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The art of the board operator

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by Logos, Mar 14, 2007.

  1. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I am currently working as resident tech at one of the venues for the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I am sharing operating duties for the 6 in house shows as well as helping out visiting companies.
    It's a mixed bag in many ways. One of the shows is all timed cues stacked on a programmable board with a go button most of the others we program cue states to subs and run the show that way.
    I was however presented with a fascinating and throughly enjoyable task by a Japanese Company called Theatre Gumbo. They gave me cue points and some states and a couple of specials and after the tech more or less told me to busk the show. I loved it amd apparently so did they as they have asked me to light them again next year when they return and I may even go to Osaka later in the year to work with them.
    This brings me to my point. As an LD I love much of the new technology. The ability we now have to store hundres even thousands of cues for a show allowing for subtlety that was much more difficult before and of course ensuring the same look every night is a godsend. The use of moving lights is amazing, but ...
    What about the art of the operator? I grew up operating boards in situations where we had to make a great many more decisions than we do now. I love "busking" a show and (with modesty) I'm good at it. But the opportunities of doing that are dissappearing or are they? Are we doing the new generation of operators a disfavour by not allowing for more "busking" or are the opportunities still out there.
    I reckon I learned more about Lighting Design by live lighting shows without a plot than from any other situation.
    What do you reckon out there in techie land?
    Love to hear from you.
     
  2. DarSax

    DarSax Active Member

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    By "busking" are you referring to running a show live off of subs, as opposed to off of cues?
     
  3. stantonsound

    stantonsound Active Member

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    Good point. I recently worked for a small theater group and had to design, circuit, focus, and program the board almost by myself. I actually had two trashcans on top of each other and moved them around the stage to focus the fixtures on.

    Now on to the point.....I could not be there for the run of the show and was told by the stage manager that they would find a "Go Monkey" to run the board. It took me a minute, but I realized that the board operator these days is little more than a glorified version of the "clapper". Clap twice to change cues.... Good boy, here's a banana.

    Oh well.....the good old days are gone. Bring on the GO Monkey.
     
  4. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    First off, in this day and age, with complex shows and equipment, from LEDs to moving lights a board op is not a monkey position. Many people hire board ops because it is important to have someone who is fast a programming and knows the intricacies of the console so they can translate the designer's desires into cues that work. It also leaves the ME free to troubleshoot issues as the arise during the tech process, and keep up with day-to-day maintenance.

    On the other hand, there is something to be said for the enjoyment of running shows on the fly. You may be right that opportunities to do this are dwindling, but I am sure that you can find them. I actually had the opportunity to run shows on the fly on a nightly basis while I was working for the Holland America Cruise Line. I would get one, one hour-ish rehearsal for the act each night where I would come up with looks on the fly and put together a good looking show. I have to say, in two performances each night they didn't always come out the same. I agree, it is a lot of fun, and sometimes amazingly stressful. It is a good skill to have.
     
  5. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    You have to remember, as Icewolf said before me that running todays show with todays timings and precise cues would be nearly impossible on a 2 scene preset, not saying that you couldn't do it, but it wouldn't be any fun. Besides changing how the show is being controlled, what the show is controlling is a whole other ball game. A few operators could control 96 dimmers without a problem, but rarely do theaters have less then 192 anymore. First, the console would have to be gigantic to control this many dimmers (express 72/144 anyone??) and it would be a nightmare to run. I think the biggest thing that has been affected by computerized control is money. It allows people to take a sick day, be fired, etc... because in reality all they are doing is pressing a button. It allows one highly skilled person who gets paid big bux to come in and enter all the data, and one less skilled person to operate the show. This board monkey does however have to know somewhat of whats going on. If something gets messed up (scroller stuck, board crashes, what not) they have to be able to work past that. I have said this before (look at called shows vs non called shows) that it scares the hell out of me when there is a board op that feels they need to think. A programmer that thinks doesn't really bother me (if they are thinking the same as me) but a board ops job is to press that little button when they are told to, period. They have the same job as the flyman, stagehands, etc... do what you are told to do when you are told to do it.
     
  6. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I do agree that the technology has made an LD's job much more rewarding creatively and the board op does need to be more than a button monkey. They need to be an intelligent knowledgeable technician who can plot quickly and accurately on instruction from the LD as well as push that button and trouble shoot. And I was talking about running on the fly sometimes with subs and sometimes not. Harder without.
    Obviously things over there are a bit different from down here. Outside of the major houses in each state you'd expect to find on average 60 to say 96 dimmers in theatres. I don't remember evr working a house with 192.
    I used to work in a receiving house in the UK where we'd get about 40 minutes tops to set and rehearse lighting we'd then have to light the show on the fly. I'm talking mostly variety style stuff. Sometimes we'd just get a list of songs with mood written next to them. I loved it.
     
  7. DarSax

    DarSax Active Member

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    I did a production of Miracle Worker on the fly last year, on our 24/48 preset board with nothing but subs. I've never gotten better compliments, actually; I loved the control it gave me. I could react each night to the nuances of the stage and everything. (The show was not called.) I loved it.
     
  8. len

    len Well-Known Member

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    I can't speak to theatre, because I don't do it. But in music events, I busk every show (but call it punting). Most of the acts I deal with aren't touring, they're semi-local, regional, etc., and glad to have anything. Since I don't usually get a set list, and even if I did I don't know all the songs or their versions of them anyway, I have to punt the show. Which means lots of cues, lots of general focuses, and lots of color palettes. Fortunately, I save every palette for every brand and model of light on my pc, so all I have to do at the venue is create focus points and write some sub-cues for specials.

    The larger, arena size shows/tours are way different, even synced to midi or some other code so that all the elements are coordinated. But because the artists tend to improvise some things, you still need a human or three to make sure that things stay with the performers.
     
  9. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    Sub busking is a true art, I think. I usually set up front and back wash subs, with each color, chases of each color, some combo chases, one crazy chase (everything), and one sub for each set of punch lights (usually S4's) on each performer. I also usually have a drum chase sub in case he decides to go crazy.

    If ACL's are available, three or four ACL pod bump subs to have fun with, and an ACL chase sub.

    I haven't done moving lights yet, but I really want to busk a show with moving lights with gobo, color, focus, and position palletes. That'd be fun! And I hope to be able to do that while here at bucknell, because we most definitely have the stuff to do it (100 S4 par's, 20 scrollers, 2 I-cues, 12 gobo rotators, and the pride and joy of the concert and musical bound LD's - 6 Intellabeam 700HX's).

    I've found that one can do very, very interesting things with gobo rotators in source fours. For example, put two 15-30 zooms on floor stands in the back corners of the stage, lamp 'em up to 750, zoom 'em all the way down, put a gobo with three or five holes in a circular pattern in a rotator and drop that in, focus it hard edged, and make the beams meet over down center stage, or over the first few rows of the audience if you so desire. Run some haze in there, and you're good to go!
     
  10. SteveRader

    SteveRader Member

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    If a board op is goin to be true to the LD wishes, I'd recommend cueing. Live acts such as bands or even dance groups may allow for a show to be run live, as the show will often change on the fly.

    Most nationally touring LD's and board op's have general cues and then add to them live with desired effects.

    All about preference and how well you can stay on top of the show.
     
  11. Charc

    Charc Well-Known Member

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    Er, my input doesn't really carry any weight (Highschooler), but in the last show, we programmed in all our cues, then we had a couple sequences we figured were just easier to do manually (specifically dance). It was easier for us to say to ourselves "needs more side light" then try and memorize the dance.
     
  12. DarSax

    DarSax Active Member

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    We did a cue/live hyrbid for our talent show last year. We had a Maxxyz, so we assigned one page of subs to each act, with one or two cues written into each. It worked pretty well, we didn't have a set order besides maybe one for the opening and a couple for the chorus, but all in all it worked really well
     
  13. beam_1973

    beam_1973 Member

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    Have to agree with Len here ... no theatre for me, all live band stuff ... and every show is done on the fly (unless the band asks for something specific for a certain song, intro, outro, bridge section or whatever). The main reason I do this lighting thing is the creative outlet ... every show gets to be different (even if its with the same band doing the same set) and nothing better seeing a scene/look programmed on the fly, under pressure, and it comes off just as you pictured in your mind. Bring on the adrenalin!
     
  14. jfitzpat

    jfitzpat Member

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    Actually, I think it is something of a catch-22. When I started doing lighting, my first board was an 18 channel Ward Leonard auto transformer board. You stretched the number of dimmers by flipping breakers on the patch bay. Because of physical limitations (only so many hands and feet), you quickly learned that transitions are part of the art. Since you couldn't move everything easily at once for a linear fade, you learned to move things in the most visually appealing order.

    Over the years I've seen a lot of shows where the 'scenes' looked very nice, but little thought went into the transitions between them. Even simple fade to blacks lacked a certain subtleness. Once the aspect of time becomes fixed, especially with live performances, I think something is inherently lost.

    On the flip side, a little lost visual appeal in the name of consistancy is sometimes a good thing. I've also come back to one of my designs being operated on a two scene board and found that my original cueing had essentially been stripped of fade times (expressed in stage actions) all together. Having a board operator who thinks like a janitor operating work lights is painful indeed.

    Both these somewhat contradictory goals/experiences are often represented in my own controller designs. When it comes to pre-programmed to time, I'm usually obsessed with precision (ex. SMPTE trigger is not good enough, I want true lock (fades adjust proportionally to timecode speed as well)). And when it comes to fluidity and time (any cue, any order, any speed), I get obsessed with things like does movement generation morph gracefully in random crossfades.

    Still, my own operating approach for, say, a live band I've never seen, are much like Len's and Beam_1973, I build up some base cues (position, color, gobo's/effects) and mix and match on the fly.

    -jjf
     
  15. TechiGoz

    TechiGoz Active Member

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    I have to say.. after looking at all the different opinions I do have to agree with Logos and say that although technology has become a godsend for LD's, Board Ops and Programmers alike, there is something still that gets me a lot more excited when running shows on the fly.

    I'm an Adelaide LD/Op/Programmer also, and so unlike the US we have a standard tops of 96 dimmers in one place or another. Even growing up in Singapore and doing shows there from the age of 11, I remember even today running shows, night after night, on the fly. It was a some what exhilarating experience. I can't put my finger on it, maybe it was the fact that I could feel the show more, really put my emotion into the faders and make the lights just work, instead of sitting down in a smoky room with a laptop doing it in visualizers. I will admit, don't get me wrong, that I love working with the new technology. It is absolutely amazing, and the new innovations, especially with moving light technology is opening up a whole other world with options and design capabilities, but there is still something about 'busking it' that I will always love.

    I'm just glad thats exactly what the director of my latest production asked me to do :p

    Take care
    Daniel
     
  16. highschooltech

    highschooltech Active Member

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    When i board op the LD often uses both cues and subs. She is usually the stage manager as well so she just tells me to add more of a certain light.
     
  17. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    Refering to jfitzpat above. Transitions are of course all important. A couple of years ago I lit a production of Scrooge for an amateur comapny as a favour for a friend. After talking at some length with the director I designed a show that only went into black for the interval. Lots of lovely x-fades that timed with the scene changes. I rigged focused and plotted the show and watched the first tech. (I wasn't operating) I had to miss the second tech dress because of a professional job and turned up at the final dress rehearsal to solve any last minute problems to find that the Director and Production Manager had put 38 blackouts into my design. Ruined it. Grumpy. What transitions?
    Mind you this is all off thread and I started this one. I had of course forgotten the world of rock music as it isn't an area I work in. But small scale theatre busking seems to be alive and kicking and I'm glad. Like I said earlier I reckon I learned more about lighting design working on the fly than from anything else.
     
  18. Logos

    Logos Well-Known Member

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    I know this thread has pretty much died but I found this quote the other day which I felt was relevant.
    “To condemn a [lighting] operator to a life of punching the crossfade button is to ensure that his motivation either becomes the pay packet on Friday or he goes beserk one dark night and rapes the show from end to end with lighting.” (Fred Bentham. "Organo ad Libitum", Tabs, Autumn 1977)
    Fred Bentham was the guy that invented the Light Organ using an electronic organ console rigged to operate electronic dimmers. he perceived the lighting operator as a creative artist.
    In the UK they have retored one of his early consoles with the help of ETC Europe and will be demonstrating it.
     
  19. squigish

    squigish Member

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    While it seems that nowadays the role of the board operator can be fairly easily reduced to that of a "go monkey," it can really be quite dangerous. For dance productions at my university, we use lighting designers from the theater department (who know what they're doing) and random dance majors who aren't performing in the concert as a run crew. The stage managers are generally pretty good, as they usually have some experience, but the sound and light board operators are often clueless (although I have worked with a couple of wonderful rookie LBOs). The story that comes to mind is one that happend earlier this weekend, when the LBO somehow ended up with a bright cue captured on stage, and didn't know enough about the board to release it so that the actual cues could happen. There was no blackout before the performance started, and the first dance was effectively ruined. Fortunately, our lighting professor happened to be in the audience that night, and he went up to the booth and fixed the problem after the first dance.

    On the other hand, when we have visiting tours come through, we try to give them the most experienced crew possible. I often end up running the board, and while I'm capable of taking things into my own hands if necessary, and in case of catastrophic failure, I have never needed to. You need a LBO who knows what he/she is doing, but at the same time, in most theater and dance situations, all that the LBO is actually going to have to do while running the show is push a button. During programming, on the other hand, a competant board op is a godsend. Nothing beats having a board op who's on the same page as you as a lighting designer, and who can even anticipate what you're going to ask for, and do what you want even when you misspeak and say the wrong numbers. For this, I really think that having a good head on your shoulders is more important than familarity with the console, or with lighting in general. You can teach someone how to use a light board; it's much harder to teach them to be intuitive and understand the method to the madness. When I know I have a good board op, I can rest assured that the show is going to go off smoothly, even if I'm not there. If I have a bad one, I'm constantly worrying, and will make sure to be there at least for the pre-show of every performance.

    The same goes for electricians in general. I've done several shows where I have random non-technical people coming in to help me hang and focus. I teach them how to do whatever it is that needs to be done, and some of them get it right away, while others really don't at all. In some instances, the "smart" memebers of the makeshift crew are better workers than some of the members of the real, trained crew who have a somewhat lackluster work ethic. At the same time, I once was working with a dancer who was absolutely incapable of tighting down a light. She was focusing on top of the lift, and I had previously demonstrated what the various bolts and handles did. The light was panning back and forth like crazy; it was totally loose, and she claimed it was as tight as it would go. I finally took a second ladder and climbed up to see what she was doing. She was hauling on the c-clamp bolt, which wasn't even connected to the part of the light that was turning. In this case, the problem was a simple lack of visual-spacial intellegence, which I found ironic because she was a dancer.

    Anyways, I digress, a lot. I have limited experience running shows manually, although it's always a lot of fun, especially when it looks good. I think it's a little frightening, to tell the truth. I'm much happier knowing that all I have to do is push the go button when I get my call than worrying about a steady hand or figuring out what the next cue is going to be, although at the same time I get off from the adreneline rush.
     
  20. stantonsound

    stantonsound Active Member

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    Running a show manually or not depends on how complex the show is. In most professional and good educational shows, there are more than 150 instruments hung, with 70+ channels (if you route them to channels), with at least 100 cues during the show. The last dance show that I worked (a college show that I was hired to come in as their ME), there were more than 350 instruments hung. We had 42 dimmer channels dropped to the cyc lighting pit alone. There were more than 200 cues during the show. This can simply not be run manually. If something catastrophic does happen, the best that the board op can do is to bring up a few channels until the stage is lit, and that is about it. In all of the touring and professional shows that I have worked in a dozen states over the past 10 years, this is the case more than not. Granted, 350 instruments is a great deal, the majority run at least 200 with 100+ cues.

    In contrast, I recently designed a show for a High School. They have 38 dimmer channels total, and less than 50 fixtures in the building (24 Fresnel's and 20 ellipsoidals). There is no stage manager calling the show, so the board op has to follow along with his/her own script and run the show themselves. In this case, it is possible to run the show on the fly without much of a problem. It was a musical, so we had 112 cues, so we programmed the show so the operator could just push go and it ran flawlessly.

    Although I will admit that running the show manually can be exciting, its uses are limited in today's theaters. Save it for selected dance and rock and roll shows. If a board op wants to run the show manually so they can put their own touch on it, they should have designed the show. You are not the designer, you are the board operator. Be proud of it and just push "GO".
     

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