We've all gone into a space before and had to make do with questionable equipment, limited budgets, and poor facilities. Imagine starting with nothing but 90' granite walls dropping down into a green pool and rusting quarry machinery abandoned in place like a scene from the mechanical age of video game MYST. The audience area is full of 20-ton granite blocks, scrap cable, and crane booms knotted and woven through the uneven ground…and it's raining.

This is my fourth such production in the Stony Creek Quarry in Connecticut in 10 years for Projects for a New Millennium (projects2k.org). This is the first big production in this particular watery pit, where the famous pink granite had been muscled out for the base of the Statue of Liberty and the cladding of the AT&T building in New York.

The challenge: create an epic extravaganza with our collaborators utilizing original music, shadows of dancers, fire, pyrotechnics, bubbles, floating platforms, row boats, flying screens, a traversing armillary sphere, smoke machines, moving lights, video projection, and lasers. The production, Terra Mirabila, is third in our Terra series trilogy about scientific discovery in the last 1,000 years.

The concept: create a timeline of geological history of Stony Creek granite from 600 million years ago to its future in one hour. This would be accomplished with our vision of earthquakes, eruptions, bubbling lava glacial flows, and freezing ice crystals.

I needed a stage in the water for dancers and lighting equipment and a rigging tie off point. My friends at Reclamation Lumber recycle old wood from factories, barns, and bowling alleys, and they just got 1,200' of Hamonassett beach boardwalk in manageable 25'×8' sections. In my research (Google, “dock floats”), I found foam suppliers and dock instructions. Foam was too expensive. The other method is to use sealed plastic barrels for the food industry, and there were many suppliers in the area. We drilled holes in the 2'×12' joists and wove the barrels in with nylon rope, eight per dock, three each end, and two in the middle, all sealed with screw tops with added silicon. We used a giant backhoe to flip them and attach chain slings and hoist them into the water, creating a runway with two wings way upstage behind the reeds like a giant cross. I really didn't want to see the actual dancers much, just their shadows. The docks gave me a great level lighting position and shinbusters to create shadows on the rock walls and onto the 60' triangular screen that I had to rig from a chain hoist motor to the old crane 100' above.

The crane boom arm is one of the ancient relics from the quarry heyday unused for more than 30 years. It jutted out 100' and reached the back of the dock perfectly for rigging points. The screens were my idea, so I had to rig the points; no one else was going to climb out on the boom arm. Off I went with my harness and tether walking on top of the two-foot-wide truss with my pulley and rope and slings feeding it out to my happy crew below. With the hoist hooked on and the chain lowered, we boated out the triangular weatherproof nylon scrim from Rose Brand and hooked it on.

I had a 4,500-lumen projector from the rear perched up on a rock in the shrubbery. It was moved by hand to make use of all of the flying screens. Two other projectors crossed the quarry to project on the sidewalls, all provided by Access Audio Visual as a corporate donation.

Lighting equipment was hung on existing railings along the cliffs and on pipes in the old winch house. Six Martin MAC 2000 Performance fixtures were perched precariously along the cliff walls. I had lights strewn over an 800' perimeter of the quarry with lights bolted to granite walls six inches above the water as well as PARs stowed high up in the crane. I distributed power from existing 480V services in various out buildings dotted around the cliff perimeter. I rented three transformers and distributed from three points to four 12-packs and a 24-pack and to moving lights, 24 Wybron CXI scrollers, and three fog machines. Because the quarry was able to become pitch dark with no ambient light, I was able to get away with low light levels and less equipment.

We used Apple Keynote on a Mac PowerBook G4, and that worked well for our needs. I really did not need anything fancy for the fly graphic effects for this project, and cueing was not as critical.

On any outdoor event, the weather is always a factor. We used the old fashioned method of contractor bags for the moving lights and tarps for the scrollers. We would bring in the projectors each night and wrap the laser. All of my conventional fixtures (ETC Source Four® ellipsoidals, Source Four PARs, and PAR 64s) were left to the elements. Our control booth consisted of two 10'×10' tents sided with tarps on the edge of a 40' cliff stuffed with video, sound, and light control.

I wanted to show the passage of time as if a new epoch were being ushered in, much like the monolith in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I made an armillary sphere based on the Cenotaph for Newton designed by Etienne-Louis Boullée. I built it out of ¾" EMT conduit and installed two HPL sockets in the middle with 750W lamps to create a sun. The sphere was hung on a Petzel tandem cable pulley on a ¼" cable stretched 200' across the quarry. It was propelled by a clothesline loop wrapped around a wide sheave attached to a salvaged curtain motor that I bolted into concrete. The 16-3 SJ cord trailed on pulley loops running on the airplane cable plugged into a dimmer. Simple but effective, the sphere made its way smoothly across with its own theme music.

We also had fire effects and some fireworks, provided gratis by Phil Gauvin of Pyro/FX. Smoke was key to keeping the light levels low and visible. I had manual control over all of the machines to tweak depending on the wind. I had a compressor hose running in the water to create bubbles in the water and a bubble machine above. The laser was handled by laserist Jeff Cone, who made great use of the fog to create compelling aerial effects and flowing geometry.

In all, this project turned out to be a huge undertaking, and we accomplished it in stages over a three-week period. I call it Camp Quarry. Instead of hauling backpacks on the trail, it's lights and cable. We had 12 or so performances with only a couple of rain outs. We are trying to make this an annual event and perhaps build more infrastructure into it each year.

Terra Mirabila Gear

16 PAR64 1,000W VNSP
38 PAR64 1,000W MFL
8 PAR64 1,000W WFL
24 ETC Source Four® PAR NSP
8 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal 19°
9 ETC Source Four Jr Zoom
6 ETC Source Four Jr Ellipsoidal 36°
4 ETC Source Four Jr Ellipsoidal 50°
6 Strand 6" Fresnel
6 Martin Mac 2000 Performance
24 Wybron CXI Scroller
2 5,000 Lumen Projector
1 3,500 Lumen Projector
1 ETC Express™ 48/96 Console
1 ETC Express 24/48 Console with Emphasis
2 5-Way DMX Opto Splitter
4 12×2.4kW Dimmer Pack
1 24×2.4kW Dimmer Pack
1 112kVA Transformer
1 75kVA Transformer
1 35kVA Transformer
3 High End Systems Dataflash®
3 Le Maitre Fog Machine
1 Bubble Machine
1 Flame Bar
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Air Compressor

Various Firework Effects
2,000' DMX Cable
Tons of Feeder Cable