John Featherstone Designs Light of the World

The Winter Olympic Games took over Salt Lake City in February, but those events were not the only festivities going on in that municipality. Light of the World: A Celebration of Life, a multimedia theatrical and musical production from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, featured 17 performances of its own during February 2002. Over 1,500 participants danced, sang, and even flew over a panoramic stage in the Church's Conference Center auditorium.

Before construction of the Conference Center was even completed in 2000, Church members had begun to plan for this event, which would take place not only during the Olympics and but also correspond with one of the church's biannual conferences. John Featherstone of Lightswitch was brought in early on to help with the production's lighting design. “I had worked in the past with Mike Magelby, who is now one of the house technical directors for the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Utah,” Featherstone explains. “While they could fill many of the positions from within the Church's existing full-time technical staff, Mike realized that lighting design was one of the areas where they needed some outside help. They are great people — very open, very welcoming, and very friendly.”

Featherstone became involved in the project's brainstorming sessions. “They knew they wanted to put on a production that was unlike what people were used to seeing in the Conference Center,” he says. “As the facility has only been open about a year, this was its first use as a multipurpose venue. They wanted to do something fairly theatrical that would take the opportunity to welcome the world to Salt Lake City — as well as tell everyone a little bit about their faith and their beliefs and also celebrate the human spirit.”

The show eventually focused on telling the story of Joseph Smith, and the vision he had that convinced him to form the Mormon Church. “The content also addresses the pioneers' struggles after being forced out of their homeland in the East, their move across the prairies, and the hardships they had to go through to find safety and religious freedom in Salt Lake City,” Featherstone explains. “It also draws some analogies between that and the Olympians, focusing particularly on a track-and-field athlete called Alma Richards, a member of the Mormon church who left school at a very early age. Through encounters with various people, he realized he needed to go back to school and reapply himself and focus and find the light within that would give him the strength to take the right path, which is not necessarily the easy path.”

The show's set was a 120'-wide (36m) dome, which allowed the show's producers to tell stories that play out on the earth. “They wanted to show God's hand touching people on the earth — so the dome stage looked like a section of the earth,” Featherstone explains. “It was a very effective, albeit a very challenging, performance space. We spent four days focusing up there. From a choreographer's standpoint the space is a dream because it's like having a raked stage in every direction. It really allows you to see the cast and you have great potential for different blocking arrangements.”

The facility already had a large dimming system that was installed by ETC and a conventional house lighting system designed by the Klages Group. “They wanted us to take that system and reconfigure it to work for a far more theatrical production,” Featherstone says. “We also brought in a large complement of moving lights, including 30 Martin MAC 2000 luminaires to be our workhorse fixtures. We were able to use them as wash lights even though they are conceived as hard-edged units. We also spent money on glass gobos because lighting was the primary medium to paint texture onto the set. So we needed a fixture that had really good optics, and for my money, the only one that gives you the kind of punch you need over that kind of throw, but has enough control and high enough resolution optics, is the MAC 2000.” All of the automated fixtures were provided by Upstaging.

“We did use some High End Systems Cyberlight Turbo luminaires as well, but because of the inherent challenges of using a mirrored light, I needed a yoke light for the bulk of the fixtures,” the LD continues. “The MAC 2000 also functions extraordinarily well as a soft-edged light. It has the zoom optics, a really nice frost system, and the beam shaping. We had the fixtures do double duty. We also used some Coemar Panoramas to light the chiffon material that was arranged in five panels and served as our upstage cyc.”

For the opening of the show, there was a very large white curtain on a semi-circular track that formed the downstage act curtain. Fourth Phase provided six large-format Pani and Pigi projectors that projected the opening montage — which was a multimedia presentation of the story of Creation — as well as imagery onto the background during the show. “They wanted the audience to feel almost as if they were being suspended in space when they came in — as if you were looking down on the earth from afar,” Featherstone says. “So we had custom gobo images from space — universes, nebulae, shooting stars — those we animated and had them move across that drape using the MAC 2000s.

“We also needed at various stages to turn the dome into a prairie both in a natural daylight fashion and for one significant stage where the pioneers are fighting through a raging blizzard and the hardships they endured while doing so,” he continues. “We wanted to paint the dome with light to make it look as though it was covered in drifting snow. Many of the gobos were like semi-abstract scenic textures — a lot of leaf-type and soft breakup textures that enabled us to do something not far off scenic projection onto the dome.”

In addition to the automated lighting effects Lightswitch created, the designers kept in mind that light plays a very significant role in the beliefs of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. “From the first, the founder Joseph Smith talks about his vision being in the form of a column of light within which he saw two angels,” Featherstone explains. “So light has always been a very prevalent manifestation of a higher power to the Church. And they were very keen on using light as a representation of God's touch.”

Finding the right lighting instruments to convey this power at a very high trim (80' [24m]) was quite a challenge. “We were looking for a light that could give us that ethereal, majestic, transcendent kind of light,” Featherstone says. “So we hung a rig with nine 7k Syncrolite luminaires that we could use as one big beam by grouping them together. It was like a small indoor version of the lighting on top of the Luxor pyramid on the Vegas strip. So we got this incredibly intense, collimated beam, or we could break it up into sections and use each one of the lights that made up that central feature to show that God's hand touched not only one person, but reached across the stage and touched everybody in the cast.”

Tammy Smith, who works with Featherstone at Lightswitch's Chicago office, acted as the project's on-site lighting designer. “She was our point person and she did a fantastic job — this project was sometimes awe-inspiring in terms of its magnitude because it's such a big space,” Featherstone says. “Also, we had the additional challenges of working with the video projection — not just IMAG [image magnification], but they're also planning to release a DVD.”

Dennis Connors and Jim Michaelis programmed the show on two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles and John Moran (a member of the church) programmed the ETC Obsession console. California-based Branham Enterprises provided not only the production riggers, but also brought in a large performance-flying rig.

“It was a great show and it was a pleasure working with the very knowledgeable and friendly house staff,” Featherstone concludes. “It was a great experience.”

Catherine McHugh is a New York-based freelance writer. She can be contacted at cmbmc@earthlink.net.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Directors
David Werner, Randy Boothe

Technical Directors
Mike Magleby, Bob Breitenbeker

Lighting Designers
Lightswitch
John Featherstone, Tammy Smith

Lighting Directors/Programmers
John Moran, Dennis Connors, Jim Michaelis

Production Electrician
Mark Hoover

Automated Lighting Tech
Lacey Taylor

Lighting Technicians
Mike McBride, Mike Braegger, Tim Young, Ken Burns Jr., Mike Green, Antoinette DeLeo, George Keim, Dan Curley

Projectionist
Myron Moore

Lighting Rental Vendors
Upstaging
Syncrolite

Lighting Equipment

2

ETC Obsession 2 control consoles

4

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles, one with expansion wing

42

Altman 5kW fresnels

110

Wybron scrollers

170

Altman PAR-64s

60

ETC Source Fours 19°

116

ETC Source Fours 10°

469

ETC Source Fours 5°

90

Martin Professional MAC 2000s

12

Coemar Panorama SuperCycs

30

Coemar Panorama Powers

28

High End Systems Turbo Cyberlights

10

Syncrolite SX7Ks

5

Syncrolite SX3Ks