Programming a large-scale show can be a daunting task in and of itself, but what if that same show has to tour? Traveling from city to city on a sometimes daily basis, setting up, and tearing down several times a week creates myriad problems, dealing with different venues and sizes. But now imagine you have different equipment in each city! How do you make your complicated show look the same, or at least similar, every night?
The first question to consider is which console to use. Ideally, you will bring this console with you everywhere you go. If that's not an option, make sure that it is one that can be secured and available at every stop. Hopefully, it will be a console that can easily change fixture types, meaning the console will swap one kind of light for another with minimal programming changes required. Several consoles are currently capable of this, including the MA Lighting grandMA and the Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 3. Both have features that will, with the push of a button, adjust all of the programming in the show for one type of light to another, making your load into the next city go much more quickly. While the transfer of information will be close, it is often not exact in some respects and still requires some adjustment.
To make this process as efficient as possible, there are many things you can do both during your console setup period and during the actual programming of the show. Before you start programming, build presets of your defaults for every fixture type. This creates a grouping of attributes that are simply at their default states, and when used to build your cues for the show, allow for quick and easy updates of parameters that can easily be distorted by the fixture change process. By updating these presets immediately once the change type is complete, you will avoid a major hassle of having your defaults be askew throughout the show. For example, on a grandMA, switching between Martin MAC 2000 wash lights and Vari-Lite VL3000 wash lights, or visa versa, can lead to many unpredictable strobe channel functions. Because the MAC's strobe channel is also its control channel, and the VL3000 has one channel for both strobe and control, this must be addressed right away, or the fixtures may strobe when they shouldn't or douse when they should strobe. If you had been clever enough to build the correct palettes during your setup, this could be dealt with in a matter of moments.
Another way to help speed this process up, especially if you know about your impending fixture-type changing before you even leave the rehearsal venue, is to create load-in lists that will minimize the work you need to do during load in. By this, I mean build a series of cue lists that walk you through the fixture-change process. These lists step through the presets that you've made throughout programming — not only the defaults, but other essential items such as iris sizes, beam shapes, gobos used in the show, color chips, and strobe rates. Instead of updating every preset you've built, this will allow you to get everything set in the shortest amount of time. Similarly, creating lists to update focus presets in order of importance is also a time-saver when dealing with a tight load in. Keeping all of this in mind, it is a good idea to work on this while cueing the show so that all essential looks are preserved and maintained given the difficult task of using different equipment at each stop. The more you know about what gear you'll be getting at each stop along the tour, the more you can prepare for the problems you will eventually face.
Another handy tool in the programmer's toolbox is the ability to add and “clone” new lights to the show as quickly as possible. In some cases, you'll find that a designer or producer will want to increase the size of the show as it moves from venue to venue and, similarly, will include lighting in that increase. Adding any new lights to the show can and will take time, but by using a clone function, you can have the new lights essentially copied from existing lights in the show. This process will typically add the lights to all the cues, as well as groups and presets. There are issues that need to be resolved once this is done, such as selection orders being altered and effects needing touching up, but it is a fraction of the time it would take to manually add each new light into each item. Combining these and other time-saving techniques, the show will load in quickly and hopefully look the same night after night!
Cory FitzGerald is a freelance lighting and video programmer whose recent work includes programming for Madonna's Confessions Tour, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Wicked in Tokyo, Ricky Martin's Black and White World Tour, and Rain's I'm Coming World Tour.