When you design the lighting for a show, one of the most important aspects is specifying the equipment you want to use. A professional shop order communicates your needs and intentions with a minimum of confusion, and writing one is easy once you know how to organize it.
In its simplest terms, a shop order is a list of everything you need to implement your lighting design. The shop order tells your electrician and general manager what they need to get for you, by renting, buying, or building. If the equipment is to be rented, the shop order is submitted to a rental shop for a bid.
The first principle to remember is that a shop order is a legally binding contract. If you want something, put it on the list. If not, it probably won't be provided, and it can be mighty hard to prove that you wanted something if you didn't say so in writing.
It's also important to remember that the shop order the designer submits is far from the last word on the equipment. A smart designer knows which items he (or she) needs to be very specific about requiring and which items are best left for the show's electrician to specify. However, if you are serving as your own electrician, you will need to include much more detail on the shop order than if you are just the designer. Actually, if you are the electrician, you really will need to include every scrap and tittle, right down to the tiniest nut and bolt! Designers are lucky: they get to skip some of the details.
Over the years, a standard format for shop orders has evolved and is preferred by most shops, electricians, and designers. As we talk through the various aspects of writing a shop order, you'll see why this format is so important.
Title Page For starters, most shop orders are invariably titled "equipment list" instead of "shop order." I haven't a clue why, but if you want to look professional, use "equipment list" and then make sure your shop order includes much more than just a list of equipment.
The first page of a standard shop order is always the title page, which includes:
The name of the show.
The date the shop order was written (in case there have been revisions or multiple productions of the show).
The designer's name, phone number, and address (so that everyone can call you with questions to clarify what you want or to ask you about possible substitutions).
The general manager's name, address, and phone number (the shop needs to know who to send the bid to, and who will be writing the checks that pay for everything).
The electrician's name and phone number (since he or she will be intimately involved with all of the mind-numbing details of coordinating and connecting all the various things you want to use).
The date the equipment needs to load out of the rental shop and/or the date the equipment must arrive at the theatre. (If the shop is providing trucking, they need to know when you need it to arrive. Otherwise, they need to know when the trucking company will be picking it up.)
The closing date - if the equipment is for a show with a limited run. The rental bid may take the length of the run into account. Generally, the first three weeks of a rental go for a sizable flat rate, which then drops to a lower weekly rate starting with the fourth week, but a short run will very likely change this.
General Conditions Notes Although the "general conditions" are usually shown in fine print at the bottom of the title page, they are extremely important. Some cover safety issues, others lay out your standards for quality. Particularly important are phrases like "all units to come with lamp, C-clamp, and safety cable." If you don't specify lamps or C-clamps for the lights, the shop will not automatically supply them. Why not? Because in the shop, the lights are often stored without lamps (because the wattage is sometimes variable), and since many times lights are hung from side arms or other devices, the yokes are left bare. By including "lamps, clamps, and color frames" in the general conditions, you won't have to include them every time you list a light in the rest of the shop order.
These notes also frequently cover your butt. Phrases like "Entire package is to be made ready by the supplier and is to words, you put the responsibility on the shop for including everything that really is needed to make it work. Good shops know this and do it as a matter of course, but others will blame you for not specifying the esoteric box that makes their dimmers work with the console you've chosen.
The art of writing a shop order comes in knowing how much to say and how to say it. If you say too much, too precisely, then the shop will assume you know what you're doing and will give you precisely what you listed. However, by saying which console and dimmers you want and then saying that the shop is responsible for making them work together, you make the shop responsible for figuring out and providing your show with all the things it needs to work.
Other golden phrases include "Absolutely no substitutions without written permission of designer," and "Any revisions or substitutions must be fully disclosed at time of bid." Your idea of a suitable replacement might well be light years away from what a hard-pressed rental salesperson considers acceptable.
And finally, you need to state very clearly what you are not an expert at, such as rigging and safety issues. A phrase such as "Designer assumes no responsibility for structural or electrical safety and engineering, and will make changes as needed to accommodate such requirements" can be very important in our litigious age.
Equipment Summary The second section of the shop order is a short list summarizing the major elements of your order. This section is used by the rental shop to get a quick idea of the size of your show and to help them put a bid together quickly.
The number of lights and their types, the console, the number and sizes of dimmers, and any other expensive items (such as radio dimmers or multicable) are included, because they influence the cost of the rental significantly. Accessories, hardware, and standard cable are not included in this section of the shop order, and things such as lamp wattages and perishables are also left out of this section.
Because this section is used only as a general guide for bidding, it is not definitive. It's provided by you purely as a help to the shop, and you can omit it if you're pressed for time. However, it's absolutely vital to include a note at the beginning of this section saying that the list is not definitive and is for reference use only.
Equipment Breakdown This is the real heart of the shop order. This section lists everything you want for the show, broken down by where it will be needed. The list follows the same order your instrument schedule would follow: Front-of-house, then overhead onstage electrics, to sidelights, to floor units, and then practicals, and other set mounts. By breaking the list down this way, the shop and your electrician can pack the lights into appropriate crates, they can better understand what you're doing (and can spot possible errors you've made), and they might be able to help you by suggesting better ways of doing things.
Here's an example:
No. 2 Electric
(2) 19ø Source Fours, 575W
(6) PAR-64 MFL, 1kW
(3) Wybron ColorRams for PAR-64s
(2) Mini-Ten 500W (used as worklight), with switch at stage manager's desk
(1) 21' pipe with hardware to clamp to existing grid pipes
Scroller control cable and power supplies as needed
Showing the equipment broken down by position makes several things clear: where each piece of equipment is to be used; that the electrician must order enough control cable for the scrollers; that this position must be rigged before lights can be hung; and that the pip shouldn't rotate during focus (hence the stiffeners). In the case of booms and goalposts, their location in the theatre can dramatically affect the specifics of what is needed for support and service.
If this same equipment was merely included in a summary list, the electrician and the shop would have to study your drafted light plot to discover most of this information, and some things (like jumpers, control cable, and stiffeners) would never be connected with where they're needed.
You can also see from this breakdown that two worklights are needed. The electrician will then provide the appropriate cable and switches for the stage manager to turn them on and off without involving the dimmer racks or the console. This is the kind of essential information that doesn't show up on your light plot, but needs to be included in the shop order.
Some things to watch out for:
Lights. Do you need top hats? Half hats? Color extenders? Barndoors? Donuts? Template holders? Side arms or C-clamps? Tees for side arms? Effects wheels? Safety cables? Color frames? Color scrollers? What wattages? If PAR cans, what beam spread (VNSP/NSP/MFL/WFL)? Lights are usually supplied with standard three-pin stage plugs; if you need twist locks, be sure to ask for the necessary adapters (including nib-in or nib-out).
Striplights. Make sure you are very specific about your striplights. Do you want them hung from a pipe or do you want them to sit on the deck? If you want them to hang from a pipe, you'll need "hanger irons with C-clamps." If they're sitting on the deck, you may want them to be stationary, in which case you'll want "with trunions"; if you plan to move them during the show, you'll need "with castered trunions."
Striplights also come in a bewildering variety of sizes and configurations. Be absolutely clear. Just saying you want an 8'-twelve-light R-40 striplight won't do it, because it could be either three or four circuits. And what kind of R-40s? Spots? Flood? 75W? 150W? 300W? Do you want flippers for them? Single or double? If single, on which side do you want them - upstage or downstage?
Booms. Be sure you say how tall you want each boom, and whether you want the pipe cut to exactly the length you specify or if the length is simply a minimum. If you don't say, you'll probably receive whatever pipe the shop has on hand. If your carpenter will be securing safeties to the top of the boom (and he should), be sure to ask for a "ring tie top." If you don't want the booms to twist on their threads, specify "locking hardware." Specify whether you want a "50lb base" or a "flange base" (or whatever).
Electrics pipes. If you're going into a hemp house (or any other space without pipes), you will need to specify the actual pipe that makes up the electric, so be sure to order it (and say which diameter you want). It can also be smart to say, "Schedule 40 black steel pipe" if you're at all in doubt as to what the shop might provide. If the system pipes in a counterweight house aren't long enough, put the pipe needed to extend them on the shop order. Do you need bumpers? Is the pipe really going to be a truss? If so, what kind of truss? Triangle? Square? Twelve-inch? Twenty-four-inch? Be specific. How is the truss going to hang? If nothing else, say, "Rigging hardware as needed" if you don't have a firm opinion. At least you've told the shop to be ready to supply something.
You may also need "Zetex borders," the modern replacement for asbestos. If so, be sure to specify what length and height. Zetex doesn't come in black, so if you absolutely need it black, say so.
Set mounts. If you plan to mount lights on pieces of scenery, be specific about how you want it done. If you don't have any idea at all, say something like, "hardware to mount to scenery per electrician," which at least tells your electrician to think of something and makes the shop include the cost of the hardware in its bid. Also be sure to include cable for these lights, even though the actual length of the cable is normally up to your electrician.
Cable. Generally, you can leave specific quantities and lengths of cable up to your electrician. However, if you want anything other than plain old stage cable, say so. If you need multicable, say exactly how many circuits for each (six or 12) and what length. It's also wise to specify "Pyle National connectors" for multicable so that the shop knows you want the kind that connects directly into the dimmer racks. Some shops will tape regular cable together into bundles and call it "multicable." If you specify the Pyle National connector, you're much more assured of getting what you want. Of course, if the dimmer racks don't use Pyle National connectors, asking for them might get you into trouble, so perhaps a phrase such as "Pyle National connectors or other as specified by electrician" will get you off the hook and make the details your electrician's responsibility
Because multicable is expensive, you will almost certainly get no more than what you specify on the shop order, even if the electrician discovers you need longer runs later. That doesn't mean the shop won't get you the longer runs, but it does mean they'll want more money for them.
Dimmers and Control After you've listed the equipment in each position, there is a section for dimmers and control. This is where you specify how many dimmers of each capacity you want as well as what kind of console you want to use.
Here is a fairly typical entry:
(2) racks of 48x2.4kW (racks of 96 are not acceptable)
(4) racks of 24x1.2kW
(1) ETC Obsession 600 with appropriate monitors for electrician
(2) Obsession monitors for production table (through entire preview period), with cables and interfaces as needed
(1) power regulator/spike protector for Obsession
(1) High-speed (300cps minimum) printer for console (to be returned after opening)
Control cable for scrollers
DMX512 opto repeaters, protocol converters, and other power supplies and interfaces as needed for scrollers, dimmers, console, etc.
You can see from this that the designer wants small racks, perhaps so that they can be more easily hoisted up into the dimmer room or to fit through an unusually small door. He also plans to use the console monitors through previews, either during performances and/or daytime rehearsals.
A power regulator is essential, and a printer is a (relatively) quick way to record cues onto paper for backup or posterity. Having the show on floppy disks isn't any good if you have to replace the console suddenly one night with a different model that doesn't take your disks!
And once again, showing that you're aware that things like opto repeaters are needed is important, but leave the details needed "to comprise a complete working system" to the shop and your electrician.
Miscellany This section is for all the other things that you might need that don't fit anywhere else. Things like ladders, Genie lifts, a particular size and shape of production table, or lights for it, or power outlets, or a computer. Better to say it now than cry later.
Spare Equipment. Unless you're doing a show that you've done before, you will probably want to have a few spare lights on hand for the inevitable changes. Some designers simply ask for "Spare units, all types," some will want "10% spares," and many will provide a detailed list; it depends on what they want to be sure of having. If the production electrician has worked with the designer a lot, he will know what kinds of spares the designer will want. Otherwise, be specific if you care.
Perishables and Purchases. Perishables include things like duct tape, color media, floppy disks, printer paper, tie line, and all the other things that electricians and assistants need. Best to simply say "perishables per electrician" as one of your general conditions on the title page.
If you need something that isn't normally available as a rental, it will need to be bought for the show. If something needs to be built but not rented, include it on the list here. If you don't want the electrics shop to provide it, include it on the shop order but say who's building it and that you don't want it included in the bid. That way you've told everybody you need it and where you plan to get it.
That's really all there is to doing a proper complete "Broadway style" shop order. Just be very clear and aware of what you're saying. Be prepared, know what you want, and know what you don't know.
Call your electrician and make sure he or she is on the same wavelength as you. That way the electrician can be prepared with the things you forgot, know what he or she wants and what you want, even if you didn't say it in the order, and know what you don't know, so he (or she) can make you look good in the theatre.
Then sit back, relax, and create great art in four hours or less, while everyone at the production table breathes down your neck and makes suggestions for "improvements."