The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham recently hosted this summer’s Stage Experience production of Grease, featuring LD Colin Wood’s stunning interpretation of the classic musical. The annual youth project allowed students the thrill of working on a large stage production, and this year 128 local students participated in the project, either onstage or in technical roles.
With lighting supplied by PRG and High End Systems fixtures from AED Distribution, Colin created a world class production for the Ambassadors Theatre Group. The High End lighting included a dozen SolaSpot Pro 1500s, four SolaSpot Pro 2000s, six SolaWash Pro 2000s, eight SolaSpot Pro CMYs, eight UNOs, three SHAPESHIFTER C1s and a pair of SHAPESHIFTER W1’s. Hog 4 control and DP8000s were supplied by Pre Production Services.
A veteran of the Hog control platform, Colin relied on the Hog 4’s pixel mapping capabilities to update the show’s visuals. He explains, “Hog 4 is certainly my preferred desk and this follows on from many years programming with Hog 2 and Hog 3 consoles. When the Hog 4 launched in 2012, I immediately invested in the range and it was a very smooth transition. For most of the shows I design, I am also the programmer, so I need a console which is simple to use so that my focus can remain on the design, without needing to worry too much about the programming side. Complex features such as pixel mapping have been seamlessly integrated into the existing workflow of the Hog 4 OS and as such is a breeze to use, even on such a large scale as I have done with Grease.”
Colin utilized 421 sections of SGM LB-100 Bobble String, supplied by Blueprint Events, which equates to 2947 RGB fixtures on the console. There were also 85 Sunstrips, adding a further 850 desk channels which he also pixel mapped. “The Bobble String was suspended from seven of the theatre’s fly bars in three main sections. The upstage set was permanent, rigged on a single bar, with 21 drops spanning the full width of the stage. The downstage Bobble was hung so that the seven drops on stage right were on one bar, the seven drops centre stage on a second bar, and the seven drops on stage left were on a third bar. This allowed the three sections to be flown at different heights to frame set pieces. The remaining 21 drops for the midstage Bobble were arranged in the same way.“
In order to be able to line up content mapped across any of the sections, at any height, Colin added each set of RGB fixtures into their own plot, with their own Pixelmap Layer fixtures. This allowed him to adjust the Y Position parameter to align content when one or more sections was flown to a higher position. He adds, “This worked very well, allowing for the Bobble String to be moved live while keeping the image stationary onstage.
The trusses were lined with 85 Sunstrips, 28 Chauvet Colordash LED pinspots, 11 GS Beam and eight High End Systems Uno fixtures. Colin explains that all these fixtures were the ‘eye candy’ for his design, but that ‘the rest of the 43 HES fixtures were out of sight doing the serious work of actually lighting the huge cast of almost 130’. He comments, “All of the High End Systems lights were very kindly supplied by AED Distribution. The truss, along with non HES fixtures were supplied by PRG, including two of their GroundControl remote followspot systems, which completely replaced the venue’s FOH followspots.”
The twelve SolaSpot Pro 1500s were pivotal to his design. Colin says, “I used five 1500s from an advance truss position for gobo washes and tight specials, two were in a low proscenium boom sidelight position, with the remaining five being overhead onstage. The shuttering was a particular ‘must have’ feature for these positions, so I could cut the sidelight off the floor, and also use shutter cuts to take light off the LED curtains. I also found the mixing of subtle colors using CMY, combined with the CTO filter, allowed me a very natural front light when desired, but the fixtures have such a clean looking white when I wanted some intense looks too.”
“I used four SolaSpot Pro 2000s from my furthest bar upstage; these allowed me extremely bright backlight gobo washes of the stage floor. Even when fully zoomed out, the beams were still so intense. The output from these fixtures is astounding for any fixture, and when you recognize that they’re LED, it’s simply amazing! The six SolaWash Pro 2000s were arranged as two bars of three, giving me a very comprehensive downlight wash which comfortably filled the performance space with their incredible zoom range and output. I used the fixtures mostly as wash lights, and the level of frost is ideal. I love that when using the framing shutters - even when heavily frosted - there is still a nice edge, which is beautifully soft, but it allowed for me to cut light of the LED curtains without losing output. They are without doubt the best wash lights I have used, yet when you zoom them down and take the frost out, they’re an intense beam light too!”
“Overhead I had eight SolaSpot Pro CMYs, arranged as two bars of four. I used these primarily as downlight, and they were wide enough for me to cover the stage with gobo washes in this position without needing to cross them over. While the CMY may not quite have the incredible output of the larger fixtures in the range, they're still a force to be reckoned with. The gobos are lovely and the variable CTO filter gives a very natural warmth to the fixtures.”
The SHAPESHIFTER C1 and W1 fixtures were rigged on the furthest upstage bar along with the SolaSpot Pro 2000s. “The SHAPESHIFTERs gave such intense backlight and beautifully strong color onto the stage floor. Being able to have the multiple beams slowly roaming about is what I love most about these fixtures. The fixtures themselves were hardly visible to the audience except for those in the front couple of rows, but the beams were visible to everyone and looked stunning.
To complete the set, the LD used eight Uno fixtures rigged underneath the furthest downstage truss portal. He says, “They are so small and lightweight that they didn’t look obtrusive at all, and they’re so bright for their size! I also loved that given how fast they can move, they’re also perfectly smooth for slower movements.”
Colin’s whole design spanned 33 universes; the house dimmers were driven from the internal DP of his Hog 4, with the rest of the rig was controlled by a pair of DP8000s. In conclusion, he comments, “I would like to thank the whole team at the New Alexandra Theatre for their work putting in what was an enormous rig for any theatre production, let alone the fact that this was actually a youth production, albeit one of an extremely high standard. A special mention must be made to my production electrician, Jim Worrall, who is also the Deputy Technical Manager of the venue. Jim worked tirelessly to install the full rig, which in addition to all of the SGM Bobble String, included a complex truss structure using almost 100m of Slick Litebeam arranged as three portals, each with interconnecting and moveable bridge sections.”
Photography by Jim Worrall