Mike Baldassari likes the challenge of the new. When the New York lighting designer took on the new musical 13 at LA's Mark Taper Forum in December, he collaborated with a director he had never worked with before, a programmer he had never met before, on the world premiere of a show he had never seen, in a venue he had never worked at, with a new lighting control console he had never used. Not to mention the lively cast of teenage actors and musicians he would work with, who under California child labor laws were often permitted to work only five hours at a time, making for a very compressed schedule.
With that much novelty and time pressure at the outset, as well as the massive daily script and blocking changes that form the ramp-up to any show's debut, Baldassari was relieved to find the new ETC Eos lighting console so accessible. "What I liked best about Eos was the familiarity. I could talk Obsession II to it and to the programmer, and it did what I expected it to do. Because it has Obsession DNA and syntax, I was comfortable working with it in the middle of so many other variables."
"You aren't going to know anything about a console until you use it on a musical," says Baldassari. "That's the ultimate testing ground. A musical--especially one like 13--requires a set of parameters that will stretch any console. It's not like a pop show where you're cueing just one song at a time. There are a lot of people moving around on a bi-level, automated stage, and you have to be lighting the music at the same time as the action. There are no repeated cues."
"With a brand-new musical like this," says Baldassari, "you arrive in the morning, and they hand you script revisions the size of a small phonebook, saying, 'These are the things we're going to change today.' During tech, you program in a linear fashion from the beginning to the end of the show. But once you get to rehearsals, every change you put in is going to be out of order, so that's where a console will get stretched, showing you how well it can manipulate data and how well can you implement changes without messing up the things that come before and after whatever it is you're changing."
13's lighting rig included 13 moving lights (five High End Systems Studio Spot CMYs and eight Vari-Lite VL1000 Arcs), 46 Wybron CXI scrollers, 32 Wybron Coloram II Scrollers, eight Wybron gobo rams, two Lycian Starklite followspots, as well as the Taper's house complement of conventionals (for a combined 392 ETC Source Four® ellipsoidals and 36 Source Four PARs). The entire rig, house dimmers and all, was controlled on the Eos console. Says Baldassari, "13 is informed by pop music, and you can't light a show for 13-year-olds and not have moving lights and special effects."
At the Taper, the show comprised a two-level set on a 3/4 thrust stage with automated parts that move in and out. Surrounding the stage was an arched truss filled with CXIs and Source Four PARs. "On a big open stage like that, it's the lighting's job to change the shape of the space," says Baldassari. "It's important to create an intimate small scene, which can instantly bust out to a full stage number. Also, the thrust stage doesn't have much of its own color; it's mostly in gray values, with touches of color for the 'scene-specific' pieces. The lighting really had to supply the color, largely from the diagonal back light. In the musical numbers we added more saturated color from other angles. In the reality scenes, we did bright, time-of-day lighting to carve out very specific areas." Baldassari appreciated Eos' color-picker feature and being able to match moving-light color to gel.
Unlike the numbers in many other musicals, 13's songs arise plausibly out of the narrative, with smooth logical segues. The garage band, for example, played musical numbers from the garage, a set on the upper level of the thrust stage. Some of 13's sets had their own internal lighting, cued in Eos. The realistic lighting in the garage set was created by no-color Source Fours hidden in the rafters, as well as real Home Depot worklights mounted on typical yellow stands.
One unique scene of the show, referred to as The Bloodmaster, spoofs a teen scream film. The young actors in movie-theatre seats face the real audience and react to a stereotypical horror flick that is projected above them. Baldassari's lighting design for the scene included many visual jokes and effects-the frontlighting (four Source Fours) on the kids mimicked the flickering light of the movie screen above, and whenever a stabbing occurred in the movie, a VL1000 frontlight went to heavy red, bathing the screaming kids in a hilariously exaggerated blood-like light. There was even a simulated "clapper" light cue, where an actress claps her hands, and the video and lighting mimic a light coming on in a projected room. When the music went next into heavy-metal mode, Baldassari busted out the rock-and-roll lighting clichés, using Eos to control the moving lights and the "hit-every-beat" ACL chases again: "We did all kinds of fun flash-and-trash with a blood-red base and no-color ACLs stabbing through," he says.
In another novel lighting design scene, a football game took place on stage, complete with an LED scoreboard clock counting down, controlled on Eos. In a nice trick of lighting, Baldassari also used Eos and moving lights to create the illusion of movement in a football play. To simulate a player running down the field, an actor ran in place with the football while seven moving lights were programmed to sweep past him in a chase. The lights came on, tracked upstage and went out, repeating the pattern, like a rapid waterfall of lights moving from downstage to upstage.
Veteran programmer Willy McLaughlin worked with Baldassari during most of the production period, with Andrew Webberley stepping in during part of the Christmas holidays. And as Baldassari says, Eos' command-line feature-no small detail-made the work much clearer and faster for both the programmers and designer.
13's sold-out run at the Taper finished in February, but the popular Jason Robert Brown musical got attention from New York producers and may make the leap from regional theater to a higher-profile venue, en route to Broadway. Baldassari says if the next stage is a proscenium, he'll add more low sidelight, shinbusters and other enhancements specifically for the dance sequences, taking the lighting even further, and again, he'd choose Eos for the show control.
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