It is hard to believe that I haven't written anything in three weeks. WOW! I feel like I have been really negligent in documenting what has been going on. But our usual process has gotten somewhat out of whack because we were able to get into the venue earlier than usual.
As of my last post, we had loaded most of the stuff in and all of the big stuff was installed. In fact, on what would have originally been set load-in day, everything was already at the theater except for a 17' telephone pole that we brought with us that morning.
As I was deciding how to make one, I mentioned to Larry what I wanted. At his farm, he led me back behind his barn to an old mobile home and pointed by the front step. Standing there was a power pole that used to serve the mobile home but had long been abandoned after a branch took down the line feeding it. At 8AM on load-in morning, I met him at his farm. He pulled his backhoe next to it, wrapped a chain around the base of the pole and he yanked it out of the ground on the first pull. The bottom 5 feet or so were filled with mud and termites, but I had my pole. We threw it on his trailer, swung by the scenic shop to load up the cafe counter, desk for the sheriff and a bars for the jail and headed for St. Louis.
Getting the telephone pole into the building was a bit of a challenge, but it turned out to not be too terrible. We stood it up in the fire escape, leaned it against the upper railing and then walked the base up the rest of the steps. With a rope and ladder, it was standing in place in about 30 minutes and I was adding the cross arm and bracing.
We put the jail together and hung the two wall panels that "float" above the band. While Patrick and I worked on other details, Kathleen and Melanie got the bars and the scuffed up edges of the panels painted. Patrick attached the barber pole and fished cables to the lighting channels for the practicals. We finished with set load-in in about 4 hours!
The following week, Scott and cast were able to move into the theater and start rehearsing in the space, really adapting to the set early.
The next Thursday, I picked up lights and early Friday morning, Patrick and I began hang and focus. Melanie came after work at about 4 and by 7, we had everything on the ceiling and mostly focused. Saturday morning, Melanie and I went back and finished up set details and cleaned up the stage from our previous day. By mid afternoon on Saturday, the lights were ready to go.
Last Wednesday evening, the theater was dark, so Melanie met me there around 7 and we spent a couple of hours going through the show and kind of getting the light plot "on its feet", so to say. Sometimes, you just have to play with what you hung and build a few looks until you find things that work. We recorded about 15 scene presets into the submasters on the board. These represented base lighting for each of the locations in the show.
By doing these, we had a good pallet to use as we built all of the cues, since the way the show is written and staged, it is a series of interwoven vignettes and the action moves around the stage from one location to another to push the story along.
Last Friday morning, I got to the theater at 8:30 AM. Starting with the pre-show warmer, I went page by page through the script and wrote cues. The sound folks came around 3PM, so I took a break for lunch and Melanie again arrived after work. We ended up finishing with cues about 9PM. 12 hours seems like a long time, but compared to RENT's 22 hours, it was a piece of cake.
Probably the most interesting and challenging cues were the 3 collections that make up the gun fights. My concept for the gun fights was to suspend a half dozen curtain strobes upstage, against the black curtains. A curtain strobe is a small cylinder, maybe 2" in diameter and 4" long, hanging on a black cord. They aren't super bright, but in a dark space, they provide blinding points in the audience's eyes. Then I rented a monster DMX strobe: a Martin Atomic 3000. Because it is DMX controlled, I can turn it on and off in cues. This particular model has a fourth channel that controls effects. In addition to rate, intensity and duration of flash, it has the ability to ramp up, ramp down, random flash, or do an effect that makes killer lighting.
The gun fights are a sequence of 10-15 cues that auto-follow, one after another. Each auto-follow time is different; anywhere from 1/2 second to 2 seconds. In the first cue, I start the curtain strobes and they stay on for the duration of the sequence. Each flashes randomly so they are never all together, almost like muzzle flashes from 6 different guns upstage pointing at the audience. Then in subsequent cues, I turn on and off the Atomic 3000 set to random bursts. This gives the effect of someone with a machine gun pulling the trigger and releasing it in bursts. The opening and closing gun bursts last about 10 seconds and the shootout in the middle of Act 2 lasts about 5 seconds. Those three incidents account for more than 30 cues in the show.
The next effect that I discovered as I was programming is a little out of character for a New Line show. I go back to the initial concept that this show's design pallet is all sepia tones. This came from thinking of it as an old movie or old photographs. As I wrote the cues for the various vignettes and ran back thru them, the action seemed to cut instantaneously from location to location with no transition. While we have been accustomed to this with modern TV and film editing, old movies used a lot of dissovles often through black to go from scene to scene. This most likely came from early filmmaking's roots in old-fashioned live theater. So, I inserted blackouts in between each cue where the action goes from one location to the next. Normally, blackouts are not part of a light plot that I would do at New Line, but this gave the show a more old movie feel. To keep it moving, I used auto-follows to go into the next cue. The result is a dissolve-thru-black, just like an old movie.
When we went through cue-to-cue on Saturday, we discovered that several of those auto-follows needed to be lengthened because the actors just needed a couple of seconds to get out of the way so that the next scene could start. So I talked to Gabe and we decided that we would pull almost all of the auto-folllows out of the cues. He just has to hit the GO button twice as often, but now he has control over it.
I never thought that I would use blackouts like that again in a modern show, but it really needs it to keep the audience from getting confused that the action has moved to another place and time.
All said and done, the show is a little over 200 light cues. While not as many or as complicated as RENT was, it is still a sizeable number and probably one of the larger light plots that I have done.
Tonight is first full-tech run-thru and Gabe is at the helm. I am anxious to see how it goes...