Limited money and lights need not stifle creativity when designing intimate shows
Typical two-truss configuration. Right: Those same lights, creatively re-configured with a few low-cost "extras." (Click on image for larger view.)
SO YOUR PRODUCTION MANAGER rings you up one day and explains that your band has booked a one-off show at some nameless theater in Podunk as a favor for an old friend, some new cause, whatever. The only thing you can be assured of: There is little or no money for production. The promoter can get you a typical 120kW PAR64 pre-rigged truss with a couple of moles. You, being the band's lighting director, must contact so-and-so from local lighting company such-and-such to spec your gear.
Normally, typical two-truss systems consist of 8ft. sections of truss with six lamp bars of PAR64s mounted inside them. They bore the hell out of me, but they don't have to. If you use your imagination, you can get a huge look out of the same lights used in a standard, pre-rigged, truss configuration.
First, I call the local lighting company and establish a relationship with whomever will be working the gig. As in many things, it's important to be nice to this person, particularly because you are about to ask him or her to perform some extra work for your benefit. By turning on the charm, I can usually obtain some extra lighting fixtures, sometimes talking this person into bringing out strobes or older moving lights that are currently sitting in the back of the shop, not doing anything that weekend anyway. Lighting companies tend to be accommodating to LDs most of the time simply because they want our business in the future.
The first trick I use is to hang the six lamp bars in weird places on the truss. For instance, if the lamp bars are hanging in a pre-rigged truss, remove the five upstage bars — take them right out of the truss. Then, attach a cheseboro (a double-sided clamp used to attach two pipes) at one end of the bar, by the multi-connector. Next, attach the other end of the cheseboro to the offstage/bottom edge of the truss.
Suddenly, you have two truss torms (simple banks of lighting instruments suspended in a vertical row, and most often used as side-lighting in theaters). Because this looks cool, you may want to double this up so that there are four torms hanging down.
It is important to think about how you are going to focus these instruments ahead of time. If you have a ladder, no problem. Otherwise, you may need to get a good pre-focus on them before the truss goes up.
Another neat thing to do is to hang the six lamp bars on the front face of the truss. Using cheseboros, connect one part of the lamp bar to the top front of the truss, and the other to the bottom of the truss. Get creative and hang them at different angles.
With only 120kW of light, I hate to waste half of my rig as front light on the band. The people in the audience never see the front truss beams because they focus away from their eyes. I tend to use five or six 6kW washes of PARs from the front truss only. Move the other lamp bars to the rear truss, where you can make your rig look bigger.
Around this point of the job, I usually try to buddy up with the guy from the lighting company. Ask him if he's got any other kind of lights hanging around his shop. Perhaps he's got some lekos that aren't doing anything right now. They make great specials for the front truss. Or put a few on the rear truss. Ask him if he's got any old breakup gobo patterns he can throw in.
Almost all light companies own some sort of cyc light. See if they've got three or four of them lying around. Hang them from the rear truss, where you took out the other six lamp bars and point them downstage. Cyc lights make great-big wideband washes.
Last but not least, see if the local company can toss in some floor lights. A couple of bars of ACLs or some loose PARs on floor stands will help fill out your look.
Nook Schoenfeld is a 20-year veteran of the concert touring industry. He divides his time between teaching lighting and designing lighting for concert and corporate events. Email at email@example.com.