Rock of Ages – March 2016

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Rock of Ages – Ballarat Lyric Theatre – March 2016

It may seem odd, but if the planning is the start and the operating and then bump out are the end, I guess I’m going to start in the middle.

We normally have about twenty-two hours to plot a show. Knowing that ‘Rock of Ages’ would be a combination of rock concert and musical theatre, at the first production meeting I asked for and was granted thirty plotting hours. Scott and I normally plot at an average rate of a cue every six minutes…
That’s ten per hour.
Even without going through my script and adding up the number of planned lighting and dome cues, we knew we were up against it from the start. Thankfully the director, Stephen, Jess and I were very much in sync regarding the vision of how the show should look.

Now to the beginning. We had a meeting on January twelfth between myself, Scott (the programmer and fixer of all the holes I leave), Jess (Co lighting designer and idea bouncer), Stephen {Director and visionary) and Kate (Caller of all the lighting cues and the cool head who understands where I want cues to go). We went through each scene and song, discussing the mood and the sort of look that would make for the best enhancement of the story and for the best audience experience. Perhaps we were actually just working out how we could have the most fun, using lighting to help tell the story.

I knew fairly precisely what I wanted before bump in.
RoA1That may seem obvious but the rig was so versatile and time was tight – so I knew we couldn’t put up a state, discuss it, fine tune it or make almost any changes … so we had to be very clear. Jess and I had bounced a lot of ideas during the half dozen rehearsals we attended. I recorded a full run, and being able to spend hours slowly going through that was invaluable in terms of precisely where the cues went as well as the fade times.
It also meant that the eight domes had their one-hundred and eighty-two dome cues on day one in the theatre.
The dome cue sheets didn’t need much alteration, just notes they wrote themselves on character placement and warnings about difficult moments ( in case the swing dome had to step in and work from their cue sheet). I knew there wouldn’t be time for me to concentrate on what the domes were doing during the rehearsals or to be distracted by my mistakes in their cue sheet. Thankfully their sheets were close enough that Kate could understand what I wanted and the dome operators were able to interpret the twelve pages of cues.
They told me that it wasn’t a hard show!
This proved to me just how high the bar has become.
If a show where each dome has multiple snap ups in mid shots, snap ups in near black states and on cast members where were running onto the stage, what do I have to throw at them to stress them?
Rock of Ages - 2016I should mention that the four front of house domes were old Selecon two kilowatt zoomspots, mounted on spigots in barrel clamps attached to the standing room bars. Meanwhile the four rear domes were Pacifics, also mounted on barrel clamps attached to rigging mounted on the fly gallery’s old tie off rail, with wire coat hanger sights and no colour changes but eleven different gels to change. Most of the follow spot operators also came along to watch some of the rehearsals before we got to the theatre and followed the dome cue sheets so that they got to know the characters as well as their movements. Adding wigs and the changing of wigs did make identification that bit harder. There was an added benefit of the cast seeing some of the lighting team that they sometimes don’t see until the closing party.

The theatre had just installed new seating and we were asked to leave the plastic on the seats while we were plotting. After the first three hours, I took in towels for us to sit on. Anyone old enough to have sat on vinyl car seats will understand. Once the towels and plastic were removed, the new seats are a vast improvement.

RoA3After the first full day of plotting, Scott and I noted that we were plotting at a rate of four minutes per cue. What makes this amazing is the management of the technology that Scott was shepherding into shape. Feeding the happy tubes with media server information via artnet, twenty nine moving lights of four different types (more if you break them down to models and capabilities) Also two types of LED wallwashers, two types of LED 64s, DMX control of smoke machines, hazers, fans and beacons, LED strips in various signs and built into the set, power and remote control of car headlights, as well as conventional theatre lighting fixtures … including twenty six good old rock and roll par 64s.
I’m sure the time Scott spent on WYSIWYG helped to ensure things would work as predicted but seventeen universes of DMX is certainly a lot for a local production.

RoA - Mission ControlScott’s choice of the Grand MA console was perfect, and the hours spent by Scott in preparation, sorting out how to control and disseminate all the information to the equipment, his checking in WYSIWYG that the look we wanted were achievable was the saving grace of the event from the lighting point of view.
During the last hours of plotting, as we headed towards forty hours, we were down to a cue every three minutes.
We were really pushing – and working at that speed means no time to scrutinize each state and every look had to work the first time.
There was no time for tweaking or subtle massaging of times. Thankfully it was correct enough most of the time because of the pre-planning.

Yes we still made changes during and after each run and Scott ironed out many a wrinkle (without Jess or I making the note) but it still had to be in the ball park – even if it was done in broad brush strokes.

A great effort by your team… every year we ask for more and we get it plus some.
All the crowds were impressed with the lighting quality and it contributed so much to the professional appearance of this production.
See you again next year hopefully.