Lighting Zarkana

“I call this the ‘no-focus’ tour,” says lighting designer Alain Lortie, who designed Cirque du Soleil’s new $50 million production, Zarkana, playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City through October 8. “Zarkana was designed as a touring show and will be reduced in size for arenas,” adds State Kremlin Palace Concert Hall and Theatre in Moscow in February, while the same show, in the smaller arena version, opens in Madrid in November.

The magic and mystery of Zarkana, designed as a rock opera, are the purview of Zark, a magician who wanders into a theatre that has been abandoned for 75 years. As he finds his true love and his magical powers return, the theatre is restored to its former glory. Francois Girard, a noted film director (The Red Violin, Silk), is at the helm.

In lighting Zarkana’s numerous acrobatic acts, Lortie’s rig of primarily moving lights and LEDs gave him a leg up during rehearsals, as he was also to work straight through without stopping to focus conventional fixtures. “The lighting is primarily for the acrobats,” he confirms. “I built each number around them. I like to build images for the director, and then, through subtraction, take away what’s not needed.” Lortie, who is a very hands-on LD, did his own programming on an MA Lighting grandMA2 console and ran the show until it opened.

“I was not shy about using a lot of color,” says Lortie, noting that he has been referred to as “the candy man” for his varied palette. “Zarkana has many colors and many emotions, from the dark side to a golden look on the stage. Everything on the set catches light beautifully, and I added extra saturated colors from the moving lights.”

The rig includes a total of 163 automated fixtures: 74 Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot fixtures, 22 VL3000Q Wash units, 14 VL3500 Spots, 42 VL3500 Wash FX Stippled/Buxom units, three High End Systems DL.3s, and eight Martin Professional MAC 301 Wash units. In addition, almost 1,000 LED fixtures are controlled by 40 universes of DMX: 19 Chroma-Q Color Block 2 22° fixtures, 18 Chroma-Q Color Force 48 units, 883 eldoLED PowerPIX 510 5W LED Pixel String with flexible pitch, and 13 Ayrton Color Player 150 3G fixtures. “The LEDs are hidden inside the set in order to create the colorful scenes,” notes Lortie. “One painted backdrop is lit with 18 Color Force 48 units from a pit in the stage.”


On the conventional side, 34 ETC Source Four PARs are employed primarily as work lights and 60 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals of varying degrees are used as specials for live interaction with an infra-red video camera. Effects comprise six High End Systems Data Flash and six Wildfire WF-400-S/F fixtures. Solotech provided the lighting gear.

For the trapeze act, which has a huge scenic element with spiderwebs, Lortie faced a challenge. “We had to put the lights where we could,” he says, indicating that the main positions for the moving lights are behind the three portals on the stage as well as on overhead electrics. “There is not much room between the portals due to the size of the scenery,” Lortie adds, noting that he used some of the VL3500 Wash FX units as sidelight. “They are very powerful and very efficient,” he says. “It was a challenge to use them as theatrical fixtures, but I was happy with them.”

Lortie collaborated with set designer Stéphane Roy, video content designer Raymond St-Jean, and costume designer Alan Hranitelj on the visual complexity of Zarkana. Sébastien Pedneault served as assistant lighting designer while Bill Hopkins is the grandMA board op at Radio City.

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