LASER SAFETY

Thank you for your comprehensive coverage of my design for the laserscenic element in the Broadway production of Life × 3 in the July issue. The process of applying new technological developments to foster a designer-friendly approach to lasers in legitimate theater is exemplified in this production and well-documented in Ms. Lampert's article. The fact that this is, to my knowledge, the first creative application of lasers in a Broadway production of a straight play attests to the growing maturity of design and staging techniques for the laser medium in live theater and the performing arts.

However, I would like to call attention to the foundation and evolving creative process of laser safety techniques whose maturation and standardization likewise contribute to a new level of expanded applications of laser projection. The approach to laser safety, as integrated with the overall production-problem-solving process, is critical, and bears further description.

Safety has always been, and remains, the first obstacle to be resolved in any discussion of the feasibility of using lasers in production. Once identified, de-mystified, and understood in real terms, laser safety issues become practical matters to be addressed within the overall production planning. Each production is unique, with its own set of problems, in all departments; it is the importance of the collaborative process in standardizing and gaining wider acceptance and openness to laser applications that I wish to highlight.

In Life × 3 the logistical format of theatre-in-the-round, while providing audience seating at stage level, without a physical barrier to the stage action, created a special intimacy. As such, this format posed a challenge to satisfying one of the foundation principles of laser-safety regulations, which restrict human access to laser paths. When this potential hazard was brought out in the planning phase, it was further identified as a concern of the actors — that audience activity at the stage level during the performance was unacceptable. To address these issues, strict policies, were implemented by the house usher staff to prohibit seating audience members after the stage manager called ‘places’ to start the show. This integral whole-production approach was clearly a strength that was well utilized in all production matters and particularly matters of safety (Just as it is inaccurate to portray flight attendants as ‘stewards,’ I think it is unfortunate that the role of ushers and front-of-house personnel as seat guides overshadows their pivotal roles and responsibilities in the overall production).

Having established a standard procedure for audience traffic during the laser operation, it was further required to provide backup safguards in the event of the unexpected. It was determined that both the laser operator with access to Laser System Controls and the house lightboard operator with DMX Cue-enable Controls were preset as part of their show routine in a visual surveillance position and each controlled shutter overrides to extinguish the lasers in the event of observing any unexpected audience activity in the area of the lasers. Additionally by agreement with company management in a desire to not restrict sales to any seating in the areas closest to the stage, an Omron infrared emmitter/detector relay switch was specified as an ‘electric eye,’ to be used in the event that audience movement to any of the laser areas became a chronic concern. Owing to the lack of any unruly behavior on the part of the audience, no aversive action using any of the various safeguards was ever required in the length of the run; however, this inter-departmental co-ordination clearly contributed to this fact.

Along with safeguarding the path of the beam it is also required to safeguard the termination points — in this design, the stage floor. While reflections or even glare can be a concern from the termination of high-intensity beams, it was also determined that great splotches of light on the deck would be aesthetically un-acceptable to the design team. Working with the set designer, director, lighting designer, and propertyman, a light-absorbing flocking was applied to the set to be an effective light trap and prevent the possibility of any spurious reflections into the audience or performance area.

This production of Life × 3 is an excellent example of the maturing level of practical solutions to laser safety that have often been overdramatized from being cloaked in mystery and the unfamiliar.
Norman Ballard

GETTING CARDED

Having Lighting Dimensions drop on my desk is a joy. I stop what I'm doing, have a quick nose-through, maybe even read some of it, and then continue with my day, safe in the knolwedge that when I get bored there is something nice and pleasant to read, with excellent writing (if a little East Coast-centric) that I can peruse at my leisure. So it was with disgust that I did battle with October's issue.

I hate the little cards that seem to be in all magazines these days, that fall out as soon as you open them, Howver, the 8.5" × 11" cardboard block that you inserted between pages 16 and 17 of the October issue, made the damn thing impossible to read. Doing a bit of marketing myself, I applaud the soldier ants in the marketing department of a certain Danish lighting company, for forcing me to read their ad for 101 ways to increase light pollution, by making it the only thing in the magazine that it was possible to read (the photo was a bit dodgy though, guys). However, I may be forced to give one of their lights a swift kicking next time I see one onsite, by way of retribution.

But then, to add insult to injury, by placing two pieces of card between pages 32 and 33, reminding me of how good a deal Lighting Dimensions is and that I should renew my subscription, no longer seemed like an attempt to make the magazine impossible to read by the Danes, but was an attempt to make it impossible to read by the accountants at Lighting Dimensions. By the time I got to the “free product information” card between pages 40 and 41, I decided that rewriting the contract I was looking at was not that bad after all, and I would have to live in ignorance of the rest of the lighting world for this month, as certainly nobody at Lighting Dimensions seemed to want to tell me.

Hopefully, next month I'll be able to REMOVE the inserts or, at least, not have them detract from the joy of reading Lighting Dimensions.
A disgruntled reader who'll get back to work now