Pan is one of the most mammoth undertakings in Australian theatre history, a lavish AUS$9.8 million-plus (US$5.6 million) production of J.M. Barrie's classic story of the boy who never grew up. The timeless tale about the power of imagination has been translated into a sumptuous and colorful production. Resembling a children's pop-up book, the story is given life through animatronics, puppetry, beautiful sets, and magical lighting.
Born at Sydney's Capitol Theatre, Pan (along with the London production of The Lion King) is among the world's largest stage endeavors. Funded through a complex offshore investment scheme, much is riding on the success of the show, which is not a musical, grand pantomime, or dance extravaganza. Many of the show's key personnel describe its making and its look and feel in terms usually associated with filmmaking rather than stage: the surround sound of cinema, its visual "filmic proportions," scenic "dissolves," the computerized animals, and the visual trickery of Peter Pan flying.
"Pan is built around technology undreamed of five years ago," says director John Banas. "Advances in animation, lighting, and sound allow us to stage a theatrical production in a filmic way, so that Pan is almost a blend of stage play and movie. The lighting, too, is radically upmarket from anything we've known; the rig and the control panel are twice the size of that of The Phantom of the Opera and the system far more sophisticated. And the music is exactly like a film score, with surround sound and spot sound effects."
The contribution of Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Peter Foy's flying innovations are crucial to Pan's magic and appeal. The Neverland that Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys inhabit is full of imaginary creatures: the Grocer Bird, the Fribbits, the Honkers, Sheldon the cynical Snurtle, and, of course, the voracious crocodile.
For the past two years British lighting designer Jenny Kagan has been closely involved with every aspect of the design of Pan, working with the Jim Henson Creature Shop and its set designer Ben Dickens to ensure that scenery and lighting were closely integrated in the final show.
"It seemed appropriate to start with analyzing what the flying is about, as it is crucial to the story of Peter Pan," says Kagan. "That fantasy and leap of imagination is the basic element of the whole story. That is why the sky has gotten so much attention from me. Being among the stars was important to me from an early stage."
The power of the earth's elements was Kagan's main inspiration in lighting Pan. It was on a camping trip that her ideas began to form. "I realized that all the elements needed for Pan were there: the fire, the moon, the stars, the water," Kagan says. "It's the magic that nature takes on when you're out in the wild. I remember there was a really large yellow moon that night that I just had to recreate."
In fact, Pan has two moons which can transform to any size, a large mystical one for Neverland and a smaller one for the scenes of London outside of the nursery. The moon is a back-painted black rear-projection screen set into a full black drape. This is lit from behind with an assortment of equipment including Altman Softlights and vertically-hung MR-16 striplights. Built into the upstage of this cloth is an automated set of sliders so that the moons can be made any shape from crescent to full.
"Basically there's filled cloth upstage, a 2m [6'] gap, and then a gauze," explains Kagan. "A similar image is on the filled cloth and the gauze with everything offset which gives a real sense of depth. A flown run of MR-16 striplights upstage of the cloth gives us a horizon line that can shift to alter the perspective. DHA Digital Light Curtains [DLC] placed between the cloth and the gauze can light either of the cloths. A lot of the time they put the color into the clouds which have been left white for this purpose. Ben and I spent a lot of time with Ross Turner of Scenic Studios in Melbourne developing the paint finish that would allow all of this to work.
"There's also a conventional floodlight placed between the fill cloth and the gauze, but we were always aware that we didn't want to cut off the sky too hard at the top, so it doesn't get used too much. The DLCs are much softer for the flying; they don't show up the lines against the cyc so much."
The gauze is then crosslit by ETC Source Fours with scrollers on them so it is possible to drop the moon in behind and gently bleed it in. The moon also has fiber-optic stars in it so it is possible to bleed the stars and moon through the gauze. Also between the two cloths are three Martin Professional MAC 600s on a track so they can be located anywhere to achieve a glow, particularly useful for the sunrises.
Kagan already had quite a bit of experience in recreating starscapes for Les Miserables and also Oklahoma! [as associate LD for David Hersey] so Pan was not too daunting, although she found it very hard to recreate the random quality of stars in the night sky. No matter how hard she tried, she found herself making patterns. The only way to recreate a convincing night sky was to copy actual constellations.
"First we drew a large image of a full, starry sky and then broke it into several layers on the computer. This gave us the depth we needed. So we have fiber-optic stars in the moon cloth and midstage header, midstage gauze, and in all the legs. We also have flown stars which are pea lamps on drops. There are two of those so we can do a change of perspective. The midstage header has a broken bottom edge so it often cross-flies with other things, keeping those shifting perspectives."
The clouds for the show's opening flying sequence are projected using two large-format Pani projectors fitted with PIGI film scrollers. Kagan worked with Australian projection designer Peter Milne and his team to create the clouds for the show. Other cloud effects are created with the White Light VSFX effects system.
For the first time Kagan was using moving lights in the orchestra pit, an idea originally conceived through her theories on flying. "Unfortunately most of them were wrong!" she laughs. "As soon as we started playing with them, we knew we were wrong. However, the Martin PAL 1200s are still useful.
"The major challenge in lighting Pan has been how to light all the flying without showing the fly lines. Because the flying is done by men on ropes, you can't program anything as it's not identical every night. It was clear very early on that followspots would have to deal with most of the flying. I thought that we would be able to light them from certain angles where they could fly through light and we wouldn't see lines. I thought if we uplit them with the PAL 1200s, we'd lose the first bit of the line, but it didn't really work. I put in layered banks of crosslight, planning to have the shutter cut across at a certain height, but again it's just not accurate enough. So it was back to the human on a followspot, but even then you're crossing through each other's lines all the time. We've ended up with some strange followspot positions." Source Four 10-degree ellipsoidals in City Theatrical followspot yokes are used as front-of-house followspots, while 1kW beamlights with scrollers are used as onstage followspots.
Kagan visited Peter Foy, of Flying by Foy, in Las Vegas, who gave her this pearl of wisdom--" 'People always light flying too dark, and as soon as you do that, your eyes strain to see the wires.' "
"That's completely true," she agrees. "You'd think that to hide the wires, you should turn the lights out and have a followspot very tightly on the flying person. That doesn't work."
Due to the large amount of shifting scenery used in Pan it was decided at an early stage to have a moving light rig that could go anywhere. "We had to be able to respond in rehearsals to change without access to the rig," says Kagan. "The general rig was a general focus to the floor, there's very little focused to scenery. All the specific lighting had to be done by the moving lights. The Capitol is such a large playing area, and the amount of useful grid space taken up by Foy's flying tracks limited us. We tried to devise a layout for themoving lights that was related to the essence of the set. Consequently the MAC 500s are grouped centrally to do the foliage for the 'home tree' and the water effects for Skull Rock. There's also backlight 5k scroller coverage in both directions.
"The 5k scroller wash is used for the big, broad brushstrokes with the MAC 600s used to pick out the details. They also do big blocks of saturated color backlight. I really like the MAC 500s. We do a lot of the animation work with them and they perform really well. We're using some custom color in them that makes them more theatre-friendly, some of which we had made for Oliver! I'd not used the MAC 600s before, but they're fine."
Two of Martin's new super-wide-angle MAC 600s are used as cyc lighting and all the MAC 600s are fitted with Stage Electrics MAC spill rings. "The PAL 1200s were used because we knew the level of control we'd need," says Kagan. "To have the shutters on them is invaluable when lighting the fly lines. There's also a custom shutter in the MACs--one of the gobos in them is actually a shutter so we can use it to cut off things when we need to."
The conventional lighting rig was formed from Source Fours, Altman Shakespeares, and PAR cans. In all, 90 units were fitted with scroller color changers: a mixture of Wybron, Rainbow Pro, and Colourset units. Cyc lighting was predominantly from MR-16 battens.
"I wanted to be able to do slow scrolls and long color shifts on the gobo washes from day to night, and basically the Wybron scrollers don't do that--they step," says Kagan. "The Rainbow Pros do it, but there weren't enough in the country. The Colourset scrollers do have a timing channel and we thought they may be able to do the job, but haven't proved to be all that successful."
For the first time in Australia, Le Maitre LSG Low Smoke Machines were used to create the water around Neverland and the Jolly Roger ship. These proved to be highly successful, delivering a rich fog that left no residue.
Lighting programmer Rob Halliday was using a Strand 550i as his main console, running over 1,800 DMX channels, with a 510i as a backup. "It's not a difficult show to program, it's just big and 'bitty,' " says Halliday, a contributor to Lighting Dimensions. "Not so long ago you'd never have dreamt of doing a show this size with just one desk. Four years ago we did Martin Guerre with two people programming a rig smaller than this. It's a huge rig but we're winning! We've had problems in the past with some moving lights not returning to the same place. The lights are so accurate in this show that if there's a problem, you know it's the scenery in the wrong place."
Five streams of DMX are distributed around the theatre using Strand's ShowNet ethernet system. Of the five streams of DMX used, two are for the MACs, one for the PALs, one for the conventional lighting, and the last one for whatever is left over. Radio-controlled dimming (from Howard Eaton Lighting Limited) is used to control lighting built into the scenic units.
Pan is up, up, and away in Australia. Its producers are banking on a long-term future, predicting the show will fly the world for a decade.
Australia-based freelance writer Catriona Forcer is the former lighting editor of Connections magazine.
LIGHTING DESIGNER Jenny Kagan
ASSOCIATE LIGHTING DESIGNER/LIGHTING PROGRAMMER Rob Halliday
ASSOCIATE LIGHTING DESIGNERS Richard Pacholski, Gavan Swift
HEAD ELECTRICIAN Hugh Hamilton
DEPUTY HEAD ELECTRICIAN Ken Roach
FLOOR ELECTRICIANS David Clare, Sam Shannon
FOLLOWSPOT OPERATORS Suzie Brooks, Jason Edwards, Brian Grant, Mel Lobendahn
TINKERBELL ENGINEER Lynton Blessington
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT SUPPLIER Chameleon Touring Systems
ADDITIONAL LIGHTING EQUIPMENT Cameron Mackintosh Pty Ltd.
LARGE FORMAT PROJECTION The Electric Canvas, Sydney
PROJECTION ARTWORK Vanessa McDonald
PRE-PRODUCTION DOCUMENTATION Modelbox, a White Light Group Company
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (9) DHA Digital Light Curtains (16) Martin Professional PAL 1200s (16) Martin Professional MAC 500s (32) Martin Professional MAC 600s (12) City Theatrical AutoYokes (5) Altman Softlights (1) Mole-Richardson 4-light Molefay (1) Mole-Richardson 8-light Molefay (100) ETC Source Fours (56) Altman Shakespeares (12) Strand Prelude 16/30s (40) Selecon Pacific 12/28s (3) Strand Castor 2kWs (10) Strand Pollux 5kWs (11) Lighting & Electronics Mini-Strips (12) Altman ZipStrips (26) Selecon Aura Cyc Ones (76) MFL PAR-64s (70) PAR-64 top hats (32) Wybron scrollers (10) Rainbow Pro scrollers (58) Colourset scrollers (6) Diversitronics Source Four strobes (2) strobe modules (6) GAM Products Star Strobe 111s (4) High End Systems Dataflash AF-1000s (2) 12" mirror balls (2) Strong Super Trouper 11 followspots (2) R&V Beam Lights (2) R&V 1,000W Beam Lights (2) LeMaitre LSG Low Smoke Machines (1) Rosco 1800 fogger (2) Pani large-format 2.5k tungsten projectors with PIGI scrollers (6) White Light VSFX cloud effects (1) Strand 550i control desk (1) Strand 510i backup desk