1. Collaborative Articles
  2. Moving lights in Theatre - Why they make sense

Some say that for theatres, using DMX accessories makes more sense than using full blown moving lights. (See the Collaborative Article: Gafftaper Method.) My experience is that the flexibility a theatrical moving light gives you makes it far more useful and cost effective than just accessories.

How is a theatrical moving light different from other movers – simple. In addition to the standard moving light features (multi gobo, gobo rotation, pan/tilt, focus, zoom) It has a tungsten light source, and has shutters. This makes it easier to blend and use with your conventional lights. A moving light is no longer just for a splashy effects that calls attention to itself.

My primary venue is a community theatre in Tacoma Washington that does mostly musicals. We are severely constrained for dimmers (56 ). Our conventional rig consists of about 60 Lekos ( Altman and ETC S-4’s) 25 Fresnels, and miscellaneous scoops, Par cans, etc. Two years ago, we had an extra $10,000 to spend and decided to purchase two moving lights. We looked at the ETC Revolution, and the Varilite 1000 – both with shutters and incandescent lamps. We ended up with the Revolution (it was a close call). Since that time I have learned to use the moving lights as an important part of my designers took kit. I use them for a lot more than specials, and the audience us usually not aware that they move.

It is interesting to compare what I used the moving lights for in a recent production of The Producers - vs. - how many conventional units and accessories I would have needed.

I used the movers to:
  • Provide additional color wash / area fill light with multiple colors: Shuttered as needed. Multiple colors during the show.
    • Down stage wash.
    • Color wash on drop.
    • Jail Cell
  • Provide additional fill / area lights. Single color. Shuttered as needed.
    • Roof scene
    • Auditions
    • Court room
  • Stationary Gobos Just put the gobo in a conventional unit ( Cheaper than a Gobo Changer accessory)
    • Leaf Wash / breakup for little old lady land.
    • Jail cell gobo.
  • Specials needing shutters: Specials on an actor which needed shutters to dodge scenery, etc. Varying colors:
    • Accountants office ( two specials)
    • DC Special.
    • Square specials in Springtime for Hitler number ( two specials)
  • Specials not needing shutters: A round beam is appropriate. But we do need to vary size, color , and sharpness of focus.
    • Eight to Twelve during the show.
  • Effects where the light becomes part of the show: Audience sees the lights move
    • Swastika on proscenium. Later Rotates, Later does a bally-hoo.
    • Jail cell gobo on proscenium. Later Rotates. Later does a bally-hoo

Approximate cost using current list price:
2 ETC Revolutions with Shutter module, and Rotating wheel module. @ $7000
Total $14,000

How would I have done this with conventional fixtures and accessories?
  • Color Washes. Hang a pair of ETC-S4’s for each wash. Put a scroller on each unit.
    • 6 S-4’s
    • 6 scrollers.
    • 3 dimmers
  • Additional fill lights. Hang a pair of S4’s for each fill use.
    • 6 S-4’s
    • 3 dimmers
  • Stationary Gobos Hang conventional units with appropriate gobo
    • 3 S-4’s
    • 2 dimmers
  • Specials needing shutters. Just hang conventional units for each of the four specials.
    • 4 S-4’s
    • 4 dimmers
  • Specials that do not need shutters. Use an AutoYoke with iris and focus control and shutter. Need two of these.
    • 2 S-4’s
    • 2 AutoYoke with Iris and Focus control
    • 2 Scrollers
    • 2 Dimmers
  • Effects Use an ICue or AutoYoke on a S-4 with DMX gobo and rotator. Need two units for each effect.
    • 4 S-4’s
    • 4 ICues ( We will price with the cheaper alternative)
    • 4 DMX Rotators.
    • 2 Dimmers.
Adding it up – the two movers replaced ( Approximate list price ) ignoring issues like DMX cable, power supplies, opto-isolator splitters for the DMX.

25 ETC S4 fixtues @ $300 Total $7.500
8 Scrollers @ $500 Total $4,000
4 ICue @ $550 Total $2,200
4 AutoYoke with Iris, focus @ $3400 Total $13,600
16 dimmers $2500 $2,500

Grand Total: $29,800

Summary – I saved a lot of money buying two well equipped moving lights over a bunch of accessories and conventional fixtures for this show. Additionally I saved a lot of time by not having to hang an extra 25 units in the house.

Why did it work out this way. It turns out that there is a lot more flexibility in a single theatrical moving light than in any set of accessories. For example, a moving light has multiple gobos and they can rotate. I can purchase a gobo rotator – but it does not handle multiple gobos. I can purchase a GAM SX4 with multiple gobos – but I can’t rotate them. If I get the SX4 it will not fit in an Auto Yoke. There is no way to zoom the unit to make the gobo the size I want it to be. And so on.

I don’t want only movers--but once you have enough conventional units to provide your basic illumination plus a bit more--it makes sense (IMHO) to investigate adding some movers to your inventory. If someone dropped another $15K in my lap today, I would get some additional color control (Scrollers or SeaChangers), replace some of my Altman units with S4s, and get more dimmers. But if I had $20K I would look at an additional mover.

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