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Artistic control during a show

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by gabe, Nov 11, 2007.

  1. gabe

    gabe Member

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    So my highschool is nearing completion of a new $14M "performing arts center," and the time has come that I am starting to meet with all of the various contractors for the mandatory training. So the other day I was with the director of the theater program, my lighting guy and the Strand rep being trained on our new Sub Pallete.

    My light guy and I have both had lots of experience on the 300 series so we were just sitting back ocasionally paying attention when he noted the differences between the two, but our director, having never operated a digital console, decided that he needed to know exactly how the cue sheet worked, from programming cues, to looks, to cue parts, to effects etc etc. And at one point my director wanted to know if you could do a manual fade from one cue to another with a slider on the board. The Strand rep said that he had never been asked that question, and I asked why he would want to know because I had never had to do anything like that. Now my director swears that on Broadway cue times aren't the same every night depending on how the scene played out because he had acted on a Broadway stage before (long before digital consoles). The director said that he wanted the board ops to make "judgement calls" about fade times during the show. I said that the whole point of a cue'd show is so that each fade is the same every night, and all of the artistic control is in the SM and when she calls it each night.

    So, my question is, when on Broadway or other up-scale professional theater, is this done? Does the board op really have any artistic control in terms of the fade time of blackouts?
  2. fosstech

    fosstech Member

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    Not that I know of. I've never heard of such a thing. As the lighting rigs for these shows become more and more complicated, people need less variability. Sounds like your director is stuck in the past ;)
  3. Raktor

    Raktor Member

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    Slightly off-topic:

    Being a user of primarily a Strand 300 I'm curious; what do you think of the Palette range now you've been shown through that console?
  4. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I suppose that there may be times in some live playback settings when you might need to grab control of a fade, but have you ever tried to do that on your 300? You have to hit the manual fade button and then take the X1 (or X2) faders to zero and then run the fade, so unless you have a very long count, the chance of you catching the fade is slim. It is even harder to catch a fade into manual on an Obsession. The only time I can think of that you might need this is if something goes terribly wrong on stage.

    In the professional theatre world fade times are set by the designer, and that is that. The show is the designer's vision. a Stage Manager can only change things if the show is suffering before the change and even then, the SM is still supposed to consult the designer before making a change. A Stage Manager has no "Artistic Control" over the show. The stage manager's job is to keep the show running to the specifications of the director and the designers.
  5. Logos

    Logos Active Member

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    I work occasionally (and I love it) with a bunch of insane improv/performance art guys. I have to impro nearly everything, they expect me to as it is part of the mystique that the show is never the same twice. There are key sounds moves or words that are supposed to cue me but as a creative artist not as a go monkey.
    It wouldn't work on big shows but d**n it's fun.
    I'm hoping to get some movers (simple scans) in my next rig.
  6. David Ashton

    David Ashton Active Member

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    I'm puzzled, how can you do visual cues on a timed crossfade, for example, actor comes into darkened room and slightly opens a curtain and looks outside then opens up first one curtain then the other and the daylight streams in.Easy with a fader in your hand to follow the actor but extremely tricky with multiple x fades and certain to foul up during a season if actor slips with curtain etc.So I can see why you would want the ability to control manually.
  7. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team

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    That's the problem of the actor and the S.M. The designer designs it a set way and that's it. I'm surprised you would ask this question. That's how it's done here by anyone with a decent console and a little training. Again the point being that you set the timing in rehearsal and then it's exactly the same every night. There's far less chance of error pushing a go button on cue from the S.M. than there is in manually running sliders.

    As far as I know the only time in the pro world you will see some "artistic control" is in concert lighting. But even then its still working with pre-recorded routines.
  8. zac850

    zac850 Active Member

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    Theatrical lighting is based off the idea that every night it will be the same. Period. End of story. The blocking is set, the script is set, the lighting is set, the sound cues are set, and so on.

    Broadway light ops sit and push the go button just like the rest of us, they are not charged with any artistic jobs. They just push the button when the SM tells them to, and the SM tells them to based on when the actor says whatever line or does whatever physical move the Q is taken off of.

    Thats not to say that its not good to be able to be able to override the system. I've grabed faders and run manual fade times when the actors are moving with a ML or two tracking them. In theory, this should be set so the actor moves at the same speed every night though.


    In a high school setting this is difficult, because you have the teacher and the student and the director all thinking they know everything, and all wanting to do it there way, and its very difficult to say "No, I'm the lighting designer, I'm looking at the stage and what your telling me to do is dumb and ugly. I want to do it my way and make it pretty and effective".
  9. David Ashton

    David Ashton Active Member

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    What a boring life you must lead just pressing buttons,now while it is true for ballet, opera and musicals it is absolutely not the case in comedy, I have done about 200 shows with Dame Edna, no 2 shows the same, Spike Milligan and the British actors of that time would delight in tricking me into false cues.The interplay between cast and crew can be part of the show which keeps everyone on their toes and makes every night a challenge."business" and ad libbing are central to many forms of comedy.There is no way I could have endured just pushing a button, so there is another way to do lighting where the operator is very much part of the action, and it sounds soul destroying to me to just be a button pusher, might as well give the SM the go button.Incidentally I think the term Artistic Control is a touch pretentious to describe the operator timing the cues to the stage action, particularly if the op can see the live action while the SM is watching through the video monitor.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2007
  10. lighttechie5948

    lighttechie5948 Member

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    this is true that most of the time you don't want to manually cross between cues. you just used up and down times for them. But, when using MLs to follow a person it is helpful to use the manual crossfade (ETC Expression/Express) because you don't know how fast or slow the person will move.

    Plus, do you really think an actor can find a light on his own?
  11. dj_illusions

    dj_illusions Member

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    Hmmmm.... I can sort of see the point, but for shows that change every night such as comedy or improv most experienced operators will have all there base scense or looks programmed to subs or groups depending on desk then just wing it from there.

    I have never heard of, see, or had to take manual control of a cued show (i work predominatly on strands) if for some reason i felt the need to do a quicker fade id slimply type Cue # Time ? and change it before the cue rather than going through the steps to make the manual fade take effect.
  12. SerraAva

    SerraAva Member

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    First, we are talking high school. No two shows will be the same, they might be close but won't be the same. Its not to say you can't have good shows in high school or good actors, they just aren't seasoned enough yet to keep the show to pace. In college, I still find actors aren't seasoned enough to keep with the pace. So with that in mind, I will change fade times up to the second before a cue happens depending upon the pace. With moving lights, to keep up with actors, I will manually do it or use a combination of 'Hold' and 'Go' buttons.

    I am defiantly with allthingstheatre on the fact that comedy is based more on the audience's reaction, and that it will change every night. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is completely based off the audience and the size of it at times, never the same each night. Same thing with concert based lighting, people can change up there set, take breaks when they aren't suppose to, not take breaks when they are, etc. Dance concerts are another one were I will have dance instructors come on headset and ask to change timing of things, and lighting designer or not, its their show, not mine. In an ideal world, none of this happens, the fact is it does.

    I am still at the point were I run, design, and program many of the things I do, so I have the liberty of it being my design and changing it. If it wasn't, I would ask first. In high school, I was designer, programmer, and board op, chances are it will be the same for your school.
  13. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Now, when some of you talk about comedy shows, I assume you mean shows whose script is very loose, and is more along the lines of stand-up than theatre. This certainly requires a different approach. Improv shows often have a running order, so you know what is going to happen when , but sometimes you need to change things up. These are great examples of when subs are really handy, but then end of the scene or sketch, or whatever is usually always the same, and you can just take the cue.

    In theatre though, even high school theatre you shouldn't have to change the show too much from night to night. The pace of the show is never going to change so drastically that you need to change your 5 count lights out. Internal cues happen when the actor gets to whatever point the cue comes, if they are going slower, you just wait longer to take the cue. As for moving lights, you just take the cue when you are supposed to, when the actor realizes they are standing in the dark they'll move. Of course the other thing to be aware of, is that some times the actors will skip lines, and then you just need to be able to skip over the cues they jump.

    We just finished a show where we hand an actor who didn't always like to move when he was supposed to. But you know what? When the SM called the cue that changes the light, you better believe that actor started moving. I have also done shows like allthings talked about, where an actor had to go around turning lights on. It was cued in a very specific order, and that order was drilled into the actor's head. The SM told the actor that he wasn't going to take the cues out of sequence, and that nothing would happen if he went out of order. So, there were a couple nights where we skipped a couple cues because the actor had the sequence wrong.
  14. SerraAva

    SerraAva Member

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    That is fine if you would like to do it that way icewolf, but I hate seeing something out of sync because the timing was wrong. Also, at the end of the end of and/or during the show, people are looking at me if something goes wrong time wise, order wise, and/or placement wise, not the actor. The actor in question might be nice about it and say the fault was their's, but the audience's initial thought is still that the 'light guy' messed up. The people on the crew knew it wasn't my fault, the people on stage knew it wasn't my as well, but the audience doesn't have the same luxury of knowing how things are suppose to go. They just see it as it comes. A good friend of mine was singing in a show once, and forgot a verse in the song, so he mouthed it and everyone proceeded to yell at the sound op. Everyone thought it was the tech, it was the actor. Same with lights, during Ragtime I had to move lights every night so the actors would be in their light. The fault appears to fall on me, not them. I would just remind them at the end of the night and it would still happen. Audience still thinks its me though, and I can't stand it. I want the show to be the best it can be, so it reflects better on the show as a whole. If that means moving lights so they are where the actors are or adjusting fade times, so be it.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2007
  15. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    This summer, we used i-cues as followspots with great effect. All of the blocking was spiked, and the actors were very professional about being where they were supposed to be at the right time, and getting in to the light if they were out of it. We had one actor who was always in the dead center of his light...it was amazing. Light came up, he was in the dead center, every night. When the light moved, his head always stayed in the center as he walked down the stairs. He knew when to take a beat in order to get the timing of the i-cue move right, and he knew how to catch up to the light without looking stupid. I wish that all actors were like that.
  16. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    See, but what I am saying is, it isn't the way I want to do it, it is the way it is done. We are talking about professional union actors and stage managers who get paid far more than I do, that is how the world works. Technically, a theatre can fine or even fire an actor for not maintaining the show the way it was designed/directed. If someone thinks that it's my fault when an actor doesn't stay in their light, I don't care. You take the cue when the SM says GO, and that is that. If the director thought the SM was in the wrong they would say something. If an actor forgets his lines and the sound op gets blamed by the audience, the sound op shouldn't care, there is nothing he could have done.

    If an actor can't find their light in the same spot each night, you don't move the light you give them a mark, like soundlight said. Sometimes you ask the actor: "where are you going to be for this moment?" make it their choice, and then give them a mark, and then if they can't hit that, it's their own fault.

    There is always going to be an audience member who complains, and there is no reason to feel bad, or to feel like you did something wrong. Unless the SM, LD, director, or other designers tell you that something was wrong, then you keep doing the show as designed. There are so many other elements that depend on the show going as designed, that you can't just make things fit when you feel like it. What happens when the actor, whose light you move every night decides that they are going to stand right in front of the piece of scenery that comes in while they are singing? You can't say, "Sure, we can put your light there."

    The shows that have run forever, like Cats and Les Mis can do that because they are machines. They work exactly the same every night. A show like Les Mis, they know that they need the curtain to come down 3 hours after it goes up or they are paying the orchestra overtime. Cameron McIntosh would cut off people's heads if someone said "this fade doesn't look right, I'm gonna do it manually." and didn't ask the designer.

    If you are your own LD, then sure, you can change the show, but if you are just a board op or ME, then the only thing you need to do is what the LD and SM tell you.
  17. gabe

    gabe Member

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    Thanks for all the responses.

    Yes this is high school theater and I probably will be designer, programmer, board op. I'm glad I have some input as to what happens in the real world, my director was so insistent upon us doing it the same way it is done professionally and now I have some hard information to give him.

    As to the Palette vs. 300, there are somethings I like and some I dislike. They have changed around the syntax a bit which takes a while to get used to. Also, I don't like how you have to bring up an actual window on the screen and click with the mouse every time a cue or sub is recorded. But there are definately some advantages. It's moving light control package is very very nice considering the price of the console. And there are lots of things that being a windows based OS makes available, such as the SMTPE timecode from an mp3 being used to hit off cues.
  18. SerraAva

    SerraAva Member

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    Glad to help gabe, have fun with your new toys and new home. Professionally, nothing changes. At high school level, stuff is going to change, just the nature of it. I had the director waiting to change stuff a few minutes before house opens. I also did some things that looked absolutely horrible, and voiced that, but didn't change that I still had to do it in high school.

    Icewolf, I guess I am getting to use to corporate land, where everything will and must be pretty, no matter what and you have to adjust. You might be at a point where someone looks at your work and doesn't care if there are mistakes here or there because they know the difference between design mistakes and others, I am not. It has happened with my boss/es on a few occasions. This doesn't happen with everyone.

    The fact is I am willing to get over the fact that actors mess up and save them. Helps the show, makes me look better. Not ever show also has the ability to just fire actors/techs when something goes wrong. On the other side of the fence, if I had a dollar for every time some big executive walked some where he/she was told not to, I wouldn't need to work anymore by 25. What it really comes down to, my design, my recorded show, I am running it, I am allowed to adjust things. Unless you meet those requirements, ask. And as one professional writer/director I work with puts it, "Any one can hit the go button by what is written in a script. The question is, can they feel it, go beyond the cue in the script, and act with the lights with the actors?"
  19. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Serra, I certainly agree, that there are times that you have to do whatever it takes to make the product top notch. I certainly had to do that on a regular basis while I was working on cruise ships.

    Also, there is a big difference in how I perceive something going wrong, and people making mistakes. Sometimes actors mess up, sometimes I mess up. But none of those times, aside from the mistake itself, have we had to venture out of what the designer or director wanted. If something goes wrong, like a moving light gets off, or a scroller gets jammed, then you do whatever yo need to to get things working again, or at least make it look less ugly until things are fixed. This may mean parking a channel out until you can get to it, or resetting the unit. The trick for us is to be able to integrate that as seamlessly as possible into the designer's vision, and so far we have never had to stop a show or take cues out of time to do that.
  20. Charc

    Charc Well-Known Member

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    Some interesting points here on "people blame the lighting guy".

    That happened a fair bit during this last show. Even with tons of notes to actors and spike on the stage, they'd never get it right. I had one guy that would always stand one step too far U.S. Oh he got the note every night, but never stepped down. The same guy also decided to change his blocking from rehearsal. It affected an important I-Cue move, acting area change, and houselight fade out. Much nail-biting waiting for him to take those few crucial steps S.L.. Interestingly enough, the same kid couldn't find his light on this aisle deal I'd rigged up. I had a 6x22, then 6x12 then 6 x9 in order going up the isle, the spots grew in size and intensity, like a snowman. I realized he couldn't make it in rehearsal, so what did I decide to do? Bring up the spot for him before he moved too it. "This is great!" I thought. All he has to do is walk into the circle of light on the ground...:rolleyes: He messed it up the worst on the last night, he didn't even step into the 2nd light.

    I had another girl who messed this up in EVERY rehearsal and EVERY performance. We had a scenic element (a ramp) U.S.C.. All she had to do was stand at the top of the ramp, and center. She ended up being about Twice as far from one side as to the other. It looked bad, and for her sake I kept meeting with her and going over it. On the opening night I even got her on headset a scene ahead of time and gave her the note, she replied with "at least a half-dozen people have given me that note tonight!". What does she do one scene later? Walks (still out of position) DS on the ramp, completely out of the light.

    We had a big problem with actors finding their light in this show. As aforementioned, the one faculty member wouldn't bend-over for the actors, and even instructed me not to add light for them. He said if they were going to continue to act they'd have to learn to find their light one way or another. Unfortunately, that way makes me look bad. :rolleyes:

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