The DTC a Marquee ILC and Vari-Lite Luminaires
Lighting designer Paul Whitaker creatively lights Pride and Prejudice at the Dallas Theater Center
Published Monday, September 17, 2007
by Bryan Matthews

On September 4, 2007, the Dallas Theater Center opened their production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Catherine Sheehy and directed by Stan Wojewodski Jr. In the production, the challenge posed to lighting designer Paul Whitaker was how to light 40 different scenes on top of a multi-level, two turntable set, without the use of numerous fixtures. But with the assistance of master electrician Alicia Prado and board operator Aaron Johansen, Whitaker was able to overcome his challenges through the use of VARI*LITE® Series 1000TM automated luminaires and Entertainment Technology's Marquee® ILC lighting control console.

As the design process for Pride and Prejudice progressed, it became evident that lighting would play a large role in establishing the locations of each scene. Set designer John Coyne had designed a set which included a wood paneled surround wall, painted with a British 19th century landscape, and two concentric turntables. Both turntables were split in half, with one half being flat, and the other being a ramp that ran from 0' to 5' high. The outer turntable has stairs going from the upper level to the flat side, and to signify a change in location, the inner and outer turntables rotate independently to create different floor configurations and levels.

Whitaker began, "Stan, John and I met over a weekend in June and worked through the scene transitions. We were determined that the whole production would be as fluid as possible so that the audience never feels like they are waiting for scene shift to end."

In order to achieve their unified goal, Whitaker's light plot needed to not only accommodate the varied scenes and monologues, but also the varying heights of the deck and the scenes occurring while the turntables were in motion.

Whitaker continued, "With only 177 dimmers, no additional power in the building, and limited positions overhead because of flying scenery, I didn't have the ability to answer the challenges of every scene with conventional fixtures. In order for me to hit all the locations at varying heights, while still giving each scene a unique look, it became obvious that I needed automated fixtures."

As Whitaker began looking at the automated fixtures that would match his criteria, he chose the VL1000TSTM and VL1000ASTM automated luminaires.

"What I needed was a fixture with shutters and gobos to cut off the scenery and add texture to the stage while being able to capitalize on the automated fixtures ability to quickly hit the different floor levels at different times throughout the show. The VARI*LITE fixtures can zoom out to 70 degrees, allowing just two fixtures to wash the entire stage, while still being able to zoom and shutter down to a head size special. Although I used effects for some of the dance sequences, this show is not a big ‘color and effects' show. I needed fixtures that could seamlessly blend in to my conventional rig, and at certain moments the VL1000 fixtures are the only lights on during entire scenes."

In his design, Whitaker used VL1000AS fixtures (arc lamp source with shutters) as backlights, while using color-correction to match the tungsten fixtures. He then used VL1000TS fixtures (tungsten lamp source with shutters) in a downstage location as side lights or front lights depending on the particular location of the scene.

"These lights are perfect for the theater environment. They are quiet, easy to use, and their color temperature easily matches that of the conventional fixtures in the rig, even for a show using a lot of clear or slightly color corrected light."

Now that Whitaker had his automated lighting needs met, he turned his attention to the lighting control challenge. With the introduction of moving lights in the rig, better moving light functionality from the console became essential.

"Time is very precious in the theatre, and you need to be able to move quickly. The console installed at the Dallas Theater Center has limited moving light capabilities, so in order to speed up the programming process we began looking for an alternate console."

So once again Whitaker was looking for a lighting solution. As an architectural lighting designer and theatre consultant for Schuler Shook, he had been exposed to the numerous consoles on the market, but the one he chose was the Marquee ILC from Entertainment Technology.

"I had seen demos of the Marquee ILC and seen how it was used on projects at Schuler Shook. The more I work with the console, the more I enjoy its combination of features for both automated and conventional fixture programming. The console is very easy to set up. The profiles for the moving lights, scrollers, and LED fixtures were already in the board, and the moving light functionality is tremendous. It has user-friendly front-end controls, and the moving light software and software logic are easy to learn and quick to navigate. I particularly like the ‘automatic move in black' function. Not having to go back and mark the automated fixtures saves a lot of time in a busy rehearsal. For conventional programming, I really like being able to easily make changes to fixtures or fade times over multiple cues at the same time."

With his new console in place, along with the new automated fixtures, Whitaker and Johansen were set to begin the programming for Pride and Prejudice, except they encountered one more minor hiccup, which was quickly rectified.

"In the console fixture library, the profile for a moving mirror fixture we had in the rig did not include a DMX iris. We needed an updated profile and we needed it fast. So I spoke to the console tech support, and in couple of hours, I had a new profile downloaded in the board. It was that easy."

As the doors opened for the first preview, Whitaker was pleased with both his design and the lighting equipment that helped him achieve the outcome. Pride and Prejudice was up and running, which allowed Whitaker to step back and reflect on the overall experience.

Whitaker concluded, "I've had a great time in Dallas working on this production. The VARI*LITE luminaires performed flawlessly and were an integral part of the design, and the Marquee ILC allowed me to spend more time designing and less time waiting for the moving lights to be programmed."

Paul Whitaker is a Lighting Designer/Theatre Consultant for Schuler Shook out of their Minneapolis office. He also designs for theatre, regionally and off-Broadway.

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