Building a lighting inventory- baby steps


Active Member
Hi everyone,

I'm about 3/4 of the the way through my first year as a part-timer on the faculty at a private high school in the San Fernando Valley near LA (and just received a contract for full-time next year), and driving myself a little crazy trying to get a crash course in lighting (and sound) and chart a development path to get us to the point of having a functional theater. My background is in set design and construction primarily. I played with lights a bit in college, but did very little design and (unfortunately) mostly smiled and nodded when my LD colleagues nerded out over the complexities of lighting control, dimming, and fixture specification. That said, I'm learning fast! I wanted to put all this out here in the hopes of getting some advice, and hopefully getting pointed in directions of things I haven't known to look for as of yet. Thanks very much in advance for your thoughts, questions, and criticisms! Also, apologies in advance for this novel of a post! Feel free to skim and respond only to the parts that interest you, or have fun helping me re-imagine the whole system!

Here's our current situation and setup:

The school is relatively new (13 years old) and we just moved into a new-to-us facility last year. I am the first theater technical person on the faculty (the only other theater faculty is our director/musical director/choir director) and up until now we have employed independent contractors to design and execute our shows with little student involvement). Much of the impetus of my hiring was a desire on the part of the school to build a stagecraft program for the students, which was begun this year with an after-school 2-hour/wk class and next year will be a full-credit during-school elective class. The building was originally a community center, so the performance space is a multi-purpose auditorium with a small stage, and to accommodate performances with 30-40 person casts we usually build platforms out into the audience area. We are very limited in built-in lighting positions- we have one 32' pipe over the house with 6 two-fered circuits in a built-in Colortran raceway, and one 32' pipe over the stage with a similar raceway. Dimming is provided by a 12 x 2.4k Colortran 192 pack mounted on a wall backstage, and controlled via analog 0-5v control by a Pack Master 2-scene console in the booth at the back of the auditorium, plugged into a DB15 connector on the wall in the booth (for which, thankfully, I have the pinout).

Midway into the auditorium there is an Airwall track for splitting the room in two, though the wall is currently non-functional. The ceiling steps down quite severely as you move further away from the stage- the house pipe is deadhung from unistrut 21'-6" from the auditorium floor, and by the time you get to the booth at the back the roof is 10'-9" from the floor. I've attached a PDF of my section drawing of the auditorium, with the lighting positions and the roof heights notated.

We do one big musical every year in January or February, and a smaller production in May, as well as numerous lectures, orchestra concerts, dance concerts, and other events during the year. Currently, we have a production budget for the musical that is normally spent almost entirely on rental for lighting and sound (roughly $17-20k/yr) to essentially rent the entire system for each. It is unlikely that I will be able to get significant amounts of money from the school outside of the production budget in order to modernize our systems and begin to lessen our dependence and expenditure on rental gear. I know that grants are an option, and any advice you can give on where to look for grants that might apply to us would be greatly appreciated.


For lighting, I want to build our infrastructure to the point where we are only renting fixtures for our shows (and eventually, only specialized fixtures as necessary) and have our power distro, dimming, positions, and control provided in-house, both for our own events and also for other events as the space is sometimes used for rental as well.

This year we've already spent the vast majority of our production budget on our musical in February, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, some of which was due to our lighting designer going almost $2000 over budget. We have very little left for our second show, and precious little to try to begin spending on infrastructure, but I am determined to at least give us a start. Between the remainder of the production budget, money in the arts department budget for the theater and dance classes, and a generous donation by a parent of some of the theater students, I think I will be able to cobble together about $5-6k to spend immediately.

DIMMING- I have purchased a 24-channel DMX Decoder board from Northlight DMX (suggested by another ControlBooth thread, thank you!) and their DMX in/out connector board, and with the assistance of our robotics teacher I will be building a DMX--> analog converter so we can control our Colortran 192 pack with a DMX board. Beyond that, I am unsure of how best to proceed. We have plenty of power (100 amps 3 phase to cam-loks in a closet backstage, with open access to the dropped ceiling above the theater) but little in the way of wall-plug circuits in the auditorium itself. I had thought about purchasing several Elation 640B pipe-mounted dimmer packs to give me some flexibility so I could add lights along the airwall track and on booms onstage or in the house as necessary, but they will necessitate some long runs of edison extension cords and DMX control cable to get them powered. It was just suggested to me that we run lengths of socapex above the ceiling and drop it anywhere we think we'd need it, which is a fantastic idea and will just require the funds to purchase the 600' or so of SOCA we'd need to make it happen (and then to purchase the dimmers and/or power distro to energize them and the breakouts to get them to the lights, but baby steps!).

Possible steps-
Immediately- buy 2-4 Elation 640Bs and a bunch of 12/3 cable with connectors (most of our lights and all
the built-in raceways are L5-20s, in lovely bright colors of orange and yellow)
Future- Purchase 1 ETC Smartpack 6 x 2.4k or 12 x 1.2k dimmer pack per year and run socapex cable
"temporarily" through the dropped ceiling to the airwall track and other house and stage positions.

CONTROL- We normally rent in a control board as part of our rental package, usually an ETC board (this year it was an Ion) and if budget were not a factor I would purchase an Ion immediately. However, because of the limited budget right now I need to look elsewhere. We have occasional access to a number of intelligent fixtures for free or cheap rental, so whatever board we get needs to be able to handle both conventional intensity channels and multi-attribute fixtures and function as a memory console for our larger productions while allowing simple submasters to be set up for less intensive applications.

I've looked at the Elation Scenesetter 48 as an inexpensive option to get us through the end of the year, and a number of used and new options that would last us a bit longer (used Express, Hogs of various stripes, PC-based options like Nomad or Hog4PC, Pathway Cognito, etc). My current inclination is to go with the Strand 250ML, which gives us 2 universes of DMX control (split into 250 intensity channels and up to 30 40-attribute fixtures) as well as dedicated encoders for intelligent fixtures and essentially the most bang for our buck that I can find. Ideally, I'd get us an Ion, but right now we just can't afford it. The only downsides with the Strand board (aside from it being a Strand board, as my ETC purist friends have been joking) are that it is relatively new and not a ton of information is available on how well it actually performs, and if we're in a jam and need someone to come in and program it is very unlikely to have someone come in who will know how to program it. The only boards I've ever used were ETC (Express and Obsession II) and Leprecon (something 2-scene preset-ish in our college studio theater) so I'm definitely open to suggestion in this area. The fact that the Strand board can be had brand new for sub-$2k makes it extremely attractive for our immediate situation.

ACCESS- Right now we have no easy way of getting to the house lighting positions. We rent in a genie lift for our shows, and maintenance has an extension ladder that, when set on a platform (ssh, don't tell OSHA) can reach the lights for refocusing, cabling, and replacing lamps. The facilities department is purchasing a scissor lift for the fall, but generally speaking borrowing it from them will likely be a time-consuming and frustrating process. I am looking at purchasing an 18' adjustable multi-purpose rolling scaffold tower that could easily get us access to any of our positions over the house, both now and in the future, and would store pretty easily under the stage when not in use.

LIGHTING POSITIONS- Here's where we have a lot of options. I am planning to build a platform about 20' into the house for our upcoming show, which is going to necessitate some kind of frontlight position at or around the airwall track. Right now we have no boom bases and very little sch 40 pipe, so I'm planning to purchase a number of both (and eventually pipe threading and cutting apparatus so we can have some flexibility in the sizing of booms for use onstage and off). I was planning to purchase at least 5 of the Lightsource 4" Airwall Hangers to hang a pipe all the way across the Airwall track (roughly 50' long) and connect it to two vertical booms, one at either end, to give us flat and angled frontlight positions. In the future, I'll add taildowns from the ends of the existing house beam and connect them to the airwall track positions via another boom and 20' of I-beam truss along each side wall, giving us some decent sidelight positions and a spot to hang speakers.

Eventually, I want to go into the ceiling and drop some hanging points to build a pipe grid from the house beam to just in front of the proscenium. Then I want to build a wall behind the onstage pipe, turning the back part of the stage (with the angled roof) into a storage space, and giving us a placement for a cyc and making that onstage pipe into cyc light and backlight positions. Then I'll semi-permanently build the stage out into the house (with traps!) turning the space effectively into a 3-quarter thrust theater with the option for endstage configuration with a smaller audience. Once all that is accomplished, I'll work on getting them to raise the ceiling in the back of the house, and maybe by then they'll have raised the money to build us a real theater :).

FIXTURES- Here is our current inventory (cue the laugh track) much of which I spent the better part of an afternoon having my stagecraft class clean off and test and we discovered, much to my surprise, that all but three of them have working lamps and seem in fairly decent functional shape.

-5 Colortran 15-30 degree zoom ellipsoidals (maybe 6, not sure)
-4 Altman 360 ellipsoidals (I think. there's no label on them. They have angled lamp housings)
-1 14" Scoop
-1 6" studio fresnel
-11 6" Lee Colortran fresnels
-11 silver DJ par46 cans
-8 575w Source4 ellipsoidals with 26 degree barrels

For these, I don't have a lot of direction. Right now the 11 Colortran fresnels live on the overstage pipe, and the Source4s live on the house pipe, and provide a reasonable stage wash for our basic events. I eventually want to do a house plot that is completely LED, replacing the onstage fixtures with ETC Colorsource Pars (maybe buying 1 or 2 per year) and replacing some of the Source4s with inexpensive LED moving lights (maybe Chauvet Rogue R1 spots). But mostly, what I'm missing right now is any kind of area lighting besides the fresnels, which aren't very bright (almost all of the fixtures use 500w or 600w lamps, and right now several are lamp-less and we have no replacements). I was thinking of building an inventory of some Source4 Pars to complement the Source4 lekos, but I'm not sure if it makes more sense just to go straight to LED.

Separately, we have had to rent in something to cover houselighting as well as stagelighting in the past because our house light system (which runs on a colortran dimmer even older than the 192 pack that runs the stage) was re-lamped with CFLs when the school took over the building. The facilities department has just committed to replacing them all with LED lamps and switching out the dimmers for a DMX-controllable system, likely something from Strand, but that's under their control. They've been generous enough to agree to give me a DMX control port in the booth (and hopefully a pass-through in the backstage lighting closet so I can run cable easily to onstage dimmers and fixtures), but that's about all I can expect to get from them.

If you've gotten through all that, I congratulate you and I very much welcome your thoughts and comments! As challenging as this space is, it's a lot of fun to play with ideas for the future and I've been very lucky to have gotten a lot of good advice thus far.

tl;dr- Here's what I think we'll be getting in the immediate future:
Northlight DMX-->analog converter $300
Strand 250ML control console $1900
An 18' multi-purpose rolling scaffold tower $900
2 boom bases $300
3 21' sch 40 pipes $150
4 Airwall hangers $400
2 Elation 640B dimmer packs $800
DMX and 12/3 cable with connectors $500
Pipe clamps and misc. hardware $250

Total: $5500

Hope everyone is having a good Passover/Easter/Spring Break/Weekend, looking forward to any responses you have!


  • NCJHS Auditorium Section 4-3-15.pdf
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I would like to point out that Strand might not be the best choice of console here given the educational setting. ETC is basically the standard for theatre consoles these days, and getting students started on an Element might be more appropriate. Budget would be an issue; better to improvise something with Chamsys Magic-Q or Martin M-PC (with a low cost interface) on a dedicated PC with some touchscreens until the ideal console is within your budget. I can vouch for M-PC. does all the things you could need in a small space like that provided you have a multitouch display or a cheapo DMX faderboard and a DMX in (easily doable with martin hardware).


Well-Known Member
First -- it sounds like you're really into what you're doing, which is incredible. It also sounds like you've thought your gameplan reasonably through, and are willing to consider infrastructural elements, which so often get overlooked or pushed aside. Don't let that go.


Active Member
Console-wise, I think Nomad could be a good fit, especially for use as a programming client in the future when you have a full sized ETC board. Grab a laptop+touchscreen, or all-in-one touchscreen computer, a Nomad and a Gadget, and you'll be future-proof.

+1 to the infrastructure! If you can do it safely, it'll be fantastic for you.


Active Member
I looked at the Nomad, but cost-wise once you factor in the computer it's not much cheaper than a dedicated control surface option, and the suppliers I've been talking to are leery of us losing the dongle in an academic environment where we have limited access control to the booth (there's a lockable door, but an open window into the auditorium that is easy to climb or reach through). I like that it would give us the ETC syntax, and the option of using either the EOS/ION software or the Cobalt so we have a lot of flexibility in what the students can learn, but I think that by the time we've purchased the Nomad, a control surface, a computer, a touchscreen, and a DMX-USB adapter, we're not going to be far off from stretching to purchase an Element (again, out of our budget for the moment).

Also, a lot of the people who use the space will be looking to walk into the booth, move a handle or push a button and turn on lights. Having to turn on a computer, open up the software, and then maybe move a physical or virtual handle may be a hard sell for our facilities and maintenance staffs. Not that I would mind teaching them to use it, but I have a feeling they would be resistant on the front end.

Alex, have you spent any time at the Cohoes Music Hall? Is that place still running, or have they set it on fire yet?


Active Member
Alex, have you spent any time at the Cohoes Music Hall? Is that place still running, or have they set it on fire yet?
I haven't, but it's still alive and kicking!

Good point on the walkability of the Nomad, but the cost for the Gadget+Nomad dongle is ~$700, and you can get a Cherry keyboard to act as your keys for under $150. I'm willing to bet the school has a laptop to spare for you. And as to your facilities/maintenance staff's ease of use, why not look into something from Doug Fleenor like the Preset 10 ($650ish)? I think for under $1500, you could have a fully functioning ETC system with architectural presets.

Jeff Lelko

Active Member
Hi there,

First of all, best of luck with your new project! I know it can be very exciting planning out and implementing such a plan. I would definitely agree that getting yourself a decent console, dimmers, and electrical infrastructure in place first is a good idea. One thing definitely jumps out to me in your plan - are you sure the Elation 640Bs are the right dimmer for you? Since they are a single phase dimmer, you can only work up to 40A split between two 20A circuits. I've considered those packs many times for my own use, but every time I work the math I end up either throwing away channels due to the 20A limit or throwing away power due to the 6ch specification. I should mention that I'm a mobile operator, so every amp counts in most cases! What's worked better for me is to use a solid 4ch dimmer like the Elation DP DMX-20l or Cyber Pak. They can take 10A per channel and 20A total load, so whether I'm using 575w Source 4s, 500w Par 64s, or 250w Par 38s, I can split things up pretty well to maximize both my channels and my power consumption. I'd vote for 4 of either dimmer I mentioned versus 2 of the 640Bs - the price is roughly comparable and you'll get four more channels. Of course the ETC Smartpacks have higher capacity and can take advantage of your 3-Phase electrical service, but given the higher price your money will probably be better spent on the cheaper Elations. I've used them for upwards of a decade without a single problem.

Regarding your light board, I agree with the others that you may wish to reconsider the Strand unit. I've used a number of Strands in the past and while they're not bad, they're different and I much prefer ETC. Seeing that the 250ML is already about half the price of an Element, I'd save the money and put it towards an Element. That's really the go-to board for a lot of people in similar situations and for good reason. The Ion another great solution as you already know, but even more money still. If it were me, I'd go as cheap as possible with the 'temporary' light board until you can buy a more fully-featured solution. A Scene Setter 48 is a good option to consider for this. Of course you'll sorely miss the memory features you've seen on the Ion, but the fact of the matter is that it'll get you through the show so long as your tech staff knows how to run a show on it. While computer platforms like MagicQ PC or M-PC offer great bang to buck, I'm not sure that's necessarily the right thing to use in this situation. Like you alluded to, some people are uncomfortable working on a PC-only console and it take longer to start up. Most people, especially those that are learning, seem to prefer something they can touch. For a sole operator it comes down to personal preference, but if you're buying something that you intend students to use, keeping with physical hardware would be my recommendation.

As far as fixtures and future expansion go, definitely rent/demo before buying to see what looks best. Trial and error also comes into play here! Having a theater background myself, I will add that LED isn't always the right solution for everything. Of course a lot of lighting design comes down to artistic personal preference, but I wouldn't change out all your fixtures to LED just for the sake of having LED. There's nothing wrong with conventional Source 4s, 360Qs, etc., and in fact a cheap LED moving head will come nowhere near the output and general usefulness of an S4. At least while things are tight, I suggest sticking to conventionals for a personal inventory (they're versatile, high output, low-cost upkeep) and rent the movers/eye candy effects when you need them. It's just important to think about future expansion when buying a light console to be sure you'll have the headroom you need for the new lights. An Element can handle a few movers and LEDs, though if you're planning quite a few advanced fixtures then you may wish to consider the Ion or something from the Cobalt series. I hope all this helps and again, best of luck with the project!



Active Member
Jeff, thanks for the suggestion and wisdom on the Elation packs! I was already going to have some trouble getting 2 20A circuits for each of them from plugs in the house, so I think going with the DP DMX-20l packs will probably be better (and it'll let me be more creative with my limited budget). Is there a major difference in durability between them and the Cyber Paks? The only difference I'm seeing is that you can use the cyber pak as a relay pack, but you can't do it individually by channel, and if I have a non-dimmed source it would be an LED or mover and I'd run those off of a power strip or directly from the extension cord.

The impulse to go all-LED for our house rep plot (not the whole inventory though) was partly motivated by the thought that it would be easier to sell our administration on something that could be spun as environmentally friendly, and that would save us money on our electricity bill (and this might help me get money from our facilities budget as well, and/or apply for grants). Though we're a non-profit dedicated to molding students into well-rounded adults, much of the decision-making in the school remains budget-driven out of necessity. But the point of conventionals being more versatile and far cheaper is well made. I think the upgrade path for fixtures might look something like this:

-Add some used source4 pars to the inventory, maybe 4 of them this year and another 8 of them next year
-Replace all non-ETC lekos with used Source4s with extra barrel options. That's a total of 17, we'd probably want to get to at least 24 all told
-begin to switch out the Colortran fresnels for ETC Colorsource Pars in our rep plot, up to at least 12 pars
-add a couple of LED or conventional movers to complement
-donate the colortran and altman fixtures to a school or organization that needs them more than we do
-continue spending $1000 or so per year on new fixtures to fill out the inventory until the theater is remodeled and we have a budget to buy a full lighting package

We'd still be renting conventional, LED, and intelligent fixtures for our larger shows, so our board will still have to handle at least 1 universe of control channels. It would take us at least a year or two to purchase an Element or Ion (unless we can find a donor who wants to make that particular gift, or we can work out a payment plan with our supplier), and the easiest way I can justify purchasing a board out of our current budget is by telling the school how much it will save us on our rental for next year. The scenesetter 48, sadly, saves us nothing next year as we cannot run our musical on 48 channels. The Strand gives us enough channels and features that it should save us having to rent the Ion we needed for this year, and if we get it now there should be enough time for me to get up to speed on it well enough that I can teach the students in next year's class and help whatever LD we hire figure out how to program on it. It cost us over $900 to rent the Ion this year for our show (and that was with a 50% discount on the rental fee) so the Strand pays for itself in two years in savings on rental. It would be our 2-3 year control solution until we can dedicate enough money to buy an Ion, or until I convince my supplier that they should buy an Ion and sell it to us slowly over a few years.

I certainly won't purchase it without doing a demo first (after I hack together the DMX-->analog converter so we actually have something to control). Maybe I'll see if I can arrange a side-by-side demo of the Strand board and an Element to get a direct comparison and see just how different they are.

Jeff Lelko

Active Member
As far as I know the Elation DP-DMX20l and Cyber Pak would be about the same durability-wise. I haven't taken them both apart to inspect the insides, but I would imagine the critical components are the same or just about the same. The only difference between the two is that the Cyber Pak has some added functionality. In addition to the relay pack function that you pointed out, the Cyber Pak can also accommodate MIDI, remote control, individual channel addressing and a few other options. Most of this won't make much of a difference to you when using a DMX controller, but I will mention that the Cyber Pak has the option to hold its last DMX command should the source fail whereas the DP-DMX20l will just snap to black. In a theatrical setting that can be a big deal, but of course it's up to you to decide if that's worth the extra $50 per pack. The DP-DMX20l was also recently transferred to the American DJ product line while the Cyber Pak is still Elation-branded, in case that matters to you as well. I've been told by Elation that despite the brand transfer, nothing has been changed in the DP-DMX20l except the label. I agree that any LED or moving lights should just be wired to an appropriate receptacle and not through the dimmer, despite it acting in relay pack mode.

I certainly don't want to open the whole LED vs. conventional debate in this thread, so based on what you've already said I'll assume that you know the long list of pros and cons of each type of instrument. I'd say that heat and power consumption are the primary considerations of conventionals in your situation, while the initial cost and output/quality of light from LEDs will be the main drawbacks of going that route. What might help you decide which way to grow first is to think about how often you'll be using this system. Will it be every day, every week, once a month, twice a year, etc.? If you only use the system once or twice a month the difference in your facility's electric bill (so long as the power is available to begin with) when considering LED versus conventional will be indistinguishable. If you use this system all day everyday, that's a different story. It also may not hurt to take a step back and think about who will be using your stage. Will they be picky about the quality and intensity of the light? Lower dollar LED lights tend to be on the dim side and have trouble producing a decent, usable white with an even field, so that may be something to factor into your decision as well. All that said, I think your revised path forward looks very reasonable.

Definitely demo a few light boards if you can, particularly the Strand ML250. It's definitely not a bad board by any means and it made my short list when considering mid-range boards for personal ownership (though lost out to a Congo Kid). The bang to buck is hard to beat, especially seeing that it has a VGA output built right in along with several other theater-friendly features. I can see how going this route for the time being would help you avoid the need to rent the Ion (and thus save money right out of the gate), but if we're already talking about 2K for a solution then that brings back up the idea of the Nomad or Nomad Puck. If you're really set on the Ion or Element (or Congo/Cobalt for that matter) as a purchase down the road, Nomad will compliment that nicely when the time comes to upgrade whereas buying the Strand is really just a sidestep for the moment and wouldn't be able to be a foundation for future growth. Only you can decide what's the right board for your situation, but you'll know it when you find it!

I responded on the sound thread, but I'll chime in on the console. Most importantly, demo the console before you take the dive, preferably after you have the rest of your lighting system in place.

When choosing a console for an education environment, I think it is most important to find a console with a gentle learning curve, and is widely used in the live performance industry. For that reason, I do not recommend the Congo series for a school environment. A used Element or Ion are very popular and widely accepted, and is very easy to learn in a pinch. ETC also has top notch support. I've never been a Strand guy myself, but ever since the move to more modern hardware they've become far more reliable and slightly easier to wrap your head around.

However, your eventual fixture choice will determine your console. If you ever get into intelligent lighting more than LED color washes, the Element will not work for you. You also will need to consider whether or not you want an additional system for a basic wash for assemblies so you are not required to be in the venue at undesirable hours.


Active Member
Regarding LED vs. conventionals, this situation is kind of made for going LED. Not in terms of power usage, heat, or anything like that, but because you don't already have a large inventory of dimmers and lights. A high dollar LED fixture seems pricey as a single unit, but when you consider it to be equal to three incandescent lights accompanied with three dimmer channels (standard three-color stage wash), all of a sudden the money starts to balance out. The upper tier of LEDs are competetively bright, generally smooth fields, and give you every possible color. The trade off is the console must have enough guts to run an LED rig, but it sounds like you're already making that a first step.

If it were me, I'd consider getting just enough dimmers to fill in the front lighting, but then concentrate on making the rest of the stage LED. As far as push-button control for janitors and choir directors, Leprecon and a few others make wall panel controls that can snapshot DMX looks from a console, and reproduce them after the console is disconnected, so you could set up some basic looks and not have to worry about other people trying to figure out the console.

Jeff Lelko

Active Member
I definitely agree with Max and encourage the ETC Eos platform (Element/Ion) over the Congo/Cobalt series for this application. Cobalt is a great platform, and the Congo Kid offers suburb bang to buck with enough horsepower to drive a medium sized moving light rig. The only downside is that Cobalt is not intuitive (non-standard syntax and keystrokes for starters). I love it for what I do, but I'm also the sole owner/operator of the console and thus teach-ability was not an issue when making the decision on which console was right for my needs. Having a fair teaching background myself, Eos is the way to go if you end up with an ETC desk. The Element can handle LEDs and movers okay (WAY better than the older Express could), but once you get over a dozen fixtures or so things start getting difficult. If you really think you're going to end up with more movers and LEDs than conventionals, the Ion might be the best choice of the bunch. I can second that ETC's support is top-notch, and your regional sales rep will be happy to guide you towards the right console for your needs. Picking the right console takes a lot of time and patience. You're on the right track though! Ask questions, try to narrow the selection down to a handful of options, and then demo the boards until you know which one is right.



Active Member
Progress report-

The DMX-->Analog converter is built, and successfully tested and functional! Not bad for my first electrical soldering project :). Currently demo-ing the Strand 250ML board, and liking the ease of the interface so far. It's got some pretty outdated firmware, so I've gotten the ok from the rep to update it the current firmware before we try to put it through its paces with a few borrowed moving lights. Best thing about it so far is that it turns on instantly, no waiting around for startup, so if we have to power cycle in the middle of a show were not waiting around. Also, it turned out that our instrumental music director was hiding 2 Elation DP415 DMX dimmer packs in the music room (and a partially-dead Elation scenesetter 8), so I can power and control a few lekos for frontlight for our next show! I'm trying to get a demo together for the ETC Element or Ion and the Pathway Cognito so we can get a chance to play with all of them before making our final purchasing decision (our budget can barely fit the Strand right now, but if we decide to go with either alternative option we may be able to borrow against next year's budget to pay for it).

We'll be purchasing a few refurbished Source 4 lekos and parnels to use in time for our current show (and start to standardize our inventory a bit), and a few boom bases to get some sidelight for our dance show next month. I've got a bunch of DMX cable coming in next week. It's 3- and 5-pin Accu-cable, which I realize is on the cheaper end and won't last, but it will get us through our current show. It was much more cost-effective than other options for our immediate needs and I plan to switch out the connectors with Neutriks as they wear out over the next few years. Any new cable, budget permitting, will be TMB with Neutriks from my local supplier (explaining to the bean-counters the difference between a $10 5' cable and a $40 5' cable is a tough sell, but as long as it's "already in the budget" they seem to trust my judgment).

Exciting discovery- Whoever originally built the auditorium (or renovated it before we took over the space) thought ahead and put in 2 double runs of 2" conduit from the stage through the dropped ceiling to the booth (2 each stage right and left). 1 of them stage right has an analog audio snake, but the other three are empty and even have the original wire pull cord still in them (from probably 20-30 years ago). This is extremely lucky, because the moment I started talking to anyone remotely qualified about the plan to run the SOCA cable through the ceiling "temporarily" (which my rigging consultant said was "totally fine and they did it all the time" they told me it was a no-no and a code violation, which seems obvious in retrospect (and correct, based on further research). I'm going to get an electrician to come in and help me look at the possibility of running a bunch of wire through them, adding some junction boxes, and ending up with SOCA inlets in our dimmer room and at least 4 separate SOCA outs over the stage and audience. We'll also dedicate one of the conduits for a bunch of runs of ethernet cable for DMX, Dante, Artnet, ACN? or whatever we need in the future. We can build our dimmer inventory by getting either 12 x 1.2k or 6 x 2.4k packs and tying them in one at a time while keeping the easy SOCA tie-in for rented dimmers. That means no more heavy cable running along the floor!

Also, the school is getting our scissor lift next week! There are now arguments to be had about who gets to use it and when and what that does to our worker's comp classification, but so far I haven't run into too much opposition about our needs in the theater. I've been invited to the lift training class on Wednesday, and sent the head of maintenance my schedule to hang lights for the current show and he seemed pretty easy-going about it.

Thanks for all the advice so far, I'll continue to update you all as we move forward!

Jeff Lelko

Active Member
Glad to hear things are moving along nicely! That's nice that you like the Strand board so far too. You'll find that there will be pros and cons to just about every solution out there. It sounds like the 250ML has more pros than cons for your application, so that might be something to consider. I've never dealt with Strand's tech support and whatnot, so I'm not sure how much community knowledge you can tap on this one. Probably the best thing you have going for the Element (besides its user-friendliness) is that it's a very popular platform - if you don't know how to do something there is no shortage of people that can help you out!

I'm not sure how other users may weigh in, but I've been using Accu Cable for years (in a mobile application) and never had a problem with it, even on very long runs. So long as it's actual DMX cable (which Accu Cable is), I wouldn't worry about upgrading it so long as you aren't having any problems, especially if you're tight on cash.

I'll admit that as a mobile operator, I'm not too knowledgeable on code requirements for installed systems. It's definitely worthwhile to do your homework on this one though! Keep us updated!



Active Member
Well, we made it through the show, and the lights did pretty much they were supposed to do, so I can start to turn my attention more fully to infrastructure building. The Strand console is packed up and back to the rep, and we have an ETC Ion coming in on Monday that we'll play with for our dance show next week.

As the console decision stays up in the air, I'm moving forward on dimming and power distribution. I'm leaning heavily in the direction of fully distributed dimming, aside from the one 12x2.4k colortran pack. I'm thinking of doing the following:

Running 12 circuits (to start with, more for the future) through the existing conduit along each of the side walls of the auditorium (24 circuits total), and terminating each circuit in 1 duplex 20 amp edison plug about 16' up from the floor. I may double up some of these on the stage itself, though for the most part we add many more circuits in the house than on the stage when we do larger shows. The circuits would originate in our dimmer room and terminate at that end with SOCA connectors. For LEDs and distributed dimming, we invest in a 24 circuit power distro with SOCA output (running off of our 100 amp 3 phase cam-loks), and purchase a number of Elation Cyber Pak dimmers (I can get 20 of them used for $60 apiece if I do it right now) so that each circuit can be split into 1 2400w, 2 1200w, or 4 600w dimmed channels depending on our needs. Overall, it should cost us less than $2k (excluding running the circuits, which I haven't gotten a quote for as yet), as opposed to $6k for a 24 x 2.4k dimmer rack, and we get dimmed or switched power anywhere we want with between 20 and 80 control channels depending on how we set it up. If we have a show that needs more traditional dimming, we can rent in a 24 x 2.4k rack with SOCA out, tie it in, and use the Cyber Paks elsewhere to augment. It also gives us flexible capacity for events outside of the auditorium. The only problem will be having to invest in a bunch of NEMA 5-20 adapters and extensions, because our current power cord inventory is all 5-15 and L5-20 connectors.

Is this a crazy plan? In theory it fills our needs, both for dimming capacity and also for a ton of flexibility in what we can do in the future.


Active Member
Also, for the MEs out there- how many 20amp circuits can I safely get from our 100 amp 3 phase service? Online calculator says 26, but I'm not sure I'm doing it right.


Active Member
I belive you run into a code issue feeding the circuits in conduit via a connector rather than hardwired unless you provide over current protection after the connector.

As far as how many 20 amp circuits you can get from a 100 amp 3 phase service, that depends on your load diversity. If you need to be able to draw 20 amps from each of the circuits simultaneously, you can only get 15 circuits. You may also be limited by your neutral due to triplen harmonics.


Senior Team
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Fight Leukemia
I have been a bit out of it lately and I'm catching up on some old threads. First off I agree with @FatherMurphy completely. You are a perfect situation to go LED. I would buy a console. Then focus on converting the stage area to all LED. Patch together whatever you can cheap to get by on the front light you have for a while. LED ellipsoidal options are getting better and cheaper all the time. So wait as long as you can on those.

ETC is the best for reliability, service, and standing behind their products FOREVER! You can't go wrong with an ETC purchase and if you are worried about having a light board that will be just as reliable in 15 years as it is today, buy ETC. Strand has been through a bit of a rough past in terms of service and a lot of corporate buy outs makes a great console. I love my Palette VL and they have been great about service to me over the last 8 years. I find the Strands much more intuitive and easier to teach beginning lighting students on. I've seen two consoles crash a total of 3 times in 8 years of using Strand consoles. Some would say that's enough of a reason alone to buy ETC, I'm still happy with them. As has been said above, ETC is the standard in the pro world, so a little steeper learning curve results in skills you are more likely to use on the job. finally, no one has mentioned our new CB advertiser the Pathway Cognito2 as a light board option. It's based on the old Horizon software which I love (also what the Strand OS is based on). Cognito2 is powerful, easy to use, easy to learn, and cheaper than any of the real console options from ETC and Strand. Is it better? That's a question you have to answer, but it's definitely an option you should consider. Get demos!

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