As musicals begin their journey to the bright lights of New York City, they often begin the trip with an initial production run at a well respected regional theatre. Such was the case with the Dallas Theater Center's production of GIANT, a new musical with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and book by Sybille Pearson. Co-produced with The Public Theater, GIANT will relocate to New York City after the initial production run, but it was in Dallas that the new musical about a transitioning ranch family would get its start under the direction of three-time Tony Award-nominee Michael Greif with a lighting design by Tony Award-winner Ken Posner.
“I have had a long relationship with Michael working on projects in the past, and I have also worked previously with The Public Theater, so it was through those relationships that I first became involved in the project,” began Posner.
Set on a widespread Texas ranch, GIANT is a musical about a wealthy family going through a generational transition and it needed a daunting landscape and beautiful horizons which would convey all times of day. The lighting had to be about natural light and natural environments, so in the production meetings it was decided that the backdrop for the set would be a realistic sky. The orchestra platform would then sit in front of the backdrop and a turntable underneath the platform would deliver the production to the various locations throughout the show. A water tower, served as the iconic landmark for the ranch named “Reatta”.
As Posner began the process of creating the plot, he initially wanted to include a number of automated luminaires into his design. But while the lighting budget for GIANT did not allow for moving lights, all was not lost as Philips Vari-Lite agreed to contribute to the production through a donation that included a package of VARI*LITE automated luminaires.
“Philips Vari-Lite has always had great respect for the Dallas Theater Center and Ken has used our equipment on many of his beautiful designs over the years, so this project seemed like a perfect fit for us,” said George Masek, Philips Vari-Lite Product Marketing Manager. “GIANT is a great story about Texas and I really liked the idea of a company like Vari-Lite, which began in Texas, being able to share a part in supporting this tremendous production.”
Posner added, “The Dallas Theater Center presented to me early on about the possibility of using VARI*LITE luminaires in the show and we certainly appreciated it as the show was in development and there wasn't a large amount of funding to enhance or augment the lighting plot with moving lights. To have those resources presented to us as a regional theatre was greatly appreciated.”
Now with the lighting plot in place, Posner began working with production electrician Justin Treece and his technical team to bring the show to life. With VLX Wash, VL3500 Wash, VL2500 Wash, and VL1000 ERS luminaires now at his side, Posner wasted no time putting them to work.
“This is my first experience with the VLX Wash and I love the color-mixing and ease-of-operation,” continued Posner. “I use these fixtures to light the backdrop mixing them with LED strips and traditional strip lights to create the constantly changing sky.
With the VL3500 Wash luminaires, since we have a high trim at about 32 feet, I brought them down to draw only 900 watts and create subtle pools of light. Occasionally, I use them for an upbeat production number because they lend themselves to that style of lighting, but what I like most about the VL3500 Wash is that I could bring them down for a more subtle look with rich color.
Looking at the VL2500 Wash, I love this light. When I design a project, I like to start by defining a very specific color palette with exact timing and movement. For my design style, this is the perfect light for me because they have a great color palette and are fast with consistent movement.
And finally, the VL1000 luminaires did all sorts of tasks such as key lighting and scenery lighting. I like that they provide a quality daylight look with warm and cool color temperatures to obtain the perfect balance. I plotted them specifically to do multiple jobs and complement each other.”
While having the VARI*LITE automated luminaires not only provided Posner with multiple tools to create all the lighting looks needed, since GIANT was a production still going through changes, the VARI*LITE fixtures also saved the crew on valuable tech time as well.
“The automated lights in the rig made a huge difference during the tech process,” confirmed Posner. “When script changes would come in and we would be asked to recreate something, we could do it quickly and that allowed us to stay on schedule much easier.”
With the tech rehearsals complete, GIANT opened to sold-out house at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre to rave reviews stating “…the empty, dusty West Texas landscape has never looked so gorgeous, thanks to Ken Posner's cloud-dappled lighting and Allen Moyer's sets,” as stated by Jerome Weeks, Art and Seek. And as the production now prepares to move to The Public Theatre, Posner is quick to praise the work of the technical staff at the Dallas Theater Center and the VARI*LITE automated luminaires.
“I can't say enough about the staff at the Dallas Theatre Center. They are all extremely supportive and they were all passionate about this production. Justin Treece and his top-notch technical staff worked tirelessly to make this design a success and we were all extremely grateful to Philips Vari-Lite for supporting us on this initial step. Having all these tools at our fingertips to transform the sky with color and movement allowed us to really take the design over the top, and I really hope this was only the start of a long journey for all of us together.”
As a leading designer and manufacturer of premiere automated lighting systems, Philips Vari-Lite provides equipment and services to the entertainment industry, serving such markets as concert touring, theatre, television, film, cruise lines, houses-of-worship, and corporate events. VARI*LITE automated lighting systems are available through a worldwide network of independent professional dealers. For more information, visit www.vari-lite.com.