Once one of the biggest movie houses in New York City, the Loews Astor Plaza at Broadway and 44th Street has been replaced by the Nokia Theatre Times Square after a $21 million renovation by AEG Live who will also operate the theatre.
The new 2,100 (depending on the event) capacity venue was designed by The Rockwell Group and opened on September 19 with a concert by Bon Jovi broadcast live around the world to launch the band's latest album, Have a Nice Day. Designed to house concerts as well as television specials, live recordings, web broadcasts, award shows, and cocktail parties, the Nokia Theatre Times Square is making an impressive Broadway debut, especially with its marquee — an 85'×10' Mitsubishi LED HD screen capable of displaying live or digital video and one of the biggest marquees on Broadway.
Designing the looks for these wildly different events that take place virtually every day — there were 26 different shows in October alone — is the Nokia's lighting director Jeff Carol, whose background includes rock tours as well as television, so he was well-suited to oversee the lighting at the multipurpose theatre. “It was billed as a TV studio/rock venue, so the position seemed tailor-made for me as it incorporated everything I liked,” he says, adding that his position is a bit of a hybrid on Broadway since, as the lighting director, he is also the designer and the board op. “Typically, lighting directors stand around with a pad and pencil, and board ops push buttons. I design the look of the room each day and tailor it to the mood of the atmosphere that I feel fits the band coming in.” He uses an Avolites Pearl console to create the various looks and has a Hog IPC on hand, as well.
With an intimate 40'×20'×30' stage, the theatre was designed to be user-friendly for not only the performers and the audience, but for the other designers who come into the venue. With a rig that has over 40 moving lights and over 80 conventionals, the venue is well-equipped for any act that comes in. However, Carol says that some acts who have a traveling LD like to morph their own designs and equipment into the theatre, which can make for a very tight squeeze. But it's all in a day's work for Carol. “We try to keep it easygoing and light and make everyone happy, which is not always easy, but that's the goal,” he says.
The theatre features an in-house lighting rig comprised of equipment from Vari-Lite, ETC, Wybron, L&E, Avolites, Leviton, and Wholehog. Carol has become easily enamored with the 22 VARI*LITE VL2500™ Wash and the 16 VL2500 Spot fixtures due to their consistency and color mixing. He also has high praise for the six VL1000s™. “They're like a big Leko, because they have that warm, tungsten, incandescent-type light,” he says. “They are a lifesaver. I can focus a special on anybody at the touch of a button. If there are any unknowns, I can just pick them up with the VL1000s. They are a great safety net because you never know. Doing the things that we do, everything is kind of on-the-fly. God forbid, if the shit ever hit the fan, I could cover the stage with one VL1000 if I had to! With six of them, I should never have anybody standing there in the dark.”
The VL100s are also used for setting the scene in the auditorium while the audience is walking in and getting seated. “The VL1000s do nice even color washes on the walls, different architectural pieces, and the ceiling,” Carol says. “I can even throw one in the middle of the pit if the pit's out of hand, so people don't get their teeth knocked out. With that many fixtures, the sky's the limit. I'm still discovering the different kinds of looks for the walk in. Boom, at the touch of a button, I have everything at my disposal on stage.”
Carol adds that being the lighting director seems like a dream job, and he hopes to find out if he ever gets to sleep long enough to actually dream.