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Massive Overuse of Follow Spots

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by themuzicman, Jun 2, 2008.

  1. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I just got back from a trip with my drama department to New York City. We saw three Broadway plays, did some other things, good times. I saw Gypsy (which was horrible), Spamalot (Hilarious), and Mary Poppins (amazing tech), but one thing was consistent throughout the entire thing and that was the ridiculous amount of spot light use. Gypsy was by far the worst offender, and every time a person spoke, a spot would hit them full in the face. Mary Poppins wasn't as bad, but it was annoying when the operator wouldn't anticipate a fast move. Spamalot used it sparingly, so the rant is mainly on the other two shows.

    Why is it that the designer felt that the follow spot had to be used EVERY time a person spoke, no matter who it was. They each had four spots apiece, and Gypsy became a massive game of connect the dots, watching the spot move from character to character. It seems to me that this massive use of spot was a massive cop-out so they wouldn't have to make decent washes. I will be the first to admit that I am not the best lighting designer, but even to my untrained eye, it was just too much.

    I have seen other Broadway shows, and they use it once and a while, on important monologue's and when a solo actor is on stage, but this (is it a trend?) was astonishing, to have it in every scene, on every person. It gives me a headache!
     
  2. gafftapegreenia

    gafftapegreenia CBMod CB Mods

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    If you read, what is it, Stage Directions, there is a whole piece about the lighting for Gypsy, and how the designer tried to keep the lighting "sparse". I guess that was his solution.

    I hate followspot abuse.
     
  3. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I read that article, and I was totally prepared for an amazing show, and was thoroughly underwhelmed.

    I think he kept it sparse more-so because the show appeared to have almost no budget, than for any artistic reason
     
  4. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    How was Patti LuPone's performance?
     
  5. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    On High School Musical I have easily 100 spot cues. I am almost constantly in some process of calling (Warning, standby, GO!!!!, no your wrong go here, etc....) and I think that it really does help the show. In a show with a two week run your actors are going to be able (hopefully) to maintain composure and focus and hit their spikes pretty well. In long term shows (like broadway ones) keeping that level of focus every show is hard, and in a show that changes venues every single wtop will be a little different. In shows like that were you may or may not be able to get that actor in the hot spot of the special you focused for them I think follow spots are really useful. There is definitely a point were follow spots are distracting and detrimental overall but IMHO if there isn't noticeable sliding from character to character and the focus is on speaking/singing part that matter somewhat it's ok.
     
  6. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Not at all, [user]Porkchop[/user]. For both operators and performers, muscle memory takes over. I know SpotOps on Vegas shows who could run the show blind-folded. It gets easier after the 1,000th time.

    [user]themuzicman[/user], I don't know quite know how to respond to your premise. The "Broadway Method" for years/decades has been to hit whoever is speaking with a soft-edged head-shot spot everything time they open their mouth. Spamalot was certainly that way, and I haven't seen the other two.
     
  7. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    A Vegas spot-op at a show to remain nameless had (he's head lighting now) a full on recliner chair with a tv and the spot rigged so he didn't have to get out of the chair to change color/focus/intensity ect.

    It was one of the most interesting contraptions I've ever seen.

    As for the original point of this topic...uhm Gypsy is a show about a girl doing shows...and taking the spotlight away from her mother...so yeah..lots of spots.
     
  8. Charc

    Charc Well-Known Member

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    That's pretty tricky, has anyone else heard of these types of setups?
     
  9. sobenson

    sobenson Member

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    I ran follow spot for Fosse on Broadway, and 8 shows a week, made a head bump up on one of the girls (including her understudy), who was always in the same spot.
    We in the booth always had the tv on and it usually had wrestling on it. The head spot op loved watching it. It made his night when one of the wrestlers came to see the show.
     
  10. cvanp

    cvanp Active Member

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    I never use follow spots, ever (unless it makes sense for the context of the scene - e.g. in Guys And Dolls we hit the Emcee in the Hot Box with a spot for his lines). Other than that, they annoy me so much... perhaps it's because we have an old spot that produces pretty harsh light, but I tend to think more than anything followspots are distracting.
     
  11. thommyboy

    thommyboy Active Member

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    I just finished a production of The Secret Garden where we used the spots a pretty fair amount. Generally speaking we used them to help the audience. Whenever one of our Dreamers were singing or in one of their interludes they were spotted in a pale lav. And anyone that has done that show knows that is all the frickin time!
     
  12. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't so much call it a set up, but I've been told by eyewitnesses that when HSM was touring the west coast the guy calling spots knew it so well that he would read a book and not even look up during the show, everything is cued by music so he just figured he had good spot ops and kept his eyes on his book.

    As for the original post there's another reason to use a ton of spots. In HSM and for that matter all Disney on Ice shows as far as I know almost if not all lines are prerecorded and lip synced on stage. This allows the audience to still hear whats going on while the skater jumps in the air and spins around 3 times. But it almost means that you may have a character "talking" and they're mouth may not be moving. Spots really help you follow the show at that point.
     
  13. bdkdesigns

    bdkdesigns Active Member Fight Leukemia

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    Having just designed this show, that is exactly correct. In fact, there are many instances in the script itself (not the stage directions) that call for a spot and even it's color. I was able to keep it low key for the most part with S4 spots but we tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible. This meant that whenever they were in the theatre performing, we had a shallow angle spot with the footlights being the primary front light and some side lights.

    I really need to get on the ball here and upload some photos but I have been extremely busy these past few weeks with both moving and prepping for our new lighting system install which starts next Monday.

    My favorite moment of this show was Rose's song at the end. With a lighting system that was failing at a high rate of speed, I couldn't do much at all. Even the smallest effect would crash the console. The only way I could create an effect was by creating a bunch of point cues with autofollows and even that could crash the console if it became complicated. This was the only time that the audience ever saw three hard focus spots. Her line went "Here she is boys!" (spot 1 go) "Here she is world!" (spot 2 go) "Here's Rose!" (spot 3 which was the low angle spot go) Then 1 spot at a time slowly faded out at each "Momma, Momma?" moment until she was left alone with just a soft glow of the footlights. This not only helped the actor's character, but was really effective in the fact that it really stood out to the audience as something different due to my limitations that I mentioned earlier and really captured the essence of her character and her struggles and realization of what happened.

    Ok, thats enough talking, I have to go pull that last set of CD-80's out of our blackbox dimmer rack and all the prep will be complete and I can focus on fixing the shop :)
     
  14. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    Quite Horrible.

    A good majority if the audience was middle age to older women who dragged their husbands to see it, and every time LuPone took the stage the women would go insane (standing up, clapping, hootin' & a hollerin')

    She played the character well, but it seemed like it was just another job for her, I find that her performance was not especially memorable. I didn't quite care for her.
    --------------------------------

    And the "broadway method"

    There is a difference between doing it all the time to help, and doing it all the time to just do it. Spamalot did it, but it blended with the action. When the other two shows did it, it became an eye sore.
     
  15. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Another way I've designed that segment of the show:

    One followspot, Full-body, 1/2 intensity, flesh pink and frost on Rose.
    "Here she is boys!" (spot bump FULL intensity)
    "Here she is world!" (spot bump frost only [drop Frame1])
    "Here's Rose!" (spot bump N/C [drop Frame6])
    "Curtain Up," (Traveller Flies out, as fast as possible)
    "Light the Lights" (Bump "ROSE" sign FULL)
    ...
    "Everything's coming up roses" (Chase "ROSE" sign).

    Gypsy and A Chorus Line are two of the greatest backstage musicals ever. The former requires Bold use of followspots (Rose: "Hey, Gus, hit Dainty June with a flesh pink spot when she does her number."), whereas the latter demands subtlety.

    Of course another is Sunset Boulevard: "HogEye?!" "Let's get a look at you, Miss Desmond." (Actor playing HogEye, spins 5K, OW, Fresnel to light Norma.)

    "Super Trouper beams are gonna blind me, shining like the sun..."





     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2008
  16. genericcomment

    genericcomment Member

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    I'd have to agree I dislike spot lights. Unless your using a super trooper to set an audience member's hair on fire (not really). Anyway I was taught that the best spotlight is the one that's hardly noticed unless of course the designer wants it noticed but more often then not it's just used to highlight an actor and make them stand out just a tad. Now talking about actors having to consistently hit spikes I saw Chorus Line where moving mirrors were used to highlight actors and the light did follow them. That would be fun to pull off.
     
  17. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    I saw the show with themuzicman.

    The show itself didn't pick up until the second act. LuPone played a fairly generic Rose. She kept the show going but didn't really make it memorable until her big nervous breakdown song at the end (forget the name). But even her song got a little boring, the disentigration of the "Rose Sign" was what made it for me.
     
  18. bdkdesigns

    bdkdesigns Active Member Fight Leukemia

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    We also had the "Curtain Up" cue along with the "Light the Lights" cue.

    The only difference was that the "Light the Lights" brought the the footlights to 75 at more of a 1.7 count if I remember correctly.

    Also, our Rose sign ended up being a light box so for "Everything's coming up roses" the box started to flash with autofollows timed out to match the pace of the singer to bump to full at the end of each line and then fade to 65. I crossed my fingers each night of tech that board wouldn't crash at that point and luckily it never did.

    I sure can't wait for our nice shiny new ION's and EOS to show up! Barbizon is supposed to "loan" us an ION for the summer which would then turn into ours once the purchase goes through at the end of the summer. That will give us some nice time to play with it over the summer.
     
  19. TupeloTechie

    TupeloTechie Active Member

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    WHAT??? I saw it while it was still in previews and I thought her performance was AMAZING. The way she performed "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" was amazing, two true showstoppers. Also I think that her interpretation of "Rose's Turn" was much better than any other Rose I've seen on youtube, the mental breakdown was completely captured, of course I know this has alot to do with the audio department and the fact that Ethel Merman did not have a mic. Even though Patti LuPone is quite the broadway diva, when I saw it there was literally 5 minutes of applause before she said her first line and then she took 8 curtain calls!

    I just don't see how you could say that Gypsy(the show) was horrible, sure its got an extremely long first act that at times can be boring but it develops the characters so well that when the events of the second act come around you are drawn into it more.

    As for Binkley's lighting I thought it fit the show very well, along with the overuse of the followspot.

    I haven't seen either of the other shows but from my experience with broadway shows (I've seen maybe 13-14, they ALL seem to overuse the spotlight, especially the touring productions, however I can't think of one where it didn't work with the show.)
     
  20. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    We had a director who insisted on having four spots for his shows, but then ran them so low, it was almost impossible to see them. The constant quesiton on headset, "Can you see my light? I've lost it." It made our LD crazy.
     

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