The annual coronation of the Queen of the Order of the Alamo is a special event staged at the aptly-named Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas.
Founded in 1909, the Order of the Alamo exists to educate the public about the history of the fight for the independence of Texas in the 1830s, and the Coronation event is the colorful culmination of its annual spring Fiesta.
Lighting designer Bobby Harrell has been illuminating the Coronation event for many years, and this year he chose to use four of Vari-Lite’s new VLZ SPOT fixtures in his rig. He explains, “The VLZs were chosen to add extra tone, color and texture to the stage while the primary systems were there to provide color and visibility. In years past, we had used another manufacturer’s moving heads but they just didn’t punch through the conventional and LED stage lighting when needed. I knew the VLZs would have more punch and was not disappointed. The VLZ SPOTs gave us plenty of output even during brighter stage pictures.”
Harrell was drawn to the VLZ SPOT having been impressed by both the power of its output and the quality of its optics. He says, “The 8000K color temperature gave just enough increase to the perceived brightness to show up over the other lighting. I was able to get good gobo quality as well as plenty of output from just these four fixtures.”
Harrell confirms that the VLZ SPOTs had performed as he had hoped they would, adding, “In fact, I may look at replacing the 1500W moving lights that we use as followspots, for next year. The color rendering of the VLZ is much more pure, and doesn’t give me that green that many arc sourced fixtures do.”
As a long-serving product manager for Vari-Lite, Harrell has been an adherent of Strand control systems for many years, and in recent years has employed the NEO controller on the Coronation project. He says, “I’ve been lighting this show for years, initially using the 520i, then moving on to a Palette VL. In recent years I’ve used a NEO, for two main reasons - the ability to label channels in patch, and the ability to assign a Movement Path to the moving lights that I use as followspots.”
He explains, “When lighting a show and programming at the same time, I have to bounce between looking at the stage, the console monitors and a magic sheet. For several years now, I just add Position, Purpose and Color information to all channels in Patch and that appears on my Classic View channel screen. I select my channel layout so that it matches the plan of the stage. In the Coronation event, there are 24 girls, or ‘Duchesses’ in the ‘Royal Court’ plus a Princess and a Queen. Half of the Duchesses are stage right and the other half are stage left.
“This way, I know that channel 1 is for the far upstage-right Duchesses’ front light and channel 20 is for the far upstage-left Duchesses’ front light. Each Duchess has a hand-sewn, jewel-encrusted 12ft long train; the lights for the trains repeat this same approach in the 100s and the Duchesses’ back lights are in the 200s. By doing this, I no longer need a traditional paper magic sheet. Now I have one less item to look at. I can just go from the stage to the NEO’s monitors to get what I need.”
Of the second advantage of the NEO for this project, the ability to assign Movement Paths to the 1500W fixtures used as followspots, Harrell explains, “The Majestic Theatre is a fabulous space but the front-of-house has a lot of great architectural detail. There is space to have a couple of moving lights but no room for the operators, so we use two 1500W moving lights as followspots that are controlled from the NEO.
“The natural movement of the moving lights as they go from one end of the fashion runway to the other, creates an arc, so the fixtures do not light the girls at the midpoint of the runway. NEO has the ability to do two things. Firstly, I can assign a cue list to a submaster, which gives me manual control, as there is no guaranteed speed at which the girls walk (they’re pulling a 100 lb jewel-encrusted trains). Next I assign a movement path that compensates for the natural arc of the fixture. Natively, the moving lights will move in an arc that is low on each end and high in the middle, so I create an arc that is the opposite of that - high on each end and low in the middle - giving me a straight line of movement.”
Harrell concludes, “NEO gives me the features that I need to make this a successful event year after year.”