders’

Theatre. Students display teamwork and enthusiasm

by experiencing first-hand the vibrancy and relevance

present in Shakespeare’s work. The culminating marathon

of performances runs Nov. 15–18 and is open to

the public.

T Fellowship Recipients Announced

for Theatre Producing Program

The T Fellowship Commitee has announced

the accepted fellows for the inaugural year of the T

Fellowship, a new theatre producing program inspired

by the work of Broadway producer T. Edward Hambleton.

The 2007–2008 T Fellows are John Pinckard and Orin

Wolf. The fellowship begins immediately.

The T Fellowship was created in an effort to encourage

a new generation of creative theatrical producers,

those who initiate work from the ground up, following a

path all their own. It was created to honor the legacy of

Broadway producer T. Edward Hambleton by supporting

and developing emerging theatrical producers.

The program is run by Columbia University’s School

of the Arts. The T Fellowship Committee members will

serve as mentors to the selected fellows.

Human Race Honors Schwartz, Helps Local Students

The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio,

has announced that in honor of musical theatre legend

Stephen Schwartz — composer of Godspell, Pippin, The

Baker’s Wife, Children of Eden, Working, Wicked — and its

current premiere of SNAPSHOTS: A Musical Scrapbook,

it has created the Stephen Schwartz Musical Theatre

Scholarship — designed to support singer/actors in

the greater Dayton area who are training for a career in

musical theatre.

A $1,500 scholarship will be made to a high school

senior who has been accepted into a college program

and plans to train in musical theatre. A $3,500 scholarship

will be awarded to a college student who is currently

training for a career in musical theatre.

“The musical theatre survives and flourishes only with

the infusion of new talent,” said award-winning composer

Stephen Schwartz. “I’ve always tried to support and

encourage emerging talent, and so I am proud and excited

to have this new scholarship named for me.”

All applicants must have a permanent address in

Montgomery County, Ohio, or one of seven contiguous

counties (Preble, Darke, Miami, Clark, Greene, Warren or

Butler), OR be currently enrolled at a college in one of

the eight counties previously listed. Preliminary auditions

will be held this fall, with the final audition planned

before a live audience at The Loft Theatre in April

2008. To download the scholarship application, go to

10 November 2007 •

theatre buzz

High Schools’ Production of HSM Gets Documented

As if you didn’t know, the Disney

Channel’s movie High School Musical

has become a school theatre phenomenon,

High School Musical: On Stage. As

part of a public affairs initiative in association

with the NAMM Foundation, a

nonprofit organization that advocates

for musical education, Disney selected

two high schools in Fort Worth, Texas,

to perform the musical to be filmed and

featured in a “docu-musical” — High

School Musical: The Music in You — airing

this fall. To support the schools

and the work of NAMM, ETC (Electronic

Theatre Controls Inc.) donated the lighting

equipment for the production.

Western Hills High School and crosstown

rival Arlington Heights High School

team up each summer for a theatre workshop,

called the Heights-Hills Operation

(H2O). This summer, they put on a production

of High School Musical: On Stage.

Plans were made to show the musical

in Western Hills’ blackbox theatre, but

the space proved too small for a production

of this size, so

it was moved to the

school’s main 50-foot

proscenium stage.

There they faced a big

problem: no lighting

equipment whatsoever

and only a couple

weeks until opening

night. So, they called

on ETC dealer Full Compass, based out of

Middleton, Wisc., for help.

Included in the ETC lighting system

were 36 ETC Source Four PAR, 14 Source

Four 19°, 14 Source Four 26° and four

Source Four 36° fixtures, plus six Source

Four Revolution moving lights and a

SmartPack touring pack dimmer. To control

the system, an ETC Congo jr lighting

console with a Fader Wing was selected.

H2O put on five performances over

the span of one week. As a special treat,

some of the professional cast members

from the High School Musical movie

showed up for the final show and joined

Andrew Sullivan

H2O performing High School Musical: On Stage

the real high school students on stage to

sing the last megamix number.

In late fall, two-minute vignettes will

air on the Disney Channel to introduce

the documentary, which will be followed

by the full-length feature highlighting

the theatrical process of staging

the musical.

The Stage Directions Special Section

this December will focus on High School

Musical: On Stage and will feature a photo

spread of productions around the country.

To get your show in the December

issue, send your production photos to

12 November 2007 •

Chinchilla Productions LLC, based in Phoenix, Ariz., has

reopened with a focus on national Broadway tours and productions

ranging from small to medium-large in size. The

new business model aims to offer a high level of quality to a

market share that is currently squeezed by tighter budgets

in the expanding nonequity/nonunion market.

Brett Rothstein, a senior audio designer for the company

explains, “In the theatrical world, major players hold much of

the market share. There are not, however, many rental houses

industry news

House Theatre of Chicago Searching for New Home

House Theatre’s productions of The Magnificents was its last show

at the Viaduct.

The House Theatre of Chicago

is searching for a new home after

losing its lease on the Viaduct,

a venue where the theatre has

staged productions for the past

six years.

The 150-seat Viaduct is located

at 3111 N. Western, and is known

for its rustic motif.

According to a Chicago Sun-

T i m e s article, Nathan Allen,

artistic director of the House,

said the reason has to do with

the Viaduct’s landlord’s plans to

take the theatre space in a different


The company’s final production at

the Viaduct will be The Magnificents

on Nov. 3.

In place of the Viaduct, the company

will use the Apollo Theatre for

its commercial run of The Sparrow and

the Steppenwolf Theatre Upstairs for

The Nutcracker this winter.

“The search is now on for a new,

flexible venue,” Allen said.

Chinchilla Productions Chooses Theatre

that specialize in renting equipment and providing services

to the mid-sized productions. Thus, we saw an opportunity to

capitalize on what we perceived as a hole in the market.”

Rothstein sums up the company adding, “By offering

higher-quality equipment, designers and engineers, we

give producers the tools to ensure that their audiences

can see and hear more clearly, which in turn allows the

patrons to better enjoy the performance, which is what it

should be about.” • November 2007 13

changing roles

Shakespeare Santa Cruz Names New AD

Marco Barricelli

S h a k e s p e a r e

Santa Cruz, based

i n S a n t a C r u z ,

Calif., has named

Marco Barricelli

as its incoming

artistic director.

Barricelli, a nationa

l l y a c c l a i m e d

actor, director and educator will succeed

Paul Whitworth, who came to

SSC from Britain’s Royal Shakespeare

Company in 1984, and has held the

position of artistic director of SSC

since September 1995. Whitworth

joins the Asolo Theatre Company

in Florida in February 2008 to play

the role of Dysart in Equus by Peter

Shaffer. Barricelli will take the reins

as artistic director on Jan. 1, 2008.

Of his successor, Whitworth says,

“The art of the actor is central to an

understanding of Shakespeare. I am

thrilled that Marco Barricelli has been

appointed to be the next artistic

director of SSC.”

Dámaso Rodriguez Joins

Pasadena Playhouse

As Associate Director

Dámaso Rodriguez

P a s a d e n a

P l a y h o u s e

h a s a p p o i n t -

e d D á m a s o

Rodriguez to the

n e w l y c r e a t e d

position of associate

artistic director

of the theatre.

Rodriguez is an award-winning director,

co-founder and resident director

for the Furious Theatre Company,

which is in residence at Pasadena

Playhouse. He will report directly to

Artistic Director Sheldon Epps. As

associate artistic director, Rodriguez

will be responsible for overseeing the

relationship with the Furious Theatre

Company and will continue to provide

leadership to the resident theatre

company. He will also help support

Epps with the programming of

Pasadena Playhouse’s main stage.

Gerarda Pizzarello

Joins Rose Brand

Gerarda Pizzarello has joined Rose

Brand, provider of theatrical supplies

and fabrications. Pizzarello has been

a resident scenic artist at the Julliard

School and the charge scenic artist at

the McCarter Theater. Pizzarello was

on the faculty of The Studio School

of Stage Design where she taught

design and perspective drawing.

Pizzarello graduated with honors

from Rutgers University, Douglass

College, with two Bachelor of Arts

degrees in English and sociology and

also studied fine art painting and

sculpture with Jacques Fabert and

theatrical painting and design at the

Studio School of Stage Design.

14 November 2007 •

Tools of the Trade

Audio Takes Center Stage

The 123rd AES convention took place Oct 5–8 in New York City, and audio companies took the opportunity to showcase

their new sound offerings. While a large part of the show floor focused on studio recording and postproduction work, there

was still plenty of good news for theatre as well.

Allen & Heath Zed-14

Allen & Heath launched the Zed-14 stereo mixer, the first

in a new range of

small-format, USBequipped

mixers for

live performance.

The Zed-14 brings

13 independent

sources to the mix;

10 independent

outputs; two prefader

and two post-fader aux sends; a USB send and return

for PC or Mac recording, playback and effects; a dual stereo

input capability; and monitoring facilities. It has six mono

channels with a responsive three-band, swept mid-channel

EQ, and four stereo channels with a two-band EQ, in 100

mm faders. In addition to the twin TRS jack inputs, flexible

dual input options, including Stereo RTN on RCA, 2TRK on

RCA, and USB interface, are provided to enable the engineer

to control and route any source. Monitoring is provided by

two prefade sends, and monitor mixes can be checked in the

headphones and local monitors by using the monitor section

controls, which include as sources the channel PFLs, the 2TRK

and USB returns, plus the main LR mix.

Focusrite ISA 828

Focusrite unveiled its new ISA 828, eight-channel, microphone


The ISA 828

f e a t u r e s e i g h t

original ISA transformer-based

preamps in a single 2U chassis and offers a

cost-effective multichannel professional Focusrite solution

to date. The eight ISA-series transformer-based microphone

preamps feature the same microphone preamplifier design

as the original ISA 110 module from Focusrite’s Forte console

(including the original Lundahl L1538 transformer and

bespoke zobel network). The preamps are complemented

by eight line inputs, four instrument inputs and an optional

eight-channel 192kHz ADC.

Meyer MM-4XP

Meyer Sound’s MM-4XP miniature

loudspeaker is a self-powered

version of the MM-4 miniature

wide-range loudspeaker. Its

face measures four inches square,

and it is designed for distributed

systems where space is at a premium

and in which a single light

gauge cable can deliver both balanced audio and DC power

over a long cable run of up to several hundred feet. The

MM-4XP can be used for fixed installations, with features

such as various mounting options, an operating frequency

range of 120 Hz to 18 kHz and peak output of 113 dB SPL.

It can also be used for stage lip frontfill, fill and spot coverage

or installation in steps and other hidden locations. The

MM-4XP has a single proprietary four-inch cone transducer.

Peak and rms limiters regulate loudspeaker temperatures

and excursion. Balanced audio and 48 V DC power from an

MPS-488 external power supply are received on a five-pin

Switchcraft EN3 connector. The one-rack space MPS-488

external power supply is required for use of the MM-4XP. It

provides 48 V DC power to up to eight MM-4XPs, while also

routing eight channels of balanced audio from its XLR inputs

to the five-pin EN3 connectors on its eight channel outputs.

Riedel Performer CR-4 / CR-2 Master Station

R i e d e l


makers of intercom

and radio technology,

added several new products to its Performer digital

partyline intercom series. The Performer now has two and

four-channel master stations, rack-mount, wall-mount and

desktop speaker stations, call light indicators and two-channel

beltpack headset stations. The new Performer master stations

CR-4 (four-channel) and CR-2 (two-channel) are the backbone

of a stand-alone digital partyline system. Depending on the

setup, the integrated power supply of the 19-inch/1RU device

can power up to 32 Performer devices — such as beltpacks,

split-boxes or desktop speaker stations — per line. Additional

power-supplies expand the possibilities. The CR-4/CR-2 features

an additional program input that can be mixed individually

to each of the intercom channels.

RSS V-Mixing


The RSS Digital V-

Mixing System incorporates

the new RSS

M-400 Live Digital

Console with configurable

digital snakes

featuring remotecontrolled

mic preamps,

for approximately

$10,000. At this price point, it should be attractive to

more than a few theatres. This fully digital system eliminates

the bulk and noise susceptibility typically associated with

analog snakes and replaces it all with Cat5e (Ethernet/LAN)

cable. The V-Mixing system sets up by plugging in one Cat5e

cable from a Digital Snake stage unit to the M-400 V-Mixer. The

system converts analog inputs to 24-bit digital streams on the

16 November 2007 •

stage via mic preamps located near the source. The M-400 V-

Mixing Console features rapid recall of scenes, 100 mm motorized

and touch-sensitive faders, a large bright 800 x 480 color

screen, dedicated effect knobs for EQ, pan and gain.

Studer Vista 5 SR

S t u d e r

unveiled its

new Vista 5 SR,

a road-ready

version of its

e s t a b l i s h e d

Vista 5 model,

already in use

in theatres. Studer gave the 5 SR a new frame and rack, as

well as other touring upgrades like a brighter screen, which

uses the Soundcraft Vistonics user interface. Vistonics uses an

array of encoders mounted directly into touchscreens to give

immediate viewing and access of channel and output parameters.

Another key feature of the Vista5 SR is its expandable

I/O system, allowing the whole range of available Studer

D21m Series I/O cards (including Cobranet and Aviom A-Net)

to be added to the system. The MADI standard is used as optical

snake link from stagebox to FOH rack — with the option

to add a redundant snake for increased security.

Wireworks AESX, AV2000 Series

Wireworks new AESX digital interconnect cable assemblies

are manufactured with

next-generation Neutrik

XX Series XLR connectors

offering improved

signal integrity and

mechanical enhancements.

The AESX Series

includes both singlepair

and eight-pair 110 ohm AES/EBU digital cable assemblies.

The single-pair cords provide two digital signal paths and are

available in 100-foot lengths, while the eight-pair multicables

allow for 16 digital signal paths configured with XLR fanouts on

each end. Two application specific models are available: studio

select, featuring 26-gauge conductors for added flexibility in 10

to 50-foot lengths, and Road-Tough assemblies featuring lowloss

24-gauge conductors and durable cable jacket in lengths

from 10 feet to 250 feet. Their AV2000 MultiMedia Cabling is

now HD compatible. AV2000 MultiMedia Cabling combines

audio, high-definition video, data and control signals through

a hybrid connector that replaces multiple fragile tails and connectors.

AV2000 allows each cabling system to match specific

equipment requirements. With AV2000 MultiMedia Cabling,

components are configured to match customers’ needs. All tails

can be terminated to meet system requirements. • November 2007 17

Theatre Space By Bret Love

A PAC to Power the Arts

Cobb Energy Performing Arts

Centre Comes to Atlanta’s Suburbs.

The John A. Williams Theatre

Though it didn’t actually open its doors to the public

until Sept. 15, 2007, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts

Centre in northwest Atlanta (about 10 minutes from

downtown, 30 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson International

Airport) is a $145 million dream more than a decade in the


The idea for the city’s first new major performing arts facility

in more than four decades originated back in the early

1990s. When business declined in the upscale mall known as

the Galleria, it was decided by the owners that the upstairs

should be developed into a meeting and convention center.

During the planning stages, developer John A. Williams met

with design firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart &

Associates (an international company previously best-known

for designing various Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons resort

properties), which had been contracted to oversee the

design of the Convention Center.

Though there wasn’t enough money in the budget at the

time, they discussed how the Board of the Cobb-Marietta

Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority (of which Williams was

chairman) had long seen the need for a performing arts center

in Cobb County. So when land adjacent to the Convention

Center became available in 2002, they purchased the property

and began planning the design of the facility that would eventually

be known as the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“We focused on the aspects of this project that we

believed would endear it to the community,” says Bill

Reynolds of SRSS&A, the managing principal on the project.

“This particular area of Cobb County is a major emerging

urban center in Atlanta with a strong identity, and

the Performing Arts Centre’s mix of uses is only going to

enhance that identity. We wanted this to be a timeless facility

that would contribute to the perception of this area as a

cultural and commercial core.”

Once they defined the primary objectives for the multipurpose

facility, which will be used for everything from opera

and touring Broadway shows to standup comedy and popular

music concerts, Reynolds says the designers focused on

how the architectural design would impact the experience of

patrons, not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in the quality

of the performance hall itself.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the Centre’s John A. Williams

Theatre recalls classic elements of the opera houses of old,

fused with contemporary design and top-notch technology.

Wood paneling, a ceiling canopy composed of brushed

waves of gold and silver metal, a rich color palette (dark reds,

golds and purples) and private boxes trimmed with ebony

and cherry woodwork lend an opulent appeal that recalls the

finely detailed performance halls of the past.

The theatre has a seating capacity of approximately 2,750,

comprising orchestra, mezzanine, upper and lower grand

tier seating and private boxes, with various orchestra pit

configurations providing additional audience seats. Yet, with

the stage and the farthest seat in the house 160 feet apart

and a hall that is a mere 110 feet at its widest, the theatre also

offers a sense of intimacy designed to make performers feel

enveloped by the audience, creating what David Rosenburg

of Theatre Projects Consultants calls a “little temporary community.”

“The really interesting thing about this facility is that it was

modeled from the inside out,” notes Reynolds. “The theatre

enclosure, the arrangement of the seating, the balconies,

sightlines and acoustics were all modeled up at the beginning

of the project to determine the ideal arrangement for

the hall, then that became a program element in the overall

project. The intimacy is related to what the industry believes

to be the ideal for a facility of this size and was a goal of the

owner and our team from the beginning.”

The theatre features a full complement of fixed and adjustable

acoustical elements that allow flexibility in shaping the

room to accommodate a wide range of performance uses.

Chicago-based Kirkegaard Associates collaborated closely with

18 November 2007 •

Theatre Space

The Cobb Energy PAC

SRSS&A to work out the acoustics. The

hall is designed to meet what Anthony

Shou of Kirkegaard Associates calls “the

challenge of intimacy of sound,” using

Meyer Sound’s MICA curvilinear array

loudspeaker clusters with hoist devices

and provision for a flown-in center cluster.

Four acoustic drapes on side and

rear walls may be adjusted to create

the level of sound absorption desired

for each performance, while four sets of

acoustic reflectors evenly direct sound

from the stage and orchestra pit areas

throughout the theatre.

“Opera isn’t generally amplified,

whereas Broadway usually is, and of

course rock concerts are amplified a

lot,” Reynolds says. “So the consultants

we had on board, who were

experts in the acoustical and sound

system aspects of the project, had

to design it to suit as many different

scenarios as possible.”

The venue’s seats feature wood

backs and bottoms, with Kirkegaard

Associates experimenting with the

type of foam, cushion and fabric to

control how much absorption they

would add to the room. A displacement

ventilation system offers acoustical

advantages as well, with low-velocity

air pushed through 1,680 diffusers

on the floor rather than forced through

large, loud wall-mounted registers. To

minimize external site noise, which

includes commercial and military

aviation, 20-inch-thick concrete walls

encase the auditorium.

The 6,050-square foot stage (55 feet

deep and 110 feet wide) offers productions

the flexibility of a 40-foot by 20-

foot, fully trappable steel floor. The proscenium

measures 32 feet high and 50

feet wide. A full, over-stage grid with

channel decking is located at 82 feet.

Acoustic reflectors in the theatre help direct the audio.

Operating, fly and crossover galleries are

at 35 feet, and the stage rigging system

includes 96 line sets with battens capable

of handling 2,000 pounds each. The

orchestra pit is a 51-foot by 9-foot spiral

jack lift equipped with movable seat

wagons, making it possible to extend

the stage or convert the orchestra pit for

audience seating. There are two orchestra

pit configurations, accommodating

somewhere between 36 and 84 musicians,

depending on instrumentation.

Over the course of the process, members

of the design team toured numerous

standout facilities built in the last 10

years, including performing arts centers

in Cincinnati, Houston, New Jersey and

nearby Columbus, Ga. Along the way,

they took notes and asked questions

about the venues’ various strengths

and weaknesses. One recurring theme

they encountered was the importance

of the relationship between the loading

dock and the stage.

“For a large performance,” says

Reynolds, “there could be six to 10

trailer truckloads of equipment that

needs to be delivered, so maneuverability

becomes an important component

of the facility. A lot of these facilities

were in restricted downtown locations,

20 November 2007 •

whereas here we have the room for an

adequate loading dock that will help

with loading and unloading.”

To that end, the venue features four 12-

foot-wide covered loading bays, allowing

four tractor-trailer rigs to be unloaded at

once. The expansive parking lot includes

three 45-foot RV parking spaces with full

utility hookups, and there’s a 10-footwide

ramp connecting the scenery dock

to the stage. Backstage, the facility has

12 dressing rooms (including two star

dressing rooms), all equipped with lit,

mirrored makeup stations, chairs, sinks

with hot and cold water and an attached

bathroom with shower.

While other venues they visited

had primarily dedicated public spaces

for circulation through the facility,

Reynolds and company wanted to

make audiences feel like any event held

at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts

Centre was about more than just the

show itself. “We wanted it to be a hub

of social activity well in advance of the

performance,” recalls Reynolds.

The theatre’s distinctive façade

and three-story public lobby, with its

floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall, offers

visitors a stunning welcome with two

grand staircases, colored-glass chandeliers

and Venetian plaster walls establishing

an elegant environment. For

special occasions, such as fundraising

events or black-tie galas, the Centre’s

flexible spaces include a 3,100-squarefoot

terrace, a 9,500-square-foot courtyard

and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom

that is divisible into three independent

spaces, each with autonomous sound

and lighting controls.

“Not only is it a dramatic space with

lots of different breakout areas and venues

for small, prefunction get-togethers,”

Reynolds continues, “but it’s also

got state-of-the-art catering capabilities

to make preperformance activities

a major part of the evening. From

the time you approach the site, you’re

aware of that part of the experience,

and it draws you in.”

Thus far, the response from local critics

and the surrounding community has

been exceptional, with glowing reviews

in local publications and high praises

from performers in the facility’s first presentation,

the Atlanta Opera’s performance

of Puccini’s Turandot. And with

early bookings running the gamut from

a Gospel Superfest and standup comedy

by late-night talk show host Craig

Ferguson to popular music concerts

featuring Annie Lennox, Kelly Clarkson,

John Fogerty and George Jones, the

theatre’s flexibility is being put to the

test right from the get-go.

“We attended the gala opening

event for the facility,” Reynolds recalls,

“which featured a very nice dinner for

a large group of folks connected with

the project, such as sponsors, contributors

and so forth. From there, we went

into the theatre for the performance.

It made for a really enjoyable evening,

without ever leaving the venue.”

Bret Love is a freelance writer and performer

based in Atlanta, Ga.

The side boxes and stage of the Williams Theatre • November 2007 21

School Spotlight

By Erin Blakemore

New Kid on the


Air Academy High School’s new

theatre program takes flight.

Luke Davis (in mid-flight) and Craig Ewing in fight rehearsal for AAHS’ production of The Three Musketeers

Following your calling can change your life. For drama

teacher Lisa Morelos, the decision to take on a fledgling

drama program at Air Academy High School in Colorado

Springs, Colo., changed an entire institution.

AAHS may have just celebrated its 50th birthday, but its

brand-new drama program is barely one year old. When

Morelos decided to take a hiatus from the stage and screen

in order to care for her children, she decided to get her dual

teacher’s certification in both English and theatre. And her

first year of teaching was trial by fire.

Before Morelos arrived as the new kid on the block, English

teachers had taught drama, both in class and after school.

But the 1,500-student school was crying out for a more structured

opportunity for students to learn about performance

and stage tech. Enter Morelos: Responsible for the planning,

coordination and implementation of the school’s first-ever

dedicated drama program, she was charged with a brandnew

position in AAHS’s performing arts department.

“It was a year of many firsts,” says Morelos, who managed

to stage four major productions during the 2006–2007 school

year. Drawing on her professional training at the University

of Colorado and Regis University and countless years of

performance and theatrical involvement, Morelos designed

a straightforward drama program with the aim of exposing

AAHS students to a wide range of theatrical possibilities.

As Easy As…

On the surface, the concept is as simple as Drama I, II and III.

Students can take a semester-long introduction to drama class

before feeding into a group-based second semester allowing

more in-depth study. An advanced performance course, Drama

III, was implemented on a year-long basis. But the straightforward

course titles and tracking belie the complex content of

each course. For example, first-year drama students are asked

to choose an emphasis during their second semester, separating

off into small groups to explore aspects of the theatre such

as stage tech, acting, direction or even playwriting. In-depth

character analyses in Drama II allow students to truly study

and inhabit a role. And Drama III students are afforded even

more opportunities to live their craft. From cross-curricular

adaptations of English course materials to myriad chances to

compete and perform, each unit of Drama III is designed to

give students a taste of the life of a professional actor.

Morelos may have been a new face at AAHS, but she

soon learned that the drama program’s well-being was a

school-wide concern. “I have been incredibly lucky to have

tremendous support from my administration and my colleagues,”

says Morelos, who has collaborated and negotiated

with teachers from English to calculus and regularly joins

forces with the instrumental music and voice teachers who

comprise the performing arts department.

Another boon? “The best tech director since sliced bread,”

says Morelo. The recipient of this praise is Glenn Hoit, technical

director of the AAHS theatre. Doing double duty as math teacher

and auditorium manager, Hoit takes students under his wing

A scene from the school’s production of Rumors

22 November 2007 •

in after-school stage design and set prep.

When Hoit received school improvement

bond funds to benefit the auditorium, he

partnered with local lighting firm Wybron

Inc. to outfit the auditorium with state-ofthe-art

equipment, including new luminaries

and a cutting-edge sound system.

The facility, which seats 450, facilitates an

intimate feeling for student production

and also houses school choral performances

and assemblies.

The combination of staff support and

state-of-the-art digs has made drama a

hot commodity at AAHS. Morelos notes

that over 80 students auditioned for her

last performance, and the schools’ thespian

group has burgeoned. In addition

to her straightforward drama courses,

Morelos teaches a musical theatre

dance class to supplement after-school

studies. The commitment of AAHS

drama students has soared, as students

worked to design, paint and build sets

and study fight choreography over an

entire summer for the school’s fall production

of The Three Musketeers.

Making Bigger Connections

Morelos, who enjoyed a thriving career

in theatre before she began teaching, tries

to connect her students with the community

whenever possible. From hosting an

annual theatre competition to encouraging

students to direct faculty and staff

members, outreach to the school and

residents of Colorado Springs remains a

top priority. “Students’ work with adult

actors has really built their confidence

and given them experience they couldn’t

get with one another. I think it also has

given them some appreciation for what I

do,” laughs Morelos.

Once students have interacted with

the community and each other, they are

ready to move on to bigger and brighter

things. That’s why Morelos emphasizes

audition skills, resumé development and

even how to take the perfect head shot

in advanced classes. Several senior students

have gone on to performing arts

programs at prestigious colleges nationwide

— not bad for an upstart teacher

fresh off the boards themselves.

“AAHS is extremely college-oriented,”

notes Morelos. “I try to share personal stories

with students about how I managed

— or didn’t manage — to balance college

and my performing career. They seem

responsive, and the school also makes

sure they’re serious about balance in their

high school days.” Morelos is responsible

for enforcing tough participation requirements

similar to those that apply to student

athletes, but she also does what she

can to make sure students can continue in

drama. From individual tutoring of struggling

students to one-on-one tracking

and attention — one student achieved

his first professional audition this summer

with Morelos’s feedback — Morelos

strives to ensure that no drama student

is left behind.

What does the future hold for this

upstart program? “Lots of growth,” hopes

Morelos, whose wish list includes classes

in improv, technical theatre and advanced

stage techniques such as make-up, special

effects and combat. “It’s such a challenge

to be new,” she says. “You see performing

arts go through cycles of popularity,

and you can’t help but wish for longevity

at your institution. Luckily, I’ve been met

with tremendous support from students,

teachers and my department.”

And Morelos is determined to use

that support to keep her student’s

enthusiasm and accomplishments running

high for years to come.

The AAHS stage, which has been modified with an 8-foot by 16-foot thrust for the 2007 season.

Vital Stats

By Kevin M. Mitchell

Prepping a Palette

Ryan Wentworth gets his colors ready, then lets the lights paint.

Home: New York City

Home Away from Home: Creede, Colo.,

where he’s spent the last five summers

working at the Creede Repertory

Theater (CRT). “It’s a great place to work

with talented artists out to create a

wonderful artistic experience.”

Schoolin’: Bachelor of Science in textile

chemistry from Clemson University;

Masters of Fine Arts in theatre from

Southern Methodist University.

The Foolin’ of Schoolin’: “The real

lighting world is a far stretch from the

academic one. In the real world, you

run into some of the most bizarre problems

— problems no one ever told you Ryan Wentworth

about — and being able to work around those problems and

situations and use them to your advantage is something a

lighting designer must be able to do. Besides, starting out,

you will never have that much equipment, that much time,

that many resources, etc.”

Recent Work: CRT: Urinetown, Pygmalion, To Fool the Eye,

Bad Dates, Sweeney Todd and Leading Ladies; New York: The

Dreamer Examines His Pillow.

Up Next: Everything in the Garden for CRT.

Biggest Challenge: “Creating unique-looking shows for

every play.”

Waiting for Godot, Others: “The biggest drag about what I

do is the waiting. A set can be built prior, costumes can be fit

prior, but lighting is all preparation until you can finally get

into the space with the other elements and start painting.

The preparation gives you all the tools you will need when

you get there, but it is nothing but a palette.”

Why It’s Worth the Wait: “I’m excited

by a project if it involves a collaborative

group of artists all working together.

Collaboration is vital to theatre in general,

but I think even more so for lighting.”

Two Pet Cats: “A three-legged terror

named Scamper and his much more

laid back brother, Tigger.”

Two Pet Peeves: “The first is when I see

people light a show, and they are more

interested in making pretty pictures than

serving the show as a whole. The second

is when lighting gets overlooked. Lighting

can have an impact on even the most

seemingly simple shows that it remains

an area that must be paid attention to.”

Toys Enjoyed: “I became a fan of the Strand 520i when I was in

graduate school because once you learn it, it is a great console

for a mixed rig of conventional and intelligent lighting fixtures.”

Ideal Toy Box Includes: The Strand SL series, the R50 gel, a

Gerber and EZK Birdies.

Finally: “I love when a production finally goes into tech. That

is when you finally get to put all the preparation and equipment

to use. It is always so thrilling to put the set, costumes

and actors together with lighting and sound to create that

final experience for an audience.”

What It Takes: “Patience and a good work ethic. A good work

ethic can make up for some inexperience.”

In 10 Years I’ll Be… “Still making my living in this business

and enjoying every day of it. More important, I

will still be working with the amazing people I have

been able to build a relationship with over the course

of my career, both in New York and here in Creede.

“Oh yeah, and a Tony would be nice, too.”

Urinetown takes to the streets under Wentworth’s design.

24 November 2007 •

To Fool the Eye at Creede Repertory Theater

Wentworth’s design for the Creede Rep production of Sweeney Todd

Sound Design

By Bryan Reesman

The Sound of


Lots can go wrong when

the curtain goes up.

Paul Kolnik

Performers’ mics in an active show like A Chorus Line are vulnerable to mechanical failures.

Theatergoers have become accustomed to the magic

of amplified audio. They’ve become pampered

by top-notch sound quality, superlative sound

effects and potent stereo mixes in both Broadway and

off-Broadway productions. No longer do audiences have

to strain to hear things in a majority of productions. But

what happens when something goes wrong? The audience

can become distracted, chaos and panic can ensue

backstage and nerves can become frayed, although an

experienced crew and cast can quickly recover to keep a

show rolling along smoothly.

Miserable Circumstance

Live Engineer Scott Sanders (currently on A Chorus

Line) certainly has years of experience and numerous

tales of dread, most of which stem from seemingly

mundane circumstances. “Ninety percent of what goes

on is a microphone or transmitter problem,” he reports.

“That’s the most common, and getting to know whether

it’s broken at the head, broken at the connector, whether

it’s a hair that gets into the elements, which can be noisy

as anything,” the important task is to fix it.

His biggest microphone nightmare came during his

early days working on Les Misérables. The actor playing

the lead role of Jean Valjean broke his microphone as he

knelt down to belt out a note. “I heard it go ‘whack,’ and

I looked up and saw his meter peak,” cringes Sanders. “At

that point, he was onstage for almost 20 minutes, and he

had no mic. There were times he got in front of Javert,

so I was able to pick him up there. Then everybody exits,

and there’s Valjean by himself with no microphone.

Luckily, it was an understudy on at the time, a guy named

Joel Robertson, and he was an old trooper.”

Having an old-school belter made all the difference.

Aware of the audio failure, Robertson dove for the foot

mic and changed his blocking to access it more easily.

“We joked about it later,” says Sanders. “I backed the

orchestra down so he didn’t have to push as much. He

had to actually move upstage so he didn’t get hit by the

curtain that dropped at the end of the scene.”

A similar situation occurred recently with his run on A

Chorus Line. The actress playing Diana had her mic go out

a couple of times on different shows. Sanders says she

was not yet experienced enough to identify the problem

the first time, but she redirected herself to one of the

foot mics the next time it happened.

“Whenever that stuff happens, you know there are

1,300 people who also know that it’s happened,” he

observes, “and a lot of times, the audience realizes

something’s happened, and that somebody’s stepped

up a little bit and compensated somehow. They usually

reward it with great applause afterward.”

Color Me Surprised

Fellow Live Engineer Carin Ford (The Color Purple)

certainly knows firsthand how important an actor’s

understanding of live audio can be, especially when she

worked on Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent

Life in the Universe back around 1989. ”This was a onewoman

show and was very sound effects heavy,” recalls

Ford. “In the middle of the show, I went to hit a series

of cues, and nothing happened. My computer just died,

and at the time, I was not able to run a backup computer

simultaneously. So Lily finally realized that something

was wrong. She stopped the show and said something

like, ‘Carin, do we have a problem?’ Of course, I wanted

26 November 2007 •

Theater Spotlight

“Whenever that stuff

happens, you know

there are 1,300 people

who also know that it’s


— Scott Sanders

to crawl under the desk, but I just

told her yes and that we had to

replace the computer. So she sat

on the edge of the stage. I left her

mic open, and she talked to the

audience while I made the computer

swap. The audience loved it.”

Sound effects can also wreak

havoc for a live engineer, such

as when Ford worked on the first

national tour of Beauty and the

Beast in the mid-1990s. She was

the sound effects operator for the

show, and on the first leg of the tour

in Minneapolis, an unexpected and

unanticipated problem arose. “I was

set up in the basement backstage

to run the show,” she says. “I had

a rack at the end of my table that

had all my mixer modules for LCS

and my MIDI interface for the sound

effects system. On top of that rack

there was a spare computer that

was not used for the show, and it

had some games on it. Occasionally,

an actor would come by and play

on the computer for a few minutes

before going on stage.”

During one of the shows, a

member of the cast came by to

play games after donning his costume.

“I wasn’t paying any attention

because he would always be

on that computer,” continues Ford.

When she got to the scene where

the Beast meets Belle for the first

time, “there was supposed to be a

big roar.” But nothing came out, not

even a whimper. “I went to hit the

next cue, and nothing happened.

I’m looking everywhere, trying to

find out what the problem is. This

being a Disney show, a costume

had some kind of appendage hanging

off of it. Whatever it was, it had

hit the power for my MIDI interface,

and it killed everything. So I had to

reboot the entire system to get back

online. I’m not sure how many cues

were missed during the reboot, but

it felt like a lot.” • November 2007 27

Sound Design

“So she sat on the edge

of the stage. I left her mic

open, and she talked to the

audience while I made the

computer swap.”

— Carin Ford

During a preview of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a microchip went bad and delayed the show.

fired a cacophony of multiple [MIDI]

ring sets,” reveals Sanders. “I immediately

had to figure out where to reach

to take it out. In most cases, when

something happens, you just take it

out. It’s done, and she’ll just have to

fake it. You remove the obstruction

as best you can.”

“Sound effects can go wonky,”

confirms Sanders, who had to use

cart machines for sound effects back

on Les Miz. He adds that the carts

were “just like 8-tracks, and they functioned

just about as well sometimes.

In some cases, those would not necessarily

advance, so a couple of times

I had to kill Gavroche with a canno

shot instead of a rifle shot. When the

sound effects go bad, it’s another

momentary thing where your heart

races, but it usually passes.”

One can practically have a heart

attack when audio goes haywire, as

happened on Bells Are Ringing. The

lead actor played a switchboard

operator whose main prop produced

numerous sound effects. “I had a

funny button that all of a sudden

It’s All in the Timing

It is lucky when problems occur

during previews, as it did with Chitty

Chitty Bang Bang. Fortunately, all the

sound designers were on hand when

a chip in one of the digital output

cards in the downstairs audio racks

went bad, sending a nasty sound

rushing through the main speaker

system. Sound Designer Mark Menard

Paul Kolnik

raced downstairs to fix the problem

while the show was delayed for a

few minutes.

Having an audio blunder in previews

is one thing, but on opening

night it is an entirely different matter.

That’s a nerve-wracking nightmare.

Sound Designer Dan Moses

Schreier (Xanadu) recalls such a situation

from a production he chooses

not to name. “The sound design had

a large sampler-based component to

it,” he explains. “I had two computerbased

samplers running in tandem,

just in case one of the computers

failed. Each computer/sampler was

plugged into a separate UPS [uninterrupted

power supply] in case of a

power surge or failure.”

Elisabeth Withers-Mendes and Fantasia (center) and company in The Color Purple

The show ran through two weeks

of previews without a hitch…until

opening night. “As we were testing

out the system to open the house,

the first computer started up, then

abruptly shut down about a minute

into the startup process,” remarks

Schreier. “Then we went to the backup

computer, and the computer

would not boot up at all. After much

diagnostic drama, it turned out that

both UPSs had failed at the same

time, and neither had showed any

sign of failure. The problem was

fixed by simply plugging each computer

directly into the nearest wall

sockets, and we got through the

show. That night was a lot of fun,” he

adds sarcastically.

Isn’t technology grand?

Bryan Reesman is a freelance writer who

has been published in the New York

Times, Billboard and Moviemaker. • November 2007 29

Sound Advice

By Jason Pritchard

Multiple Perspectives,


One Sound

Changes in the

audio system

can beget other

changes, and so

on, and so on.

How the band, the actors and “me” all fit together in performance


sit behind a console and mix a show. That’s my reality,

but what about the actor’s show? What show are they

hearing? Then there’s the band or orchestra. Is there

another show happening in the pit?

While everyone is doing the same show, the external

influences that affect each of the participants can be very

different. The people involved are spread out around

the room, the actors on stage, the musicians in the pit,

perhaps backstage or other remote locations. Not to

mention the audio engineer behind the console, which

may or may not be located in a position which allows

the engineer to hear the show that most of the audience

hears. And certainly not what the musicians or actors

hear. Everyone has a different point of reference.

Performing is a complex combination of anticipation

and reaction. Each person’s actions are influenced by

the actions of other people. When anticipation and reality

coincide, the job feels easy. It’s when the collective

anticipated actions are incorrect, and the performance

becomes reactive, that difficulty sets in.

For engineers to be successful, they should have an

understanding of what the other people might be hearing.

Through consistency of performance, understanding

the realities of the other participants and compromise in

execution, the tension of seemingly incoherent actions

can be made amenable.

Me Syndrome

People are selfish. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just reality.

Each of us is in our position because we care about

our little slice of the show. It’s easy for the band to play

the show as though their performance doesn’t affect

the actors onstage. And it is also easy for the actors to

fail to realize that their performance affects the musicians

in the pit. Those performances both affect and are

affected by the audio engineer and the sound system.

Alterations in performance by one group forces the

others to react and change. That’s actually the beauty

of live performance, but it is also the one biggest daily

battle with which we are faced. When the performance

is happening, it is hard to realize that one’s actions have

so much influence on the other groups. The actions of

the others that one experiences are often questioned, or

written off as “I’m just hearing things.” The struggle for

consistency and ease of performance is felt globally.

The Band

A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with the

music director for a show I was mixing. We were discussing

revamping the monitor system for the band. The old

system was unwieldy, loud and didn’t give the musicians

what they needed to hear to play a consistent performance.

The system was so bad, in fact, that it strained

30 November 2007 •

the relationships between the musicians. Consequently,

the show was difficult to mix, the people were unhappy

— going to work felt like a job (if you can imagine). We

wondered if it had to be this difficult.

We agreed that the mix had to be consistent from

show to show. The effect of outside influences (someone

else’s monitors or the FOH mix) needed to be minimized.

We agreed that the perfect mix for the drummer

was different from the perfect mix for the keyboard

player, yet we needed consistency and continuity for

everyone. So we replaced the old

analog console with one of those

new-fangled digital consoles, and

replaced the wedges and amplifiers

with headphones. A mix was

created that was more or less balanced

for an average mix of elements.

From there each musician

worked with the engineer to tweak

the generic mix to something customized

to their liking. A couple

weeks and 30 snapshot cues later

(one or two for each number in

the show), we had nine individual

mixes that were what each person

needed to hear throughout

the show. Although each mix was

different, each was consistent from

show to show.

After running the show like this

for a couple of months, the consistency

of the mixes brought some

pleasant — and wholly unexpected

— results. The musicians began to

hear things that they had never

heard before. They began to hear

when the bass player changed

strings. They could hear a drum

overhead microphone out of place.

They could hear subtle variations in

level that before now were secondguessed

due to the daily inconsistency

of the old system. And they

corrected for what they heard.

Meanwhile, at front of house, I

stopped chasing inconsistent levels

and mixing for damage control. We

were able to take the sound of the

show to another level, and it was

easier and much less frustrating for

me and for them. Going to work

was fun again. We had found a way

to have different things, but have

those different things in a consistent

and orderly manner.

The band, in this case, got tighter

because each player could hear

what they needed to be consistent.

A performance is the dynamics that result when a group of people all interact

— each new stroke affects everyone else’s dynamics. • November 2007 31

This is a graphical “map” of the Internet — bright clusters and millions of forking paths. As a sound engineer,

you’ve got to follow the right paths to fix the biggest issues and leave the ones that go nowhere alone.

The downside was isolation from

the audience and the rest of the

performance. Band members put

on the headphones and got into

their own space, then forgot that

there was anyone else involved.

Overall, the situation got better,

but the side effects didn’t go completely

unnoticed. There is always a



Onstage monitors in a musical are

a touchy subject. The performers on

stage need to be able to hear the

music, as well as each other. The issue

of putting the vocals in the monitors

often comes up, but the process of

having them there is fraught with difficulty.

The process adds extra level

to the stage, which potentially creates

more problems being able to

hear. The problem is made worse

in musical theatre when performers

often don’t use hand-held mics

or headsets. In this example, each

performer was wearing a hairline

mounted microphone. The amount

of gain needed to allow hairline mics

to work is often not conducive to the

presence of monitor speakers. Vocals

produced from speakers located in

the lighting ladders in the wings, or

through floor-mounted wedges, also

damage the illusion of the performer’s

voice actually coming from the actor’s

mouth. Once again, a trade-off.

During one show I was working,

I received a request from the cast.

The performers were having a hard

time feeling “reinforced.” While the

sound department is responsible for

making sure that the P.A. is reinforcing

and everyone is being heard,

this wasn’t an issue of “the audience

can’t hear me.” The performers were

struggling to sing above the music

that was in the monitors. The decision

had been made long before,

by the sound designers and musical

directors, that there were to be

no vocals in the onstage monitors.

The increased chance of feedback,

along with the damaging effects of

a secondary P.A., were among the

reasons that this decision was made

— a decision made on behalf of the

audience to protect their enjoyment

of the show.

N e v e r t h e l e s s , p e r f o r m e r s ’

requests are important and need to

be addressed. First, I had to try and

understand the issue that was being

presented. I’m not a singer, or performer,

but I did what had to be done.

We arranged a little time during a

sound check with the band where I

could walk around the stage and take

a listen to the sound that was being

presented. This might have worked,

32 November 2007 •

except that the issue had to do with

“feeling reinforced.” The only way to

understand what that meant was to

mic myself up, stand onstage and sing

through the P.A. Not my finest hour,

but very productive in terms of gaining

an understanding of the issue.

What I heard was very revealing.

It was true that it was hard to tell if

the P.A. was on, but that was mostly

because the music coming from the

monitors was quite loud and there

was an electric guitar in the pit with

an amplifier pointed at the stage. With

a little tweak of the onstage monitors,

and a slight spin applied to the guitar

amp, the performers could hear what

they needed. They felt more comfortable

onstage and relaxed their singing

a little, which protects voices and

allows them to produce a much nicer,

more controlled sound. The show was

better for the change, and we didn’t

exacerbate the problem by trying to

add level to the stage.

Sound affects everyone, and

everyone hears it differently due to

location and the uniqueness of individual

experience. The best thing an

engineer can do is to listen. Listen to

the P.A., listen to the concerns that

others might have about that which

they are hearing. They will likely rely

on the expertise

of the

engineer to


t h e i s s u e s

and to work

toward an

a m i c a b l e

r e s o l u t i o n .

S o m e t i m e s

the request

to fix a problem

isn’t met

with a solut

i o n t h a t

is obvious.

With a little

care, real-world solutions can be simple.

Not every problem requires more

gear, or more sound.

Jason Pritchard is head of audio for

Cirque du Soleil’s production of LOVE.

Patterns and colors distort in a reaction — the same will happen to your mix if all you

can do is damage control. • November 2007 33


By Nancy and Thomas Hird

A Festival for Success

The American College

Theatre Festival showcases

students’ commitment to


Neno Russell, Montreal-based costume designer and KCACTF respondent, listens as Jennifer Goodson from the University of Georgia discusses her

costume design for Balm in Gilead.

Begun in 1969, the Kennedy Center American College

Theatre Festival continues to energize the creativity

of more than 600 colleges and 18,000 students

annually. The festival encourages, celebrates and promotes

noteworthy college productions. Dawn Monique Williams,

who now works professionally for a number of Bay Area

theatres, participated many times. She says, “You get to see

what academic programs and industry professionals view

as professional promise while also observing the work of

students who have gotten into or will get into really great

graduate programs.”

Dawn also suggests that “when preparing for the competition,

the best thing a student can do is to follow the published

guidelines.” This holds true for all of the many KCACTF activities.

Departments and students will find a wealth of helpful

information on the festival Web site,

KCACTF produces eight regional festivals. At the Web

site, colleges may enter their shows in one of two categories,

Participating or Associate. By entering a show, a theatre

department provides students the chance to showcase

both their shows and individual craft. Even when a department

does not enter a show, their students can attend the

regional and find plenty to do.

Shows must be entered in the Participating category to

be considered for an invitation to the regional festival. In

my Region VIII, shows are selected in December. During the

fall term, theatre faculty in the region share responsibility

for responding to each entered show. Unlike a reviewer, the

respondent does not merely critique a show. They attempt

to explain their experience of the show, including the issues

observed and production values that contributed. Not only

do they react to the performances and designs, they nominate

shows and students for the regional festival. A national

team of judges attends all the regional festivals in January

and February to select work for performance at the Kennedy

Center in April.

The selection criteria for shows are based on the goals

found on the national Web site. Always there are more shows

to celebrate than there are invitations to extend. However,

performing and seeing shows represents only a fraction of

the opportunity to learn and grow artistically at a festival.

The Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions

According to the Web site, the Irene Ryan Acting

Scholarship provides “recognition, honor and financial assistance

to outstanding student performers wishing to pursue

further education.” Students should think of their Ryan audition

as a professional opportunity. At the regional festival,

the Ryans progress through stages from the cattle call-like

preliminary round, with hundreds of actors being seen, to

semifinals and finals. Eve Himmelheber, professor of theater

at CSU Fullerton and the Region VIII Ryan Coordinator, points

out that nominees perform with a partner in every round,

but they should create what Himmelheber calls “shining

moments” for themselves — brief monologues, not long

ones — within their audition scenes.

Professor Himmelheber participated five times as a student.

For her part, she says, “I got the opportunity to work in

front of people I didn’t know. Their honest feedback proved

invaluable then and has made a difference for me ever since.

The main value was a sense of professionalism. I became

more confident at auditions, too.”

Anyone who is nominated must also apply. The Region

VIII application involves submitting the Intent To Participate

Form sent to each nominee. The form can also be found

online at the regional Web site, linked from the main KCACTF

Web site. The regional Web sites typically provide helpful

information for preparing correctly, too.

34 November 2007 •

John Pankratz

Greg Hritz as Vladimir in a production of Waiting for Godot at the national

level of competition.

Admittedly, the Ryan event is an

audition for a scholarship and not for a

show, but the savvy student will treat it

like a job interview and prepare accordingly.

Successful nominees often find

a faculty coach to help them. Many

schools even assign coaches. A coach

will help to select suitable audition

pieces and to secure the rights to perform

them. Choice of audition literature

needs to fit the partner, too. Williams

advises, “Pick material that you would

be cast in. The most successful students

have chosen material that allows them

to really shine, while also demonstrating

their physical and emotional range.

Rehearse, time yourself, perform for

friends and teachers and love the work

that you do.”

Williams’ comment about time is

important. Nominees should review the

rules online because a long audition is

probably the most common problem

for new Ryan performers. Prepare work

well short of the limit for each round. To

craft a character efficiently and effectively,

rehearsal is critical. Those who

rehearse for months consistently outperform

those who prepare for weeks,

and certainly those who count only

days or hours of rehearsal.

At the festival, successful students

exercise the same discipline found in

successful professional actors. They care

for their instrument — their body — by

sleeping well and eating properly.

For Designers — Design Juries

Regional festivals also offer valuable

events for design students. When a student

working on an entered show completes

a significant design assignment,

they may be invited. Costumes, scenery,

lighting, props and sound are KCACTF • November 2007 35


Porfirio J. Solorzano

Porfirio J. Solorzano

A shot from Collaboration Tank 2007, where designers, directors and student playwrights in residence participate in

an intensive where production proposals are created for new works.

Andy Fitch, faculty scenic designer at the University of Alabama, provides instructions to Justin Durham,

student at Middle Tennessee State University, during a master class on Modelmaking for Scenery.

categories. As with actors, invited participants must accept

their invitation by informing the correct regional coordinator.

Rules and suggestions are available at regional Web sites.

To present their work, designers begin by making a

display. A display includes conceptual drawings, copies of

research materials, finished drawings, production photos and

other material appropriate to the type of design. Displays

are flat, mounted on matte board, but research “bibles” and

models may accompany the display. A display should look

professional, but remember, it is a frame for the work. It

doesn’t help to make the design of the display look better

than the show design itself.

In my own Region VIII, students show up the first day of

the festival to post their display. The design jury wanders

through the display gallery, usually making notes. Over the

next day and a half, each student is given a brief opportunity

to make an oral presentation followed by a Q&A with the jury.

The oral presentations are grouped by design area, so participants

can compare their work to their future competition.

Those who wish to be taken seriously as designers take the

time to prepare a neat display and an organized oral presentation.

Then, they respond clearly to jury questions.

The jury will expect students to follow professional standards

for sketches and models. Students should learn standards in

their design classes and conscientiously pay attention to examples

found in books, in magazines (like this one), in museums

and in many regional theatre lobbies. For example, costume

students should attach fabric swatches to their sketches. Also,

scenic models are being made in increasingly smaller scales and

add the architectural elements, including audience. A growing

number of lighting designers are drawing light sketches either

by hand or using pre-viz programs.

The jury needs to see and understand the show concept.

They want to know how the design suited the production as

planned by the director and in collaboration with the other

designers. Students usually provide a set of sketches to show

the progress of their design. A brief written statement about

the conceptualization of the design should be part of the

display. The statement, along with the jury Q&A and sketches,

provides the designer an opportunity to demonstrate the

communication skills needed in production meetings.

For Everyone — Even More

The formats of regional festivals vary widely in the types

of playwriting, criticism, stage management and directing

events offered. At the Region VIII festival, we actually produce

10-minute plays, from audition to performance. We do

staged developmental readings of other short plays. At many

festivals, students interested in theatrical criticism meet with

a professional mentor and write reviews of participating

shows. There are also roundtables and interviews to interest,

encourage and recognize technicians and designers, as well

as other thinkers and artists.

Many regional festivals provide direct job-hunting opportunities

and events. Where many actors, techies and designers

are gathered, there will be auditions and interviews for

graduate schools, summer theatre, and more. These activities

are open to all students, not just those nominated to

the showcase events. A regional festival typically hosts a

busy lineup of professional level workshops, too, covering

The cast of Urinetown, presented at KCACTF at Columbia Basin CC in 2006

36 November 2007 •

everything from acting warm-ups,

technique classes and techie tips, to

master classes with nationally recognized

industry personalities.

While there are plenty of social

aspects to a regional festival, students

shouldn’t ignore the opportunity

to cultivate their intellectual

side. Festivals provide a broad exposure

to dramatic literature and styles.

Students should put their critical skills

to work and talk about the shows

with professors and peers alike.

Directors, actors and designers are

usually happy to be asked about an

impressive moment in their production.

Usually the public can attend the

sessions where guest artists respond

to the festival shows. Engaging in a

professional level discussion can help

students communicate better in artistic

meetings and rehearsals.

For the Record

It can be expensive to participate

in a regional festival, particularly if it

lasts for a week and is out-of-state.

Some schools pay for their students

to participate, especially nominated

students. Others may offer at least

some financial assistance.

While at the competition, don’t

forget about classes back at school.

Students should be ready to balance

work and play enough to get the

most career benefit and then return

to classes ready for their next assignment

or exam.

Every show, every event, every

workshop and every person you meet

will not change your life. However,

the more you meet, the more likely

you will encounter people who will

aid your career. Students who take

the festival seriously are probably

the ones who will succeed. That said,

the discipline to train and improve

one’s craft is a lifelong commitment.

The more you think and learn, the

more likely the next great creative

idea will occur to you. The more

you participate, the more likely you

will attend something with a lasting


Thomas Hird is the chair of the

Department of Theatre and Dance at

Cal State University, East Bay. Nancy

Hird is a freelance writer. • November 2007 37


Basic rigging hardware and equipment

By Erik Viker

Things fall down unless we take steps to prevent them

from doing so. In the theatre, we suspend scenery,

lighting instruments and curtains overhead, depending

on top-quality hardware and equipment to guarantee

safety and efficiency. This article may familiarize the

reader with rigging components commonly used in the

theatre, but cannot substitute for reliable training and

personal responsibility. Theatre practitioners should be

thoroughly trained by reputable experts in the field before

using rigging materials, as it is important to understand

the basic structural design properties of any material used

for rigging scenery or lighting equipment. Rope, cable,

chain and fasteners all have a certain breaking strength,

the average force at which the material fails. A safety factor

(usually one-fifth to one-tenth of breaking strength)

must be applied to any rigging equipment or hardware

used; for example, if the breaking strength of a certain

rope is one thousand pounds, its working load limit might

be two hundred pounds. Trustworthy rigging hardware

manufacturers clearly mark working load limits on their

products or provide the information at purchasing.

Common Rigging Hardware

An anchor shackle is a U-shaped steel bow with a

removable pin (often threaded for secure attachment)

engineered to provide substantial strength for overhead

rigging applications. For example, the ¼-inch screw pin

anchor shackle manufactured by the Crosby Group has a

working load limit of half a ton. Shackle drawbacks include

their potentially inconvenient two-part construction and

the need to carefully align all loads. To make certain the

shackle’s full strength is available, the load direction must

run through the pin and the curve of the bow section,

rather than sideways, which places strain on the “arms” of

the shackle.

A locking link (or Quick-Link) resembles a chain link with

a gap on one side closed by a threaded sleeve. Although

locking links are frequently used for light loads due

to their convenient one-piece design and self-orienting

shape, many theatre technicians believe locking links are

not as trustworthy as shackles.

In some cases, turnbuckles can be used to easily level a

scenery piece. Turnbuckles are usually steel frames around

two threaded eyebolts, which can be lengthened or shortened

by turning the frame. The turnbuckle is attached to

Some swaging hardware

one end of the lifting line of the scenery rigging, becoming

part of the total line length needed to fly the scenery


Carabiners, steel loops with spring-loaded latches often

secured with an additional threaded sleeve, originated as

rock-climbing gear and have become popular for quick

rigging applications. Only use versions rated for overhead

lifting, as carabiner-shaped key chains are common, but

cannot support even minimal loads.

Steel nuts and bolts often are used to secure chain

around a pipe or other fastener, especially in permanent

or semipermanent installations. Nuts and bolts used for

rigging should be of the same hardened steel variety,

Grade Five or higher, identified by radiating diagonal lines

on the bolt head and curved lines on the nut.

Rope, Cable and Chain

Trim chain refers to short lengths of chain often used

to connect scenery to batten pipes for flying purposes.

Only fused link chain should be used for overhead rigging.

Grade 3 proof coil chain is commonly employed as

trim chain, as the 3/16-inch size has a working load limit of

about 800 pounds. Chain allows lengths of each line to be

adjusted individually in single chain link increments. Chain

may be fastened with shackles, locking links or hardened

steel bolts. Avoid using spring-latch “dog clips” or other

hardware not rated for load-bearing purposes.

Wire rope is frequently used to suspend scenery from fly

system battens. The variety known as 7 x 19 aircraft cable

(manufactured with seven strands of nineteen wires each)

is common in the theatre and is available with black powder

coating to make it less visible from a distance. Aircraft

cable of the 7 x 19 variety that is 1/8-inch in diameter has a

38 November 2007 •

working load limit of about 240–300

pounds, depending on manufacturer

and type.

Rope has been used in theatre rigging

for countless decades and comes

in many varieties, sizes and strengths.

It is important to know the working

load limit of any rope used in the

theatre. Although manila rope is inexpensive

and strong enough for many

rigging applications, it tends to leave

tiny splinters in unprotected hands

and wears out more quickly over time

than do other ropes. Synthetic ropes

such as StageSet X (a very strong

braided rope with a polyester core)

and Multiline II (a twisted threestrand

rope) are increasingly popular

for lifting, static rigging and general

theatre work. At ¾-inch diameter,

manila rope has a WLL of about 650

pounds, compared to 2,300 pounds

and 1,175 pounds for StageSet X

and Multiline II, respectively.

Several basic knots and hitches

can meet most rope rigging needs

in the theatre, with the clove hitch

and the bowline being two of the

most versatile. Remember, a knot

reduces rope strength by approximately

50%, and a hitch reduces

rope strength by about 25%. The

Backstage Handbook by Paul Carter

(Broadway Press) offers helpful knot

tying diagrams for many common

theatre knots.

Cables, ropes or chains can be

attached to scenery with D-rings,

“hanging irons” or eye bolts.

Hardware attached to scenery

should be fastened by bolting

entirely through the scenery framing

structure (not with drywall or wood

screws). If eyebolts are used, they

should be the forged-closed variety.

Even simple masking curtains or

fabric drapes need careful planning

before flying them overhead. Never

underestimate how heavy fabric can

be, especially the thick velour used

for masking curtains. Ensure that

soft goods are attached to supporting

structures such as scenery battens

with an adequate number of

ties. Most professionally sewn theatre

curtains include grommets and

ties every twelve inches along the

upper hem, which is reinforced with

jute or vinyl webbing. Most often #4

black cotton tie line (or trick line) is

used for this and many other lightload

applications, but care should

be taken when using tie line in the

theatre because it has essentially

the same strength as a shoelace and

may not be rated for load-bearing

purposes by manufacturers.

Swaging sleeves are copper or

stainless steel oval tubes crimped

onto the doubled-over end of

aircraft cable to form closed loops,

usually enclosing steel support

channels called thimbles. A thimble

A hardened steel rigging bolt

in use • November 2007 39


Even experienced riggers should

never work alone, and it is best

to have another technician check

your work before putting any

rigging into service.

A D-ring and its keeper

keeps the swaged cable from kinking

too sharply, which would reduce

the cable strength. After swaging, a

“go-gauge” measuring the resulting

sleeve thickness is applied to each

sleeve to make sure it has been

adequately crimped. If correctly

applied with a swaging tool, the

copper sleeve results in a connection

only slightly less strong than the

original cable and creates an end

loop suitable for shackles or other

hardware attachment. An alternative

method for making end loops in wire

rope is the wire rope clip or cable clip,

a U-shaped bolt with two hex nuts

holding a saddle engineered to grip

the cable. Ideally, wire rope clips are

installed with a torque wrench to

ensure adequate torque on each nut

and should be applied carefully to

clamp the saddle to the load-bearing

or “live” side of the termination


Polyester slings often are used to

suspend lighting trusses or other

heavy equipment overhead in conjunction

with wire rope or chain.

Slings have working load limits

upward of 2,000 pounds, depending

on the configuration in which they

are used. Reliable products include

the SpanSet Stagesling and the

Tuflex Roundsling. Of course, novice

riggers should consult experts

before attempting to work with such

heavy loads.

Rigging Systems

Some of the hardware and equipment

described here can be used to install static

or dead-hung scenery in your theatre

where no scenery movement is necessary

or when simple masking is required.

Many theatres are equipped with counterweight

rigging systems comprised

of flown battens of Schedule 40 steel

pipe held up by wire rope lift lines running

over an arrangement of overhead

sheaves (pulleys). Each batten is counterweighted

by an arbor, a vertical rack

holding removable steel weights, which

is raised or lowered by a rope control line

to move the batten and any attached

scenery. Some of the hardware described

in this article may be used to fasten scenery

to counterweight battens, but only

technicians who have been thoroughly

instructed in their use should operate

counterweight-rigging systems. The

Stage Rigging Handbook by Jay O. Glerum

(Southern Illinois University Press) provides

extensive information about the

complexities of counterweight-rigging

systems, and several theatrical equipment

companies such as Sapsis Rigging

Inc. offer seminars on rigging system

operations. Any time rigging requires

work where no railings exist to prevent

a fall, use a fall arrest device such as the

CMC ProTech rigger’s harness or the DBI

crossover full body harness.

Even experienced riggers should

never work alone, and it is best to have

another technician check your work

before putting any rigging into service.

If a rigging challenge is new to you,

do not hesitate to call on an expert to

assist with the engineering and installation.

The cost of a consultation will

be well worth the increased safety and

liability protection. With careful planning,

informed hardware selection and

adequate training, rigging in the theatre

can enhance theatrical design, while

ensuring safety for technicians, performers

and the audience.

Erik Viker is an assistant professor of theatre

at Susquehanna University, where

he serves as faculty technical director for

the department of theatre and teaches

courses in theater operations, production

and stage management.

40 November 2007 •

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

Hitting the Spot

By Lisa Mulcahy


Comet Followspot, Altman Lighting

Time to retire that followspot?

Here’s how to evaluate your

equipment so it’s right for your

venue’s needs.

The Lycian Super Clubspot

You could swear your theatre’s been using the same followspot

since Hair was a fresh, hip new musical. And,

after all this time, you and your lighting crew still aren’t

precisely sure whether you’re working that followspot to

maximum advantage. Has the beam ever really been bright

enough to command effective stage focus? Have you measured

your stage dimensions accurately so that the spot is

actually right for your space? Is your spot giving you acoustic

headaches? Is it bulky and awkward to move and operate?

Has it just been too darn expensive when you factor in the

frequency of its production usage?

The followspot can be a tricky tool to use, choose and

evaluate expertly. But with the following eight rules, you can

choose and use your followspot to its best effect.

1. See Whether Your Spot Is Salvageable

For most theatre companies, a followspot is an essential

tech component, but one that isn’t necessarily used in

every production — many venues keep their spots stored

for a good chunk of their season. If your spot is left unused

for stretches of time, don’t automatically assume that you

need to replace it just because it’s an old model. It could

still have a long, workable lifespan ahead. A good equipment

inspection is key.

“You need to determine whether your followspots

need to be replaced or just serviced,” advises Todd

Koeppl, quotations and marketing manager at Chicago

Spotlight Inc. “If your equipment has never been serviced

before, it might need a new lamp, but it also might just

need cleaning.”

Have your lighting designer and/or master electrician put

the equipment through its functional paces. Your in-house

expert has been working with the spot the longest, so they

are in the best position to observe whether the spot is losing

its beam strength, has frayed wiring or is starting to cut

out. Ask your expert to test run the equipment in your space

from the same operational point in your house where it has

always been used and to make note of changes in its operational

quality. Also, ask your expert to visually check whether

the equipment appears to need cleaning or repairing, and

rely on their advice.

Some crucial components of a followspot indicating

good working condition:

• The spot’s lamp light source should provide

strong, clean lighting without overheating.

• The spot’s iris should effectively shift spot size and

projection angle with ease.

• The spot’s lens train should readily focus as the

operator sees fit.

• The spot’s boomerang and attached gel frames

should allow for easy changing of color.

• The spot’s built-in dimmer or attached dimming

device should allow for an appropriate range of

beam intensity options.

If some maintenance is all that the doctor orders, call your

dealer or a professional lighting company in, and — bestcase

scenario — your spot should work like new.

2. Leverage Your Location

If your in-house lighting experts indicate that your followspot

is operationally faulty, however, you will definitely need

to invest in new equipment. It’s important to select with

care. “You need to do a little homework,” says Ken Billington,

the Tony award-winning lighting designer of Broadway’s

Chicago, as well as High School Musical. “The best way is to

talk to an expert source. Call a professional company, speak

to a technician about your needs and rent a followspot

— you want to see it in your space before you buy it.”

To give your pro the opportunity to outfit your venue

with the right spot, you’ve got to break down exactly how

you intend to use it. “How is the followspot going to be used

— will it be moved a lot, or not moved at all? “ asks Koeppl.

Conversely, Billington offers, “Should the equipment be

permanently installed?” Ask yourself and your lighting staff

whether the venue location in which you’ve had your spot

centered is really working for you, or whether you might

want a more mobile situation. (Most venues anchor spots in

the rear balcony or operate them via the projection booth,

but you can choose a movable unit as well.) Also, make sure

you’re positioning the spot correctly; followspot positioning

guidelines are available on ESTA’s Web site (

Keep in mind that any mobile spot you choose should be

lightweight enough to be moved or positioned easily and

shouldn’t be so bulky that it hampers your designer’s efforts

to angle it as desired. • November 2007 41

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

A followspot that is too bright or not bright

enough can ruin the entire effect of a stage

picture, so it’s crucial to understand what proper

spotlight intensity is right for your space.

Strong Lighting’s Canto 1200

3. Know Your Throw Distance

“Knowing your space is key, “ stresses Koeppl. “What is

the throw distance of the venue?” Simply defined, throw distance

is the measured space from the followspot to the stage

portion that will be lit. If you measure this dimension incorrectly,

you can easily choose the wrong piece of equipment.

You can determine throw distance yourself by running

a laser tape measure from spot to stage area in a straight

line. A second method is to simply attach a piece of rope

or string to the spot and extend it to meet the stage area,

then measure how long it has unfurled. Your throw distance

measurement should be one of the first pieces of accurate

information you give your lighting pro.

4. Pay Attention to Intensity

A followspot that is too bright or not bright enough can

ruin the entire effect of a stage picture, so it’s crucial to

understand what proper spotlight intensity is right for your

space. “You need to decide what’s going to be right in terms

of the energy your venue has,” says Billington. “The way to

do this is to experiment — put the followspot in your balcony,

check its brightness. A followspot should be brighter

than your stage lighting. You can use a light meter to help

you decide what looks right as well.” If you need a brighter

effect, an arc lamp could be the right choice, or for a more

subtle effect, you could choose an incandescent.

A standard range of 100 to 150 foot candles will work for

many different stages and production FX, but your lighting

pro can advise you on how your throw distance and use of

accessorizing equipment such as filters or lamp energy will

affect your choice of spot.

5. Respect Your Restrictions

Even if you find a followspot meets much of your criteria,

you might still have to keep looking. What’s the ultimate deal

breaker when choosing a new spot? Your power source. “A

lot of theatre personnel will go to a trade show and become

enamored of a new followspot on the market, but the product

just isn’t right for their venue,” says Koeppl. “You have to

consider everything — starting with what your power can

handle. You can’t suddenly bring in a followspot if you don’t

have the electricity setup to handle it.”

Another just-gotta-say-pass consideration: a followspot

that’s just too loud when operating. Don’t take your spot’s

noise with a grain of salt. Test it acoustically by running some

loud playback (say, of music recorded from a previous production)

through your sound system while running the spot.

Keep ratcheting up the volume knob to see how much house

noise is actually compromised by the spot’s operation. Check

this by moving to different sections of the audience seating

yourself. Don’t settle on any spot that doesn’t provide a

smooth lack of sound interference.

6. Be Real About Your Budget

“A followspot is a capital purchase,” says Koeppl. “You can

go the inexpensive route, but you get what you pay for.” It’s

definitely wise to spend for quality, but make sure you leave

room in your budget for the essential extras: replacement

lamps, stands, yokes, irises, boomerangs, handles and a gel

color selection.

Keep in mind, too, that the type of productions your

venue presents will have an impact on what you should

realistically spend on your spot equipment. If you have a

number of musicals planned, for instance, that alone could

double your spot budget — you will probably want two followspots

instead of one and, of course, that will require the

duplicate purchase of most of your accessories to ensure you

always have enough working equipment on hand. As early in

the process as possible, make a full list on your computer or

on paper of everything you need. “If you’re looking through

product catalogues or Web sites, I don’t think you can look

at prices,” remarks Billington. “Identify what you need first.”

Also, if renting a followspot for one or two productions

makes strong financial sense, definitely proceed that way.

7. Stay Safe

Followspots can be among the most hazardous tools any

theatre techie will ever handle. Take, for instance, the xenon

lamp — its light can burn beautifully bright onstage, but can

cause real harm in even experienced hands. “A xenon lamp

is virtually a hand grenade,” says Koeppl. Xenons present a

major burn risk due to their pressure-packed lamps, which

are seriously hot. “I think for the nonprofessional market

— educational theatre venues, for instance — there should

be no use of a xenon,” warns Billington. “If somebody opens

that up, it can explode. A xenon is dangerous.”

Another important point: Never try to cut corners by purchasing

“vintage” spot equipment through online sources

— you will be taking a major safety risk. Carbon arc lamps, for

instance, were used right up through the ‘90s and had to be

equipped with ventilation components to prevent noxious

carbon fumes from building up while they were in use. When

42 November 2007 •

In order to give your pro the

opportunity to outfit your venue

with the right spot, you’ve got

to break down exactly how you

intend to use it.

Cyrano, Robert Juliat USA

in doubt, never chance safety. Spend

the extra money you need to ensure

your spot equipment is safe, operate

it as your lighting pro stipulates and

always have repairs made by a factorytrained


8. Optimize Your Operation

When you do finally have the followspot

equipment that’s safe and right for

your venue, be careful who you authorize

to use it. “Who is operating your

followspot, and what is their experience?”

asks Billington. A light board op

who doesn’t know what they are doing

could damage your spot and cost you

serious cash. Also, there’s no way your

production won’t suffer if your spot’s

in the hands of an amateur. “You don’t

want your operator monkeying around

with lamp placement and reflectors

— you’re not going to get it to look

right,” Koeppl points out.

The following checklist can help

make sure your followspot op — and

your equipment — work at the top of

their games.

• Include your operator in all discusions/demos

with your lighting

pro throughout the equipment

selection process.

• Remind your operator of where

the spot shouldn’t shine: on the

lip of your stage, on the curtains,

in too wide a circle so an excessive

amount of the stage picture is lit.

• Be sure that the operator fills

the spot with an actor’s head-totoe

position and that they quickly

and smoothly follow an actor’s


• Make sure your operator keeps

the beam steady, with no shaky


• Check to ensure that your operator

isn’t letting the end of the

spot’s beam dip sloppily at any

point on the stage.

• Encourage your operator to

speak up and ask questions at any

time. That’s good advice for you to

follow as well — any good lighting

pro will be happy to address even

the smallest concern.

Armed with this info you should be

able to get your op and spots working

in brilliant harmony.

Manufacturer 411

Check out these popular followspot manufacturers to explore your lighting pro’s specific


Strong Lighting

4350 McKinley Street

Omaha, NE 60112


Altman Lighting


Robert Juliat USA

48 Capital Drive

Wallingford, CT 06492


Lycian Stage Lighting

P. O. Box D

Sugar Loaf, NY 10981

845.469.2285 • November 2007 43

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

Greening the Greenroom

Some convenient truths about energy-efficient theatres

By Amy L. Slingerland

Proctor’s Theatre recently converted its marquee lights to LEDs.

When it comes to the

modern issues of

energy conservation

and environmental stewardship,

theatres can sometimes be in the

dark. But there are many things

an organization can do to make

itself more green. Here are a few

examples of theatres that are

implementing energy-efficient

and eco-conscious programs.

Old House, New Energy

Stagecrafters, in Philadelphia,

is beginning to take steps to

reduce its energy consumption

and green its organization. Like a

lot of people, Joe Herman, a member of Stagecrafters’

board of directors, saw the movie An Inconvenient

Truth and decided to start changing his lifestyle to be

more energy efficient; he extended this to the theatre

as well.

“The first thing we did was replace incandescent

bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs,” Herman says.

“It’s affected our electricity bill on the order of 15 percent,

so it’s been a pretty quick payoff. The other thing

we did was create a green subscription option — a $2

“We wanted to have

some actions in place;

then, as we go to corporations

for fundraising,

we’ll have those green

actions we’ve taken to

demonstrate where we’re

moving.” — Joe Herman

extra charge, $1 of which goes to

buying clean energy, and $1 of

which will go toward additional

energy-saving efforts.” Herman

says that about two-thirds of

people who purchased online

subscriptions chose the green

option. He also points out that

only about 10 percent of people

choose to donate when offered

a general donation option, so a

targeted donation seems to be

more appealing to patrons.

The theatre plans to buy wind

power from its local utility with

the money raised from the green

subscription because it doesn’t

require them to switch over to a new energy supplier.

This will allow them to simply buy as much clean power

as they wish after the theatre has tallied the amount of

the green subscriptions. The other dollar from the green

option will be used for capital improvements, such as

insulation, to the Stagecrafters’ historic buildings — one

dating from the 18th century and the other from the

1930s. Currently, the theatre is in the process of finding a

consultant to perform an energy audit on the buildings to

determine what improvements will be of most benefit.

44 November 2007 •

The fiber optic chandelier at the New Victory Theater

main auditorium was replaced with

fiber optics. Dave Jensen, director of

production, says, “We removed around

140 R-20 50 W incandescent uplights

and replaced them with eight fiberoptic

units that are powered by 100 W

quartz lamps. This will result in a saving

of 5,600 watts per hour. We are also

currently replacing about 170 575 W

incandescent PARs that we use to light

our kinetic light sculpture on the

facade of our studio building with

LED PARs. The LED PARs draw about

40 watts each, for a total savings of

90,000 watts per hour.” Van Noort

points out that the theatre’s annual

electric bill for the facade alone was

more than $60,000. “And that will be

80% less, so it will be below $10,000 per

year,” he says.

Van Noort lists many other energysaving

and eco-conscious measures

the organization has taken, including

overhauling its HVAC systems

For the future, Stagecrafters is

looking to parlay these efforts into a

fundraising strategy. “We wanted to

have some actions in place; then, as

we go to corporations for fundraising,

we’ll have those green actions

we’ve taken to demonstrate where

we’re moving,” Herman says. “We

just wrote a grant application with

the city to make a number of capital

improvements. A lot of those would

be improving our energy efficiency,

and we’re waiting to hear the results

of that.”

LEED-ing the Way

In New York City, the New Victory

Theater’s LEED-certified director of facilities,

Benno Van Noort, has instigated

many energy-saving projects throughout

its two buildings, the New Victory

Theater, a 107-year-old, 500-seat venue,

and the New 42nd Street Studios, a 10-

story building with offices, rehearsal studios

and a black-box theatre. Through

NYSERDA, the New York State Energy

Research and Development Authority,

and Con Edison, they have had energy

audits performed on both buildings and

have implemented numerous energyreduction


“Where we could, we replaced

incandescent lighting with compact

fluorescents or LEDs,” Van Noort

says, and throughout both buildings

they have installed motion-sensitive

light switches, which turn off lights

in unoccupied spaces.

Recently, the uplighting on the

decorative plaster dome ceiling in the • November 2007 45

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

One of the LED pars that the New Victory Theater installed on its facade

Portland Center Stage is the first performing arts space to achieve a platinum LEED rating.

“Our plant generates

about 75% less

carbon than if we had

traditional systems.”

— Philip Morris

Portland Center Stage installed skylights to reduced the amount of lights needed.

to be more efficient, recycling programs

not just for paper but also for computers,

office furniture and carpet, and environmentally

friendly cleaning systems.

At Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady,

N.Y., NYSERDA supported some new construction

projects as part of the theatre’s

$30 million capital campaign. In addition

to converting its marquee lighting

to LEDs, the theatre installed four 60 kW

microturbines that allow it to generate its

own electricity and built a central heating

and chilling plant; the theatre sells some

of the heating and cooling to the hotel

next door. The system includes a centrifugal

chiller, which, as Proctor’s CEO Philip

Morris explains, “uses hot water to create

cold water, which means the waste heat of

our electric power will always be useful.”

The sidewalks on the theatre’s block also

had radiant heating installed underneath

to melt snow and ice in the winter. Morris

says, “Our plant generates about 75% less

carbon than if we had traditional systems.

So we know that we are as green as we can

be using fossil fuels.”

A close-up of the new LEDs in the Proctor’s Theatre marquee

46 November 2007 •

The rafters at Portland Center Stage

Green Theatre in the

Green Ring

Last year, Oregon’s Portland

Center Stage moved into the

rehabilitated Portland Armory,

part of a downtown renewal project.

Developer Gerding Edlen, a

green building corporation, renovated

the edifice, which is on the

National Historical Register, to

the LEED platinum level — the

first performing arts space in the

U.S. to achieve this. Overall, the

building is projected to use 30%–

35% less energy than a building

of comparable size.

Creon Thorne, director of

operations, says the building has

skylights, daylight sensors, occupancy

sensors, and high-efficiency

HID, fluorescent and compact

fluorescent fixtures. Performance

lighting is mostly ETC Source

Fours, one of the most energyefficient

theatrical light fixtures

available. (ETC is also a very environmentally

responsible company,

employing many of the green

solutions outlined here.)

The auditorium’s natural convection

ventilation system helps

save on heating and cooling

costs. “The under-floor ventilation

comes out with cool air at a very

low velocity so it’s very quiet,”

Thorne explains. “As it comes out

of the diffusers, it cools the audience,

and as it takes heat from

the people, it rises up. The return

ducts are up on the sides of the

lighting grid, so it runs cooler

than most grids. And the system

has heat exchangers to capture

some of the heat from those

exhaust ducts.” The organization

also has extensive recycling and

water efficiency and reclamation


In the end, as with any capital

improvements and upgrades,

going green does come down to

financing and fundraising, but

the expenditures do pay off. New

Victory Theater President Cora

Cahan says, “The initial costs of

going green are far more affordable

now than they were just a few

years ago. Our experience informs

us that the long-term savings

are well worth careful, informed

research on materials and equipment,

since ongoing operating

costs will be greatly diminished,”

both in terms of maintenance

as well as energy savings. Thom

Trick, PCS’s PR manager, agrees.

“These technologies end up paying

for themselves. If people can

take the life-cycle of a theatre

into account and the number of

years the theatre will be serving

the community, then these kinds

of investments begin to make


Special Section: Lighting & Projection

Something Old, New Again

New projection technology for the theatre

can be a mix of the old and new, or just

altogether new.

By Robert Mokry

The Royal Polytechnic (now the University of

Westminster, London, England) was established in

1838 to expose the public to new inventions and

technologies. A chemist named John Henry Pepper joined

the Polytechnic as a lecturer in 1848. The same year, a new

theatre was added to the building, which became world

famous for its cutting-edge magic lantern shows. In 1854,

Pepper became the director of the Royal Polytechnic.

In 1862, an inventor named Henry Dircks developed the

Dircksian Phantasmagoria. The method involves placing an

angled pane of glass between the audience and actors, which

allows off-stage objects or people to “appear” reflected on the

glass as if they were onstage. When the lights illuminating the

off-stage person are dimmed up and down, a ghost seems to

appear and vanish. Dircks tried unsuccessfully to sell his idea

to theatres, but his approach required major rebuilding of the

venues to achieve the effect. In order to expose the technique

to more people, Dircks constructed a demonstration booth

at the Royal Polytechnic, which was viewed by John Pepper,

who realized that the effect could be reconfigured easily to

incorporate it into existing theatres. The redesign of the effect

bound his name to it. Though he attempted to credit Dircks

many times publicly, the name Pepper’s Ghost stuck.

Pepper’s Ghost is alive and well in the 21st century, but

of course, it’s HD and 3D now.

See-Through Makeup

The Eyeliner System uses a specially developed transparent

foil to reflect images from HD video projectors, making it

possible to project virtual images of variable sizes. The entire

system consists of a truss box and a stage, where the virtual

image appears. The truss frame, which is holding the film, may

also be rigged on hanging points, making setup in the theatre

much easier. With Eyeliner, Dircks’ unwieldy glass pane

is replaced with a lighter, a nearly invisible screen invented

by Uwe Maass, the managing director of Event Works, based

in Dubai ( The product was previously

called Musion, which Maass invented with his former German

company Musion.

The Eyeliner System was coupled with Isadora (,

a media server-like software package

that provides live control of digital video, on the production of

Losing Something at the 3-Legged Dog (

Art & Technology Center in Lower Manhattan last year. This was

the first production by an American company to use the combination

of Eyeliner display and Isadora media control technology

for theatre. Isadora was designed by composer and media artist

Mark Coniglio and reflects over 10 years of his practical experience

with real-time interaction. Over 100 basic building blocks,

called actors, are available within the Isadora environment. Some

actors perform simple functions like watching for a MIDI event,

while others allow sophisticated functions such as warping video

imagery. By connecting several actors together, you determine

how the program will respond to a live performer or viewer.

You can also combine a group of Isadora’s actors into a custom

User Actor and create your own user interface for your Isadora

program. One of the key features of Isadora is its ability to quickly

and precisely position imagery within a single video projection.

Isadora can play multiple movies simultaneously, and these can

be positioned and layered in almost any configuration.

In the screenshot of Isadora on page 50, the top set of actors

(Movie Player -> HSL Adjust -> Warp -> Projector) runs the

video through two effects and produces the red/white image

at the top left. The second group (Movie Player -> 3D Quad

Distort) produces the larger image on the right, which is not

square (each corner can be moved independently). The bottom

group (Movie Player -> Projector) generates the background

image. Finally, the Picture Player -> Projector at the right creates

the white circle overlay. Isadora can communicate with

many professional lighting desks using MIDI and features a set

of actors designed to directly communicate with the LanBoxLC,

a standalone DMX interface unit available from CDS Advanced

Technology (

Video tool Isadora was originally developed for use with dance company Troika Ranch, shown here in the

opening of their piece Future of Memory.

Silicon Optix Image AnyPlace

Silicon Optix ( has brought high-quality

HD scaling to the masses. The Image AnyPlace provides a wide

48 November 2007 •

Special Section: Light & Projection

range of input signals (SDTV, HDTV, RGB

and DVI), along with Image Geometry

Correction (commonly called keystone correction).

With correction for off-axis projection

in two dimensions, projectors may be

mounted at the top, bottom or either side

of the projection screen. In addition, images

may be projected onto cylindrical, spherical

or even irregularly shaped objects.

Screen shot from Isadora

Barco CLM HD8

If you’re looking for a high-output DLP

video projector that will hold up to the

rugged demands of the theatre environment,

but still remain quiet, Barco’s CLM

HD8 ( may be a good

answer. The CLM HD8 is a compact 8,000-

lumen DLP projector with full HD (1,920 x

1,080) resolution, designed specifically for

production environments and the rental/

staging market. One nice thing is you

get a complete unit straight out of the

box, including a mechanical dimmer controlled

by DMX512 to provide “true black”

in the theatre, onboard edge blending,

one-touch auto alignment, remote control

by Ethernet and easy rigging points

so you can actually hang it.

The low noise level, compact size and

low weight make the CLM HD8 an attractive

choice for small and midsize venues.

Priced in the same range as high-brightness

LCD projectors, the CLM HD8 offers a

number of advantages not only in image

quality, but also in image consistency and

running costs.

High End Systems DL.2 Digital Light

High End Systems’ DL.2 Digital

Light ( integrates a

Windows XP-based media server with a

high-output three-chip light engine, a

highly sensitive HAD sensor camera and

an infrared illumination. DL.2 mounts like

any other automated moving light and

interfaces using standard DMX cabling

and protocols. Production set-up time

50 November 2007 •

is reduced as

there is no

need for RGB

cabling, and

racks of servers

are no longer


at front-ofhouse

or backstage


A Content

High End Systems’ DL.2



running on a Mac or PC workstation or

laptop computer provides remote control

of uploading and cross-loading content,

upgrading software and fixture configuration

for multiple DL.2 fixtures on a fixture

network. A royalty-free stock digital

art collection featuring more than 1,000

lighting-optimized files is also included.

The system supports importing of custom

content including 3D objects, media files

and still images. Simultaneous playback

of three discrete media streams

on separate 2D/3D objects is possible.

Additionally, 30 object parameters provide

graphic controls for each individual

media stream, while 35 global parameters

provide graphic controls to the

composite image created by up to three

media streams. In addition, there are

17 motion parameters for mechanical

fixture control.

Finally, there is the DL.2 Collage

Generator. This patent-pending feature

enables multiple DL.2 units to create

seamless vertical, horizontal or central

panoramic media projections controlled

from a lighting console. Using

multiple DL.2 fixtures allows you to

increase effective screen luminance.

In closing, there is a ton of cool video

gear for use in the theatre. Yes, it can

be expensive to buy, but relatively low

rental rates may allow you to bring in

something special for a production. It

can sure add a modern impact to an

age-old medium.

Robert Mokry is a 20-year veteran of the

entertainment industry. • November 2007 51

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

Florence Montmare

Is It


Video technology is

transforming live performance

— what does that mean for the

live performers?

By Tim Cusack

By In Tim a theatrical Cusickenvironment where cutting-edge technology

can now realistically represent, to an unprecedented

degree, almost anything a playwright can imagine, where

does this leave theatre’s oldest component, the live body

and presence of the actor? From the most primitive DIY

technology in tiny off-off-Broadway spaces to the largest and

best-endowed performing arts palaces like BAM and Lincoln

Center, more and more actors are being asked to perform for

the camera and with scene partners who sometimes aren’t

even physically present. The result is a new kind of acting for

the stage, one that combines the physical expressiveness of

acting for a live audience with the physical restraint traditionally

associated with film acting. For the artists involved in

these often highly experimental productions, it’s a chance to

blaze new territory in the ever-evolving craft of acting and to

use the many skills gained from years of training and practical

experience in new and unexpected ways.

More Technical, More Physical

Catherine Yeager, a member of the acting company of the

New York–based 3-Legged Dog (3LD), has trained with such

giants of experimental theatre as Liz Swados, Peter Brook and

Ann Bogart’s SITI Company. While the work of her mentors

differs widely from one another, all are united by an abiding

interest in the live immediacy of the performative body

onstage. But for Yeager, the physical rigor and intense focus

developed through immersion in the Viewpoints and Suzuki

techniques espoused by the SITI Company are invaluable for

the highly mediated work she does with 3LD. According to

Yeager, working with 3LD’s state-of-the-art Eyeliner system

requires “specificity of movement so you don’t break the

illusion…you have to know how to hit your mark.” That’s

because the Eyeliner enables the company to create threedimensional

images onstage that are so convincingly lifelike

that audiences often can’t tell which actors are “real” and

Aldo Perez onstage during 3-Legged Dog’s Losing Something

which are video projections. Originally developed and patented

in Copenhagen, Denmark, by the theatre company

Vision 4, 3LD holds the exclusive American rights to the technology

and has spent much of the past few years exploring

its practical uses in creating innovative theatrical events.

For the actors who actually have to interface with the technology,

this translates into a mandate to “keep the energy

contained and focused,” as Yeager puts it. After all, a single

ill-timed or overly broad gesture, and the actor could literally

end up slicing through his or her scene partner. Acting with

someone who isn’t really there understandably presents

many challenges, especially for actors trained to draw energy

and inspiration from the other performers onstage. Yeager

says that the highly physical training she’s received “helps

keep your physical body alive” onstage in the absence of

other actors. Her colleague at 3LD, Israeli-born David Tirosh,

points out that the physical specificity needed even extends

to the muscles of the eye —“You must learn how to shift your

eyes so that they meet the eyes of the video image”— all

in the service of maintaining the delicate balancing act

between live and mediated performers that characterizes

much of 3LD’s work.

But the unique acting problems inherent in this type of

theatre aren’t just those experienced by the live actors. Being

a video image also creates its own set of aesthetic puzzles to

solve. In 3LD’s Losing Something, Yeager played an ex-girlfriend

of the central character, who exists wholly in his memory.

During the course of the performance, she only actually

appeared twice in the show — for the rest of the play, her

video image did the acting. “It could be challenging coming

every night to the theatre to do a show and only having two

scenes be live. I didn’t get to go from where my character

begins to where she ends, but somehow I still had to have

the same level of emotional investment. I would sit backstage

and listen to how I had done my scenes before and relive the

52 November 2007 •

experience of doing them in my body. That way I could be at

the place I needed to be when I actually entered.”

Mediation Leads to Authenticity

One common theme that emerged from discussions with

many of the artists for this article was that their experience

of the technology provided them with the opportunity to

bring a greater quality of naturalness and ease to their work,

what Tirosh calls “sincerity.” Rizwan Mirwan, an actor with

The Builders Association, echoes this sentiment when he

describes how mediated technology frees him to use “my

own natural voice” in performance, as opposed to the projected

and carefully placed speech of traditional theatre. He is

currently workshopping The Builders’ new piece, Continuous

City, at Berkeley Rep, in which he plays an Internet entrepreneur.

Mirwan, a New York–raised native of India, enthusiastically

describes how this kind of theatre allows for an almostdocumentary

level of realism. “We’re using my actual family

in video chat rooms during the piece: someone in India,

someone in London. We’re using real stories, and my real

family gossip.” For Mirwan, this allows for a truer emotional

connection to the material, as opposed to the manufactured

or imagined emotions usually required of the actor when

performing a traditional play.

While Mirwan views this technology as an opportunity to

bring the realness, for his fellow Builders Association member

Moe Angelos, it has enabled her to indulge her love for creating

characters often radically different from herself in a believable

way. Or as she puts it, “Put a wig on me and an accent,

and I’m good to go!” In the Builders’ piece Super Vision, the

40-something Angelos, who’s Caucasian, buried under layers

of latex and dark-colored makeup, played a 72-year-old Sri

Rizwan Mirwan (standing, center) is encapsulated by video in the Builders Association production

of Super Vision.

Lankan woman who communicates with her granddaughter

in the United States via Internet teleconferencing. While her

image was projected on a huge screen at the back of the

stage, Angelos herself was seated downstage in front of a

camera — something audiences often didn’t notice, focused

as they were on the mediated character. Angelos had ethical

concerns about playing a woman of a completely different

age and race, but says, “People really bought it, and I wonder

whether it was the frame that the video provided or the

old-fashioned tricks of makeup and acting?” The litmus test

arrived when a group of Sri Lankan immigrants came to see

one of the performances. “I thought they would string my ass

up, but they couldn’t have been more gracious and lovely.

I think it was the frame. I am indebted to that frame for the

success of the role.”

While 3LD and The Builders Association represent the

upper echelon of this kind of performance, video technology

has been used at all levels of theatre. New York–based playwright

and solo performer Wendy Weiner incorporated video

into her first one-woman piece, Defying Freud, at the now-

Moe Angelos acts downstage-right (lower left in this photo), but is projected on-screen during her performances in Super Vision. • November 2007 53

Special Section: Lighting & Projection

A moment from Losing Something, with (left to right) Michael Bell,

Victoria Chamberlin, Livia DePaolis, Catherine Yeager and Aldo Perez

defunct Todo con Nada on Manhattan’s

Lower East Side. For Weiner, the choice

to use this technology was a means

of expressing her character’s emotional

isolation. “There’s a disconnect

between her and the other people in

her world, so they are represented by

cardboard cutouts and video projection.”

This choice, in turn, fueled her

work as an actor, helping her get in

touch with a character who felt powerless

to have any impact on the people

around her: “Usually when you do a

scene, you’re trying to have an effect on

another actor. But when you’re acting

against a video image, you can try as

hard as you can, you’re just not going

to have that effect.”

Technology Adds a Beat

Sometimes, even the limitations

of the technology can lead actors to

choices they wouldn’t have otherwise

made. In 1999, Peculiar Works Project,

a New York–based company staged

a bicoastal play titled Privileged and

Confidential, in which actors in New

York and Los Angeles simultaneously

acted together via teleconferencing.

What the PWP directors hadn’t taken

into consideration was the severalsecond

sound delay that plagued the

technology at that time. Undeterred,

the actors playing legal eagles involved

in a nasty sexual harassment lawsuit,

turned it to their advantage, according

to Co-Artistic Director Barry Rowell.

“The delay helped underscore the communication

problems and the power

struggles between the attorneys. The

actors kept saying, ‘Excuse me. Excuse

me. I’m sorry I didn’t hear what you just

said.’ They could use the delay to augment

that tension.”

For many of the actors interviewed,

sharing the stage with video projection

is just one more element to juggle

in the complex multitasking that

occurs during any live performance.

As Weiner puts it, “It reminds me of

an ice-skating routine. You have to hit

your jumps at the right point in the

music — and make it all look effortless.”

3LD’s Yeager is more philosophical.

Having to work with so many

technical experts in rehearsal and

constantly being required to make

choices based on the demands of

technology translates into “not showing

up to the theatre in your own

bubble. It’s humbling, which is important

when you are trying to express

something about humanity.”

Tim Cusack is co-artistic director of Theatre

Askew in New York City.

54 November 2007 •

TD Talk

By Dave McGinnis

When Do You Finally Climb

Down from the Ladder?

There was a time that, even as a TD or production coordinator,

I refused to simply stand idly by while my crew slaved

away to get a show or event ready. Even if I had to wear

a tie, I still had my Gerber at my side and usually a crescent

somewhere on my person. At the time, I thought that this

was a good thing; it showed my crew that the only separation

between them and me was in our job titles, not in my head.

But I came to a dark realization one day — to paraphrase

Dazed and Confused — I got older, but my techs stayed the

same age. As my body began to give me hints that my time

working at height was drawing to a close, I had to come to

terms with the fact that I would have to resign myself to the

office or to what I used to refer to as “stupid-vising” my crews.

It taught me a couple of important lessons, though, on how

to manage a crew instead of simply work among them.


The hardest lesson I had to learn was trust, a lesson which

got harder to take to heart with just a few burns here and

there (see my August 2007 column for just one example),

but the fact is that when (not if ) the day comes that you find

yourself having to slow down a bit, you’ll have two choices:

Either trust your techs to know their jobs,

or stock up on pain relievers. I personally

recommend making sure your techs are

knowledgeable and to trust them, but

stock the aspirin just in case.

Trust, however, does have other fringe

benefits for the in-house TD. My stepfather

used to tell me that two things in life motivate

people: the pursuit of pleasure and

the avoidance of pain. Period. Of course, in

my youth I dismissed this as the rantings

of an old man who was completely ignorant

of the world around him. Guess who

turned out to be right?

When I was a young tech, I worked with

a number of TDs and crew chiefs who could

be divided into three categories: parental,

tyrannical and apathetic. Apathetic TDs

present no issue — they show so little concern

for the completion of their charge that

crews find no reason to care either, so we

can glean little from them. Tyrannical TDs

often motivate their crews with the threat

of pain, aka fear — fearful techs will do no

more than it takes to keep from getting fired.

In most circles, this pretty much guarantees

mediocre work. The parental TD made me

feel different. I was afraid to do shoddy work

because the TD might get fired, and I would

carry the guilt of betraying that trust to my

grave. When your techs feel this way about

you, they’ll do their best work.


One dangerous act on the part of many TDs is micromanagement,

and I’ve been guilty of it myself. The easiest solution

to this is true delegation of responsibility. If you have a master

carpenter, let them act as master carpenter, not assistant TD. If

you have a master electrician, let them act as master electrician,

not assistant TD. While the execution of the show ultimately

falls on you, as long as the theatre, university or school

pays you, keep that a secret. Make sure that each crew chief is

responsible for their piece of the puzzle and hold them to it.

As you hold these crew heads responsible for the actions of

their crews, that responsibility will trickle down to the job-in

laborers. An added bonus here is that in the event a crew falls

far behind, and you have to step in, your very presence will let

the crew members know that something has gone awry and

they better step it up.

We’ll always carry our multitool on our collective belts

as some form of validation and preparedness measure, but

the day will come when we have to finally accept that we’ve

had our time atop the ladder. We just have to remember that

climbing down from the ladder doesn’t equal turning over

our keys. • November 2007 55

Off the Shelf

By Stephen Peithman

Balancing Act

Books for actors and directors

Show-business legend has it that the dying words of celebrated

Shakespearean actor Sir Donald Wolfit (1902–

1968) were “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Most challenging

of all is physical comedy, which has prompted two

new books on the subject: Finding Your Funny Bone: The

Actor’s Guide to Physical Comedy and Characters, by Nancy

Gold, and Why Is That So Funny?: A Practical Exploration of

Physical Comedy, by John Wright. Gold’s book is the shorter

— a basic how-to manual for performers, directors and

teachers that touches on mime, movement, acting, clowning,

improvisation, writing and even juggling. Physical theatre

training is difficult to capture within the pages of a book,

but Gold does a good job — helped by lively text, photos

and illustrations. Her approach is refreshing, too — urging

readers to experiment with all the techniques she describes,

then discard what doesn’t work for them. [ISBN 1-57525-449-

4, $16.95, Smith and Kraus]

John Wright’s Why Is That So Funny? takes a more analytical

approach, beginning with a discussion of the various

types of laughter a performance can evoke, then with games

and exercises that help explore the stops, turns, interruptions

and sudden surprises of physical comedy. This is technical

work, but by breaking down and explaining how this all

operates technically — the rhythms, the tensions, the trips,

the drops, the takes — we see how different kinds of comedy

really work. [ISBN 0-87910-343-4, $19.95, Limelight Editions]

In auditions, an actor with limited cold reading skills is at a

great disadvantage. To the rescue comes acting coach Glenn

Alterman’s Secrets to Successful Cold Readings. He presents

step-by-step instruction on how to break down scenes and

monologues quickly, with specific advice related to the way

that cold readings are used in theatre, TV, film, commercials

and voiceovers. This analytical approach really gets to the heart

of the matter, as do Alterman’s interviews and tips from casting

directors. [ISBN 1-57525-566-8, $14.95, Smith and Kraus]

Monologues and scenes are essential for auditions and

acting study, and several new volumes provide a good

variety of styles, subjects and characters. More Scenes and

Monologs from the Best New Plays offers 42 selections

from 37 recent plays that editor Roger Ellis believes address

major trends and conflicts of modern life. Selections vary

in tone and content — humor, pathos, reflection, poignancy,

angst — and are kept to 10 minutes or less. There

are scenes for two women, two men, one man and one

woman, and monologues for both men and women. A

short preface sets up each selection. [ISBN 1-56608-142-4,

$15.95, Meriwether Publishing]

Reaching much farther back into dramatic literature, the

Good Audition Guides series from Nick Hern Books offers two

new collections of monologues drawn from classical plays

from ancient Greek and Roman all the way to 19th and early

20th century. Many of these are little known today, giving

these old texts a measure of freshness as audition material.

Each monologue is preceded by a summary of the time and

place, what has happened before the scene begins and a

list of the character’s objectives. Classical Monologues for

Women [ISBN 1-85459-870-8] and Classical Monologues for

Men [ISBN 1-85459-869-4] are $16 each.

The 10-minute play as an accepted dramatic form is a fairly

recent development. Some might say that its popularity is

a result of our diminished attention span, but there’s much

more to it than that. The form originated with the Actors

Theatre of Louisville, which wanted to help new playwrights

get their works performed — and to experiment with language,

form, character and subject matter. Not surprisingly,

the best 10-minute plays are those that depart the most from

conventional drama, and that is the focus of two outstanding

collections edited by D. L. Lepidus. 2005: The Best Ten-

Minute Plays for 2 Actors [ISBN 1-57525-448-4] and 2005:

The Best Ten-Minute Plays for 3 or More Actors [ISBN 1-

57525-530-8], both published by Smith and Kraus, are each

priced at $19.95.

The Boston Theater Marathon of Ten-Minute Plays, Vol.

IV, is a collection chosen from the 50 new pieces first performed

in 10 hours on April 14, 2002. As might be expected,

as a group they are diverse, peculiar, heart-wrenching, hilarious,

tragic, shocking and much more. [ISBN 0-87440-267-4,

Baker’s Plays]

56 November 2007 •

The Play’s the Thing

By Stephen Peithman

Women Front and Center

Plays to confront the different choices and obligations of the modern woman

This month’s roundup of recently released plays focuses on

female characters, from comic to tragic, realistic to fantastic.

Sarah Ruhl’s warmhearted comedy, The Clean House,

revolves around Lane, a doctor whose cleaning lady’s attitude

toward dirt is, “If the floor is dirty, then look at the ceiling.”

However, Lane’s sister Virginia, an unhappy woman obsessed

with cleanliness and orderliness, secretly takes over the cleaning

lady’s job so that Matilde, who dreams of being a comedienne,

can use her free time to craft a joke so funny that it will

literally cause you to laugh yourself to death. Eventually, Lane

discovers the women’s deception, but more upsetting is the

revelation that her husband Charles has left her for an older,

less tidy, but life-embracing woman. The Clean House mixes

whimsy and solemnity, and in the play’s final movement,

seems to be saying that people can ask for forgiveness and be

granted it with grace if we stop telling lies to each other. Four

females, one male. [Samuel French]

Tidying up also plays a role in Donna Gerdin’s Losing

Lawrence. D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, has returned with

his ashes from Europe to find two friends — and former

rivals for his affection — cleaning her house in time for a

memorial service, which runs counter to Frieda’s plans. In

a series of plot twists, the three women struggle over how

best to honor the late author, complicated by a young,

ambitious reporter trying to learn the truth about Lawrence,

based on the innuendos and accusations leveled by the

women against each other. In compelling fashion, this dark

comedy deftly explores the ups and downs of friendship.

Three females, one male. [Samuel French]

David’s Redhaired Death, by Sherry Kramer, tells the story

of Jean and Marilyn, who fall in love as they deal with the

death of Jean’s brother David. Jean is the play’s first-act narrator,

introducing us to her three great obsessions — death,

redheads and McDonalds. It’s her belief that each of us carries

on our backs thousands of deaths — not only those of family

members and friends, but everyone in the world we read

about in the news or see on television. Not surprisingly, the

weight is oppressive. But, Jean — and the play — comes to

life when she sets off to travel to “the redheads,” where she

meets Marilyn (who narrates Act Two). The result is an edgy

affair in which the two women are constantly on the verge

of physical love without ever going all the way. However,

the real story is our discovery that David died falling from a

burning building (his own “redheaded death”), and that with

Marilyn’s help, Jean’s obsession with death can be replaced

by an understanding of the true meaning of love. Two

females, two males. [Broadway Play Publishing]

In Cassandra Medley’s Relativity, Kalima, a recent Ph.D.

recipient, is forced to challenge the long-held beliefs of her

parents, who have founded a research institute that claims

African-Americans are genetically superior because of the

greater amount of melanin in their skin. Kalima’s mother

wants her to write a book supporting melanin science, but her

academic mentor wants her to write an article debunking the

theory. She can’t do both, and therein lies the play’s central

conflict. Not only has the playwright set her drama, as one

character puts it, “on the cut of the cutting edge” of research,

she must grapple with the touchy subject of reverse racism.

Relativity handles it all with intelligence, although the mechanics

of playwriting are perhaps too visible at times — requiring

a strong directorial hand to keep the dialog from turning into a

lecture. Three females, two males. [Broadway Play Publishing]

Life stinks — literally — for Edna, the heroine of Elizabeth

Meriwether’s The Mistakes Madeline Made. She has a highstrung

perfectionist for a boss, a revolving door of Mr. Wrongs

and an office coworker who makes odd noises. Worst of all, the

ghost of her adored brother (who died in a terrorist attack) has

taken up residency in her tub, making it impossible for her to

take a bath. As her odor begins to overwhelm her coworkers

and casual lovers, this darkly comic play seems to be asking, “Is

clean living even possible in times of unrest?” Quirky and funny,

it’s at its best when it concentrates on the inanities of office

politics, rather than the insanity of international affairs. Three

males, two females, with doubling. [Dramatists Play Service]

Playwright Theresa Rebeck’s plays cover a wide range

of subjects, but she’s best known for her humorous looks

at contemporary American women. Theresa Rebeck Vol. III

Complete Short Plays 1989–2005, includes 21 brief encounters

with some unusual characters in The Actress, Does This Woman

Have a Name?, Candy Heart, Josephina and Mary, Mother of

God, Intercede with Us, among others. [ISBN 1-57525-447-6,

$19.95, Smith & Kraus] The selections in Theresa Rebeck Vol.

II: Complete Full-Length Plays 1999–2007 include some of her

most challenging: Abstract Expression, The Butterfly Collection,

Bad Dates, The Water’s Edge, The Bells and The Scene. [ISBN 1-

57525-441-1, $19.95, Smith & Kraus] • November 2007 57


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Answer Box

By Thomas H. Freeman

True Love

Gets All Wet

Love, death, poetry and a pool of

water contend with wireless mics in

Shakespeare in the Park’s production

of Romeo and Juliet.

Michal Daniel

Romeo and Juliet died in a pool of water, but the wireless mics didn’t.

Moisture of any type can be the kiss of death to

electronic equipment. Unfortunately, the Public

Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park summer production

of Romeo and Juliet in New York’s Central Park

included a pool that, while only a few inches deep, was

30 feet in diameter. Tom Clark, of New York’s Acme Sound

Partners LLC, whose firm provides theatrical sound design

services for plays and musicals, was tasked with finding a

way to keep the actors’ wireless gear working while being

submerged in this pool.

According to Clark, “With the frequent fighting and

death that takes place during the performance, several

of the principal actors found themselves on their backs

or face-down in the water. For this reason, we needed to

ensure that the wireless microphones were protected and

capable of surviving this situation. In my research, we discovered

the Lectrosonics MM400C wireless transmitter.”

The Lectrosonics MM400C Water-Resistant Digital

Hybrid Wireless Miniature Transmitters were placed in

Ziploc plastic bags and attached to elastic belts, which

were then placed around the actor’s ribcage with the

transmitter on their back. For some of the actresses, the

wardrobe department worked with Clark and the other

audio professionals on-site to ensure the mics optimal performance

while remaining hidden within the costumes.

In all, 10 wireless channels were assigned to the gear.

Since the principals in the play were the ones who found

themselves in deep water, they were all equipped with the

MM400C transmitters. Equipment for the production was

supplied by Masque Sound.

The Lectrosonics Venue Modular Receiver System was

deployed to acquire signal from the transmitters. The 1RU

rackmountable Venue system is a modular UHF design

that operates with Digital Hybrid Wireless transmitters

and a variety of analog transmitters. It consists of a Venue

Receiver Master (VRM) and one to six plug-in receiver modules.

The entire 10-channel Lectrosonics wireless system

occupied only two rackspaces in the equipment rack.

“Throughout the entire month Romeo and Juliet ran,

not once did we encounter a single hiccup from any of

the Lectrosonics equipment,” says Clark. “These transmitters

enabled the director’s vision of this production

to be realized.”

Answer Box Needs You!

Every production has its challenges. We’d like to hear

how you solved them! Send your Answer Box story

and pics to

60 November 2007 •

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