When St. Joseph's Regional High School in Montvale, NJ recently staged the first high school production of Miss Saigon, LD Herrick Goldman's friends recruited him as lighting designer. “I got involved because I am good friends with composer Neil Berg. He was the music director for the show,” Goldman explains. “Also, my other good friend, composer David Weinstein, recomposed Miss Saigon for Music Theatre International (MTI) for high school productions. They thought that the school would be a good place to do a trial run, so that the folks at MTI could see if this would work in a high school.” Goldman invited Susan Nicholson, his associate LD, to work with him on the production.
Goldman had to adapt to the high school's rather unorthodox approach to production. “My design approach had to be 100% different from the way I would normally do a show,” he says. “I think that if you go into 10 different high schools, you will find 10 different methods; some will be closer to professional theatre, and some will be further away.” St. Joseph's was apparently further away, “We had about six and a half hours to tech and three run-throughs. Because there was no stage manager, the students were running it, and a student's father was calling the cues, so we kept the cues to a minimum — only about 85 cues in the show. Also, the show was triple-cast; I would teach one student to find her light, but she would forget to tell the other two girls playing the part.”
Power, or rather, lack of power, dictated some of Goldman's equipment choices. “What they had that was useful to us was six Leprecon® 6 × 1.2kW dimming packs. They also have about 30 ETC Source Fours®, a mix of ellipsoidals and PARs. We ended up using 12 ellipsoidals for front of house and six of the PARs. There was a variety of Edison outlets around the stage, which was why it was great to have the Altman SpectraPARs™ and the Wybron Nexeras. Not counting the Leprecon packs, which we hardly used at all, we lit the entire show with six 20A circuits. It was a highly effective rig for no power.”
Goldman turned to Scharff Weisberg to provide all of the moving light gear, and Altman Rentals provided all of the iron and the SpectraPARs. “We used two Wybron Nexeras on the box booms SL and SR for color washes and four more to backlight the whole stage. They have a really great zoom; we used the widest possible setting. Also, they are quiet. We used six Altman SpectraPARs as footlights, spaced along the edge of the stage at a 30° angle facing upstage. They had this nice wide wash, and these were just medium flood lenses. Four more SpectraPARs were used as sidelighting from tail downs. We used them a lot in saturated colors — deep blue and deep red for the nightclub scenes — and in those dark scenes, they were able to give us a little bit of beams in the haze, and they did some really nice blending and toning. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't expect them to have the punch that they do, but the lensing is really good, and the intensity is good. We also lit a 30' wide × 16' high cyc with just ten SpectraPARs. It gave us the ability to do multi colors. Two ETC Source Four Revolution® moving lights were downstage on either side. They were essentially high sides that would double as 45° front light to extreme upstage center. They could also track downstage and be extreme downlight or backlight.”
The helicopter was handled as a lighting cue by Goldman. “The director cut the physical helicopter, which was a great idea. Five [High End Systems] Studio Spots® were hung, two on the second electric at the extreme left and right and two upstage on the fourth electric, splitting center and one directly upstage center for the helicopter. I used all five Studio Spots with a spinning gobo in the haze, and it worked great as rotor blades.”
Goldman brought in the latest ETC console for lighting control. “We had a student, Ezra, running the ETC Congo™ console. While Susan and I were focusing, David Empey, ETC field project coordinator, came up for the tech. David sat at the console and punched up channels for us while we were focusing. Ezra was sitting right next to him, so David started teaching. It was great. They have been running for two weeks, and they haven't hit a snag. I had expected to get phone calls on a daily basis.”
Goldman was pleased with the show. “The school was very happy with the result, and I think that it will inspire them to try better production values,” he says. “I would like to come back in a few years and see that there is a stage crew and a real process. In the end, the parents were all happy, the people from MTI were happy, and my friends were happy.”