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Design Issues and Solutions Broadway Light Plots

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by rochem, Aug 31, 2008.

  1. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    For a long time now, I've been looking unsucessfully for copies of Broadway light plots which I can use to further my lighting education. I actually do gain lots of insight from viewing plots, because it shows what angles, colors, and instruments the designer chose to use for each look on stage. I would most prefer plots from modern shows, because I have seen many broadway shows, and then can go through and recall each look on stage, while seeing what fixtures were used to produce that look.

    Although the title does say "Broadway" plots, I'd really be fine with any large-scale light plot. I say broadway simply because I would be able to compare the plot with the looks that I saw on the stage, but really any large-scale show would be great. Touring productions, off-broadway shows, or even shows that are done by a local company with a large lighting rig. As an example, I have learned a lot from the light plot included in Shelley's "Practical Guide to Stage Lighting". However, I have no other decent sized plots to compare it to.

    Can anyone help me out here? Thanks!
     
  2. zac850

    zac850 Well-Known Member

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  3. TupeloTechie

    TupeloTechie Active Member

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  4. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Most of these plots are uterily useless as a learning tool. These days, everything has a scroller on it or its a moving fixture of some sort. There is really nothing to gather from these besides a geak out fest. Yes, they are interesting to look at, but you can not take anything away from the design from them.

    The only way to really break down how a show as achieved is to look at the pictures and break down the looks into systems. Beyond that, talk to the designer. You will find that most Broadway plots look very similar anymore, kind of like the standard musical rep plot that pretty much everyone uses.
     
  5. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    As someone who spends a lot of time looking at plots, I really wonder what you feel you get out it. For the most part people draft in the standard where the units are always in a 90˚ orientation to the hanging position. Look at the plots posted, all the info you get is template, color and sometimes purpose. I don't mean to be so cynical, but what do you do, look for the blue downlight system and say: "Hey look its a system of blue downlight"?

    A light plot doesn't really tell you much except where to hang the lights and what accessories they need. It doesn't tell you WHY that blue downlight system is there. It doesn't tell you WHY anything for that matter. That is the big thing about design though, the WHY. It is about the choices.

    Look at the plots posted in this thread, does it really show you any angles? Why does knowing what colors some other designer chose help you? When you design a show do you choose your colors because they worked for someone else or because they work for your show?

    Now lets move on to instrument choice. Instrument choice is 80% technical and 20% art. Why? Well that system of 19˚ frontlight probably has to be 19˚ units to get the correct coverage. As a designer, you know where the position is, you know what you need the light to do, so you draw up your section from the light to where it hits, and you take out your protractor and say "ok, that's a 17˚ angle ideally, so I will put up a 19˚ since that is the closes match." However, the plot doesn't tell you why the designer chose to do his top wash with fresnels instead of PARs.


    Note, that I am not trying to say that you shouldn't look at other people's plots for shows, but I think that you have to remember to take them with a grain of salt. You need to be careful that you are learning and not copying (i.e. "oh that worked for so-and-so, so it should work for me" OR "well so-and-so used 10 19˚ source fours for a front wash, so will I"). You also have no idea if the plot you have in your hand is the final that went into the show, things continually change through the tech process, but you may not actually have the final plot.

    The plot itself is just one small part in the design process. Most of the art happens when the designer is sitting in tech writing cues (that is also often when things on the plot change!). Just remember that the plot is a tool, and knowing what someone else did is very different than know why they did it. If you can, the best thing to do is to talk to designers, have them walk you through the plot and the choices that went into making it and the rest of the show.
     
  6. Serendipity

    Serendipity Active Member Premium Member

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    Thank you.
    I was just about to post asking how you identified the systems (I was looking at J&H) if it just seemed to be 80% Source Four, 10% ML, 5% PAR with color scrollers/faders, and there aren't any purposes labeled.

    I've found plots to be insightful, though every time I've learned from them, the designer was there to explain them or answer questions.

    Plus, "High sides are high sides" whether there's six or one hundred and thirty-six.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2008
  7. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Also keep in mind the plots above are mostly for touring productions. Those things are a completly different beast them what appears on broadway. It is not uncommon for broadway shows to have 10-15 electrics, when the show goes out on tour they are lucky to get 5. Beyond that, they try to replace everything with movers that is possible to cut down on focus time and fixtures they have to carry. There is really nothing to learn from a touring plot. Now, comparing the two can be kind of interesting.
     
  8. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    While I agree that it's not necessarily the best way to learn about lighting, I do not agree that they are "entirely useless". For example, something that I found in more than one of the plots here was all the fixtures being used for cyc lighting. In Wicked for example, they have strip lights mounted on trusses on each side of the cyc, as well as a boom with a number of S4s to wash the cyc from the sides. I had considered trying this in a previous show, but reasoned that it would create an unnatural wash of light, so didn't try it. Now its something I might try next time that my cyc is not being lit the way I want it to.

    Also, in the BATB plot, most of the FOH fixtures display color info as well as general focus point info. Also something I'm seeing is an enourmous amount of fixtures for lighting the cyc/backdrop, as well as the use of a bounce drop. It gives me some ideas for what I may want to try during a show that I light.

    I agree that the plot does not include the "whys" and such of the design, but realistically, do you have any better ideas? As far as I know, there is no piece of paperwork that includes the "why" of the design - although that would be amazing if there was. And while I would love to be able to sit down with the designer and discuss the show's lighting, I don't think that will happen anytime soon. Basically, viewing the plot cannot HURT my design education at all, but it might be able to help, even if just a small amount. So why not have them?

    I still believe that I learn from plots, but I guess shows of a slightly smaller scale are better - that is, those with a primarily conventional rig, with few color scrollers or moving lights. Again, the ideal situation would be to sit down with the designer and discuss it, but until that situation presents itself, I am just going to take what I can get.
     
  9. zac850

    zac850 Well-Known Member

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    As has been said, I think that attempting to figure out design by looking at a light plot are quite useless. However, I find 'professional' plots very useful to look at to learn how to draft more efficiently. While the WHY of the Mac2K isn't that interesting, seeing how the drafter laid out the information and sectioned it IS a quite useful thing to learn.

    Also, as had been said, tours are completely different. They design the show for a theoretically perfect venue, and then it gets adapted as needed by the crew. I have heard stories of the Wicked plot going into theaters with essentially no FOH truss, so the FOH units moved to the top of the box booms of this specific theater.

    That said, again, I think its a great tool to be able to look at the plots and learn how to draft better.
     
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  10. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    Yea, I did notice that with BATB and Wicked. In both, the overhead pipes are almost entirely made up of movers, and in Wicked's case, there's only 4 electric pipes including the cyc pipe. The Jekyll and Hyde plot looks more like what I was expecting, with a primarily conventional rig and a limited number of movers. It would be interesting to compare the broadway plots with these touring plots. But 10-15 electrics? That would be one every 2-3 feet on a normal sized stage. That seems a little much. I dont think I could even find reasons to fill all those pipes. Of course, I'm used to desigining with 3-5 pipes max, so I'm sure someone with more experience would be able to easily fill every pipe without breaking a sweat.
     
  11. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Filling up lots of linesets with lights is not the mark of a good designer. Also, most "Broadway" don't actually have 10-15 electrics, most Broadway theatre don't have that kind of space. Walk into most broadway theatres and you will find that Act II is hanging from chain hoists, the stage door literally opens onto the stage (ie. no wing space), etc. Those theatres look big to the audience, but they are indeed quite small. The mark of a good designer is accomplishing the job as efficiently and effectively as possible while preserving the art.

    In my earlier post i did not mean to infer that yo can't learn from plots. I don't think you can learn the art from plots, but the tech you can for sure. Like your scrim scrape example, many people wouldn't think to turn a cyc light on it's side or to scrape an ERS across a scrim or cyc, but doing that all comes back to the why.

    Lets say, for instance, that for the show you talk about above, you tried your lighting idea. It doesn't matter if it was effective or not, when your teacher (or another lighting designer, or anyone) asks you why you made that choice, what would you say? (you don't have to answer, just think about it.) Now, I have worked with some LDs who I have asked "Why?" and they said they just wanted to try something new, and that is a valid answer, and as a student (and professional), you should always be trying new things, however, in most college level design classes "because I wanted to" may not get you too far.

    So, do keep studying! Do keep trying new things! Do whatever you need to to make yourself a good designer!
     
  12. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    See http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/glossary/7679-lighting-concept-lighting-statement.html, although you'll have a difficult time getting said document from a professional designer. Often they've done the thought and research, but haven't written it down.
     
  13. Serendipity

    Serendipity Active Member Premium Member

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    Well said post! I agree that they won't hurt your lighting education, and I acknowledge and respect your curiosity, though I still am siding more with the other side of the fence on this one. :)

    Thanks for that. I read the post about the lack of documents explaining the "why" and wondered if Design Statements were something used in the "real world" or just lighting classes.
     
  14. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    One of the useful experiences of attending the Broadway Lighting Master Class a few years back, was to have Don Holder explain a good bit of the WHY of the design for the show Moving Out, which we then that evening, went to see. Knowing elements of Why, then allowed us to understand the How, though we had no access to the plot, but got a lec/demo after and I know that those of us attending the show from BLMC spent most of the show counting stage lights !.

    This has been discussed before on CB, but Broadway works under extraordinarily constrained space conditions. Old theaters built in the early 1900's, very limited backstage space, minimal FOH positions, etc... all which tend to create a style of design that a for a newbie to follow, may not neccessarily be a good thing. Ditto trying to replicate or use techniques from a touring plot. Why try to replicate a cyc hang, when the entire reason for the instrumentation and placement was due to space (and time) constraints particular to touring ?. Does your theater have the same space issues ?, and are you willing to use the same equipment to get the same effect on a cyc, even though, for the tour or Broadway, expense in terms of type and quantity of tool choice was not an issue. It probably IS an issue for all us regular folks, and while I am now aware of the techniques Don Holder used to light the cyc for Lion King, I would probably have zero opoppurtunity to use them in my own theater, nor would I want too as my particular space and budget would require a different approach.

    It's entirely a good thing to be able to pick a designers brain about what they were trying to achieve in a design, what the concept was, how they came to the concept and how they communicated their opinions and ideas to fellow designers and the director. Brian McDevitt had much to say at BLMC about the use of visual imagery in the design prrocess and that is far more useful then studying a touring light plot of Wicked. Unfortunatley, it is rare for any of the current crop of LD's to put down in writing, the intent, especially among the legit theater folks. The trade journals mostly seem to concentrate on R&R and Industrial events.

    My $02

    SB
     
  15. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    Which begs the question; What is the future of Broadway Theater? Mind you, before I get slammed, I am not questioning the social significance of "Broadway" as a culture concept, or theater as an art. My question is aimed directly at the logistics of the theater buildings themselves. They are quite old and limited in space. In addition, it would be hard to impossible to do any expansion other then in a vertical direction. In some respects, Broadway has given birth to what I call the "Bonsai Tree" plot. With limited space, there is no room for a bloated plot. Everything must have a purpose. To some, this is like distilling the best of the best and coming up with something amazing. The shows I have seen over the years never fail to impress, but as a designer, I am always looking at stage sizes. It is wall to wall. Compare this with some of the casino theaters in LV or any newer show venue. In these settings, a new type of plot has begun to evolve. I call it the "Tropical rain forest" plot. It is easy to get lost even when trying to assess the plot. They just are that big. Considering that we live in a country where McMansions flourish along side SUVs, and meal sizes that could feed a village in some third world country, the question I have is: Are we going to get so spoiled that Broadway is a letdown, or will we look at it as a diamond, where quality is more important than size?

    EDIT: I should clarify that "We" refers to the general theater going public (in this case) as compared to people in the technical field.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2008
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  16. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Interesting questions, [user]JD[/user]. Cirque du Soleil does huge shows in custom spaces with unlimited amounts of equipment. Recently they've branched out to arena shows/one nighters with Dralion. They've also diversified into seasonal holiday Broadway with Wintuk, at the Madison Square Garden Theater. I haven't seen either of the latter, so I don't know how successfully they've made the transistion.

    I think it's sad that the new versions of Theatre Crafts and Lighting Dimensions no longer print light plots, but they take up a lot of space and are not as visually stimulating as pictures to most readers. Plus, Vectorworks symbols on a page all look the same, no matter what show or designer. The Jekyll&Hyde plot above only has UnitNo. and Channel on it: totally useless for evaluating a design, and a strong argument for the British style of including all information on one sheet of paper. It also makes it easier for a Lighting Professor to grade classroom assignments.;) But let's not have that argument again.

    Far more important than gear lists or pictures are the interviews appearing in Live Design and Lighting & Sound America, where the designers actually talk about the productions. These are as close as one is going to get to a Lighting Statement.
     
  17. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    I think that Broadway in terms of the entertainment art we all know, needs to be on, or near Broadway in Manhattan of NYC in order for it to "Be" Broadway. Simple fact of life and it's what drives all the tourism that comes to see the shows. I don't foresee any major changes in current practice unless the local real estate market allows for major upgrades in the facilities. This has been happening slowly as some spaces have been built new and others have seen consolidation and improvements.

    Still, the location dictates the space, which dictates the design, thus the "style" comment I made, which makes "Broadway" a particular art form all to itself.

    I actually find it interesting to have read about many of the so-called "Broadway" folks (designers as well as production specialists) that have been encamped in Las Vegas for more then a few major events whom seemingly need their talents. I often wonder what exact talent they bring to the space/event that isn't readily available from the industrial or touring or R&R end of the business. I always assumed that the need to use "Folks from NYC" on occasion, was as much based on fear of having a huge investment and not wanting to lose it due to technical issues. In general, if you have proven that you can do it under the constraints of Broadway (and make money for the producers), you can probably succeed elsewhere, as biased as that sounds.

    Steve B.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2008
  18. Lightingguy32

    Lightingguy32 Active Member

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    10-15 pipes seems reasonable for a broadway sized production. Think about ideal angles of front light as you get further and further upstage (one to 3 electrics near the plaster line aren't going to cut it)
     
  19. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    It really does depend on the show. Usually it depends on how much scenery is being crammed it. Anymore, fly spaces is at an extreme premium. I have seen the number of electrics for a given production reduce over the last few years. I will have to find it, but I believe that Tharon's original design for Chorus Line called for 14 electrics, but the again, that show has very little scenery.
     
  20. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Hardly a recent phenomenon. Richard Pilbrow tells of building lighting bars in the bottom of unused scenic pieces in the West End in the 1960s.

    Yes, moving lights have helped to free up overhead real estate. Another "method": scenes are often lit with one collection of lights, and those lights are only used for that scene. So while a show may have 500-600 conventional units, most are only used for five, ten minutes maximum. A recently closed "Broadway show" here in LV had scrollers on all the box boom units, but the scrollers never moved!
     

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