Painting With Light Illuminates The 14-18 Spektakel

The amazing 14-18 Spektakel Musical in Mechelen’s Nekkerhal unites a world class production team including Luc Peumans and Painting With Light to commemorate the death and destruction of the First World War which started a century ago in 1914.

Painting With Light has worked on many previous projects with show producers Studio 100, and the first conversations with Peumans took place about the then very embryonic work around 3 years ago.

With the venue already earmarked, the idea of using mobile scenery trucks evolved, so Luc suggested simple lighting trickery to conceal these massive pieces when offstage … by creating virtual wing space with light curtains.

The same concept is utilised to mask off different depths along the ‘field of play’ / performance space as the seating tribune and the location of the action shifts up and down the hall.

The light curtains alone involve over 500 lighting fixtures and there are at least another 500 more in the rest of the show!

There is a left and right vertical light curtain and four horizontal ones made up from a total of 465 Vari*Lite V*L5s and 28 bars of four ACLs – supplied together with all the lighting equipment by PRG Belgium.

Sourcing the right fixtures to optimise the effectiveness of this plan was crucial, and Peumans wanted the light to resemble the look of the original DHA Digital Light Curtains.

Most of the V*Ls are fitted with CT blue to enhance the cold atmospheres required for the war scenes.

A network of trussing has been installed into the Nekkerhal by PRG to facilitate the overhead lighting positions, and scattered around all over this are 44 x V*L3500 spots, 38 x V*L3000 spots, 36 x V*L3000 washes, 36 x Robe LEDWash 800s and 40 x Martin MAC Viper Wash DXs – with the framing shutters.

In addition to these 200 odd moving lights there, also in the air are four Atomic strobes, nine Dataflash strobes, 69 x PAR 64 cans, 76 x ETC Source Four PARs and 65 x ETC Source Four profiles.

Peuman’s design also involves eight 9 metre high scaffolding lighting towers running down both sides of the 150 metre performance space, each with a Robert Juliat Aramis follow spot on top. Four energetic spot operators dash between the eight towers during the show operating the different units depending on the location of the cast members needing highlighting, the different scenery truck formations and the position of the tribune.

Rigged on the sides of these eight side towers are four V*L5Bs, two V*L3500Qs and a Robe Cyclone – high powered fan effect complete with a ring of LEDs. The Cyclones are used for directing and helping to simulate the very specific toxic brown smoke needed for the gas attack scenes.

A serious amount of smoke machines and hazers are located around the space and are an integral element of the lighting brief. The crew has developed various ‘emission techniques’ to produce a wide range of meteorology and effects from the 30 machines – made up of eight Jem Glaciator 410 smokers, four Concept ViCount CO2 crackers, eight Look Solutions Vipers and ten Unique hazers.

Luc was also involved in the set practicals, which required similar levels of effort and detail to ensure that the street, hospital, house and reading lights, etc. – all look authentic. Many feature vintage bulbs and old industrial lighting fixtures which were sourced and painstakingly reconditioned by the Painting With Light team.

The show lighting and ambience has been meticulously and precisely crafted with many subtleties and great depth.

Peumans maximises the opportunities of having the space and throw distances to create striking shadows and stark contrasts. Lighting is absolutely instrumental in helping simulate all the locations from home towns to hospitals to trenches and battlefield action, and to really make the experience of gas attacks, weddings, court martials, etc. come alive for the audience.

Lighting - and the projected video backdrops – are being run by Cedric Eestermans from a grandMA full size console with grandMA onPC as backup. It was programmed by PWL’s Paco Mispelters - also assistant Light Designer - during the rehearsal period.

Ahead of moving onto site at the Nekkerhal for the four weeks of full rehearsals, Peumans’ team made a full WYSIWYG animated model of the show with director Frank Van Laecke and set designer / scenographer Stefaan Haudenhuyse which enabled them to block all the scenes in advance and arrive pre-prepared. This helped ease some of the pressure during this very intense period as well as being necessary for programming the complex automation elements – delivered by Wicreations - during the acting rehearsals.

The breath-taking results speak for themselves ... WOWing the crowds and stunning the critics … and that’s why everyone is talking about this production as one of the most creative, ambitions and relevant stage spectacles of 2014.

Suggested Articles:

Pete Borchetta took on the title of general manager at Altman Lighting in March 2021, adding to his role in product innovation.

Fumasoli Audio and Lights Rental worked with local officials to create a livestream version of the two-day celebration as the town was under lockdown.

The LA-based designer returned to New Zealand to work with the band he started his career with.