COSTA MESA, Calif. - After racking up rave reviews in Summer 2010, Chance Theater's (Anaheim Hills, CA) production of The Who's Tommy received an impressive honor when it was invited to play at Orange County's larger Segerstrom Center for the Arts this February. In this remount of the show, the lighting and video design was once again in the hands of KC Wilkerson, whose magnificent work in Chance Theater's original Tommy production played no small part in its stunning success, hailed by reviewers as “the most astounding lighting of a show EVER seen in a small house” (www.StageandCinema.com ) and “one of the most breathtaking blends of lighting and video projection I can recall seeing” (Steven Stanley, StageSceneLA). Along with these and other glowing tributes, the Chance production of The Who's Tommy won StageSceneLA's 2010 Lighting/Projection Design of the Year Award, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for both Lighting Design and Video Design, Backstage Garland Award for Lighting Design, and Ovation honors Award for Video Design, and received a nomination for Ovation Award for Lighting Design.
So what does an award-winning lighting designer do for an encore? For Wilkerson, the larger-scale reprisal of Tommy represented an opportunity to expand the lighting concepts he had developed for this classic “rock opera,” which tells the story of a young boy who goes deaf, dumb and blind after seeing his father shoot his mother's lover upon returning from a World War II prison camp. The Who's well-known tale follows Tommy's triumph as he becomes a “pinball wizard” and eventually regains his sight.
Lighting and video were especially important at certain key points in the show, Wilkerson said, beginning with the opening scenes, in which the designer displayed actual historic British World War II footage, to the use of different colors to dramatize Tommy at different ages, to the spectacular mind-blowing “Pinball Wizard” scene. As in the earlier production, Wilkerson chose products from Elation Professional to light up Tommy in the larger venue, expanding his range of Elation gear to include: 8 Elation Design Wash LED RGBW moving heads, 8 Elation Design LED 60 Strips; and 3 Elation Design Beam 300 moving heads.
“One of the most appealing parts of remounting the show was the opportunity to revisit the design,” said Wilkerson. “I had several discussions with the director (Oanh Nguyen) prior to production . . part of it was preserving what we thought worked and the other part was expanding some of the original ideas and adding details. The venue (Founders Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts) is much larger than the Chance Theater with a higher grid and far more lighting positions, so while many of the ideas were transferred from the original production, the interpretation was different, in some case significantly.”
Concepts that were expanded in the remount included the creation of “color stories that were tied specifically to Tommy's three different ages and experiences, as well as tying specific colors to the pinball machine,” Wilkerson said. “I suppose the biggest impact moment I wanted was during â€˜Pinball Wizard.' Everyone knows how that song starts with the strumming acoustic guitar, but then it launches into those two giant electric guitar chords, and I wanted those two chords to knock people back in their seats. Part of that fell to our very talented Music Director, Mike Wilkins, but the rest of it was up to lighting.”
When looking for lighting to use for “Pinball Wizard,” Wilkerson said he called Blaine Engle at Elation and “asked if they had anything that would fit the bill. He sent me a few links and a couple things caught my eye. For the original show, I had used (4) Design LED Strips, (4) Impressions, and (4) Design LED 108s. We expanded on that in the remount to include (8) Design LED Strips, (8) Design Wash LEDs, and (3) Design Beam 300s.
“The Design LED Strips ended up carrying a lot of the weight for the â€˜Pinball Wizard' moments. We stacked them vertically on four trusses and used them as blinders. There are a couple things I like about them – first off, they resemble old-school mini-strip lights, which gave us a retro feel, but they are also RGB LEDs, placed behind a lens so they mix to create good, strong colors, including a spectacular blinding white.”
One lighting fixture new to the remount was the Design Wash LED. “I switched from the Impressions to the Design Wash LEDs primarily because they have white LEDs in addition to RGB,” explained Wilkerson. “They also move really quickly and have a good dimming curve without the LED â€˜dropoff' in the lower percentages.”
The Design Beam 300 moving heads were also a new addition. “I chose the Design Beams for a couple of reasons,” Wilkerson said. “They're only 300 watts, but they produce a super-bright beam that's very narrow. That was key for the World War II sequences as well as the scenes where Tommy becomes a rockstar pinball player.”
Wilkerson said that he was also very pleased with the Elation gear's reliability in standing up to the day-to-day requirements of a theatrical production. “Everything performed beautifully for the run of the show.”
For more information, call Elation Professional toll-free at 866-245-6726 or visit www.elationlighting.com
For more information on Chance Theater, visit www.chancetheater.com