Features

THEATRE LIGHTS GO GREEN…AND RED, AND BLUE, AND YELLOW
 
Published Monday, December 7, 2009
by Debra Hornsby

The Banff Centre’s Theatre department is about to take delivery of three state-of-the-art wash lights that will not only provide new creative possibilities in lighting design, but will also make Mother Earth happy.

For those of you who, like me, can’t tell a wash light from a wash basin, here is John Avery, Theatre’s director of production, to explain: “Wash lighting fixtures are the workhouses of theatre lighting. They provide overall illumination of the stage, either mimicking natural light, or providing a colour wash for a specific effect.”

The Centre has ordered three new LED wash lights from Philips Vari-Lite. The LED technology offers many features that conventional tungsten-halogen or arc theatre lighting fixtures cannot deliver. The LED lights are instant on-off, unlike conventional lighting fixtures, which can take time to warm up and cool down. They use significantly less power and produce significantly less heat. Their light sources have a longer lifespan – 10,000 hours versus 400 hours for non-LED lights. And, unlike conventional theatre lighting fixtures, which use manual or mechanically-operated filters to change colour, LED lights can instantly alter colour with the flick of a switch or a computer command.

“This fundamentally changes the way designers will use light and color,” says acclaimed lighting designer Harry Frehner, who has created lighting for the Centre’s mainstage productions for the past 20 years. “For the first time in the history of stage lighting, we can mix color in the lighting fixture and get more light output. Putting color filters in front of lighting fixtures always meant you would lose light.”

The new LED lighting fixtures will be mounted on the lighting bars that are suspended high above the Eric Harvie stage. Theatre’s head of electric Dave Ingraham says the Centre’s designers, lighting crew, and work studies are looking forward to the opportunity to work with this new technology.

Thanks to an invite from John Avery, I had the opportunity to attend the product demonstration session at which Philips representatives put the LED lights through their paces. Sitting backstage in the Eric Harvie and surrounded by staff from Theatre, Digital Film & Media Production, and Purchasing, I got an instant immersion into the world of theatre lighting, which has its own language, history, and professional standards.

Did you know?

■ that the Centre’s Theatre department owns 680 conventional tungsten-halogen theatre lighting fixtures
■ that we presently have only two Moving (or Intelligent) Lights – these are lighting fixtures whose movements, beam shape/size, and color can be remotely controlled
■ that Theatre is about to acquire 13 more Moving Lights, which, including the three LED lights, will bring our Moving Light stock up to 15
■ that the cost for a new Moving Light fixture (either LED, arc, or tungsten) averages $8000.00 each
■ that one moving light can potentially replace a dozen conventional lighting fixtures
■ that the Eric Harvie grid can hold up to 500-600 lighting fixtures and hangs eighteen meters above the stage deck
■ that Theatre Production work-studies and crews get the opportunity to work on dozens of show every year, including in-house production and touring shows, which often arrive with truckloads of specialized lighting fixtures
■ that many theatre stage terms come from sailing, because years ago sailors were often employed as theatre crews as they were comfortable with rigging and working high above the deck. Common sailing terms used in theatre include: battens, trim, above deck, on the deck, deck, running, west coasting, block and tackle, boatswain chair, canvas, center line, dock, douse, heads up, lines, purchase, rigging, traveler, turnbuckle, tuning, weigh, and wings


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