Over the cheers, whistles, and applause, there is an audible sound coming from the production tech table — a huge sigh of relief. This was not just another opening night; this was the apex of an enormous challenge.
A few months ago, Cirque Productions was given the opportunity to fill a two-week gap when a national tour backed out of its engagement in St. Paul, MN, at the Ordway Theater. Normally, this would be great, but our entire set, rigging, and most of our production staff were soon to be departing to Australia for a 16-week tour. The solution: rebuild the show, from the ground up.
As the technical director, I had to make it happen. Our original show started with one upstage drop and two sets of mid-stage and down-stage legs, all of which were painted by UVFX in California and lit by 17 Wildfire units. Many of our current props and costumes have some kind of UV reflective fabric — or Wildfire paint — on them to make them glow, but, all in all, the show has more of a ‘rock and roll’ feel, with PARs for saturated colors and a few moving lights for accents. The new show would consist of every costume, prop, and set piece containing UV reflective properties with a more isolated, act-specific lighting look (less washes, less generic areas).
Owner and artistic director, Neil Goldberg, wanted to create a forest to look like “Rumplestilskin meets Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz,” transitioning from a whimsical, storybook, daylight look to an enchanted, magical forest.
We decided that we would maintain the key elements that we knew worked from the original show, such as placement of our aerial act rigging truss for our aerial rope act, our aerial chiffon act (two flyers), and our trapeze act. We also knew we needed to keep many factors intact, especially considering space requirements of most of our acts.
So began the mad design process of flipping through storybooks, magazines, and videos. We contacted scenic artist Jon Crain to create a dual-image UV drop with matching legs and Dan Daddona Studios in Pompano Beach, FL, to build some magical trees to act as a major focal point of the show. We also had three tree stumps that light up via wireless remote control from the inside and three other set pieces consisting of glowing mushrooms, ferns, and orbs, custom built by Tom Woodrow in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It was tricky to have three scenic artists working on the same set in three different locations all trying to conform to one vision. Each studio/shop did the basic “normal painting,” and we flew Crain in to do all of the UV paint-work.
The challenge was to keep it all glowing — the drops, set pieces, props, over 90 UV reflective costumes, hats, and head-pieces — while lighting each act with a unique look and without washing out the UV. There were also particular performance needs to consider. The contortionists couldn't have any shadows on their table; the trapeze artists need to see the ropes; the juggler must see his props in the air without being blinded, etc.
To enhance the show, we purchased 18 additional Wildfire 402F Long-Throw Floods with magnetic ballasts so we could easily convert them when traveling. They require very little maintenance, and they really take a beating on tour.
After much trial and error with another tour, we found that six Wildfire units light the drop evenly. We also put four units at the top of each of our UV legs; four on the floor in front of our UV legs; two units on the lip of the stage; and two hung at downstage center to make the costumes pop.
I really wanted this show to look very different from our other show. With constraints of the costumes and set pieces, UV lighting was first priority. I wanted to go for a look of dance lighting, with heavy sidelight to accentuate the performers' bodies and muscles. However, with the amount of oversized costumes and props, booms were out of the question. To compensate, we provided sidelight and some high sides of breakup patterns on each pipe end for texture, a four-color ‘rock and roll’ PAR wash for stage coverage, and moving lights for additional texture and specialty act lighting.
Due to the overlapping tours, the possibility of preprogramming the show was not an option, so after load-in, we spent all night programming on-site. I am a firm believer that a designer is nothing without a good crew, and I have been really fortunate to have an amazing programmer, Richard Allison.
In spite of the Artic conditions we experienced in St. Paul, the end result was well worth it: two weeks, 16 shows, standing ovations every night.
Scott Wagmeister is the technical director/director of lighting for Cirque Productions and owner of Intelligent Lighting Designs based out of West Palm Beach, FL.
|70||Medium PAR 64s|
|8||High End Systems Studio Spot 575|
|37||ETC Source Four 19°|
|35||ETC Source Four 26°|
|14||ETC Source Four 36°|
|18||Wildfire 400W Long Throw Flood|
|18||Wybron Coloram II|
|2||WholeHog® II consoles|
|1||ETC Sensor Relay Dimming Modules|
|3||Strong Xenon Super Trouper II followspots|
|2||Reel EFX Hazers|
|60'||Thomas 2' box truss|