Give me an L! Give me an E! Give me a D! What do you get? LED, which is exactly what lighting designer Michael Gottlieb used to create saturated colors in the Off-Broadway production of Lysistrata Jones, a “cheer”-filled musical in which high-school cheerleaders take a cue from the Greek heroine, Lysistrata, to urge their boyfriends to win at least one basketball game.
“I used LEDs for a number of reasons,” says Gottlieb about this site-specific musical at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. “It is a full musical with a huge variety of moods and musical styles. The music and the choreography call for color, so I needed something that would take me there with a minimal footprint, hanging time, electrical load, and weight.” The venue, a basketball court in the church basement, was initially empty. “There was no rigging and no electricity, but the church decided to create a new Off-Broadway venue in its gym, so I was able to act as a consultant on where to put lighting positions,” adds Gottlieb. Three 20.5" box trusses are now permanent in the 36' wide x 59' deep space, providing an effective superstructure with flexibility. Power was provided via a 200A, three-phase supply for lighting and a 60A, three-phase supply for audio, with new company switches for both.
The rig from 4Wall Entertainment Lighting comprised a variety of LED fixtures: four Altman SpectraPAR 100 LED PARs in box boom positions, 18 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12TRX LED fixtures with frosted lenses (used overhead as back/down lights to color the surface of the gym floor), and six Chroma-Q Color Force 72 LED battens used as tailed-down torm sidelights. “These battens became a very prominent part of the look of the show,” says Gottlieb. “I was initially concerned they would be too dominant, but they added an architectural element to the space, and their presence enhanced the dynamic of what was going on.”
The LEDs went hand-in-hand with 85 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (two used as followspots with City Theatrical yokes) and 12 Source Four PARs. Six 1kW 18" scoops added the feeling of actual gym lighting, both over the basketball court and audience to tie the two areas together visually. The Source Fours had very little color, except for Rosco 05 (Light Rose) as frontlight and Rosco 351 (Lavender Mist) from the sides.
“Without the LEDs, it was really a monochromatic plot,” explains Gottlieb, who added saturated colors from his solid-state fixtures. “The use of the LEDs was dictated by the pop style of the show and inspired by the vivid orange and blue team colors of the Spartans basketball team. I might not make the same choices for a more naturalistic show, but I liked the having ability to light with such pure and powerful colors, and I could get a huge variety of effects by playing one color against another.”
As if using color scrollers, Gottlieb designated a palette of 18 colors for the LED fixtures. Based on existing gel colors (including Rosco 23, Lee 180, Lee 115, Lee 126, Rosco 72, and Rosco 83), his LED palette ranged from red and orange to blue and green, with the most saturated colors used for the musical scenes. “I spent a lot of time mixing the colors and getting the various fixtures to match,” he recalls. “It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth the effort; you have to be disciplined to stay true to your concept.”
An ETC Ion console was used, with 72 ETC Sensor+ dimmers and non-dim power via an extra power distribution panel for the LEDs, strobes, and a mirror ball motor. The mirror ball, used in the musical’s finale, was a nod to a much simpler style of production. “The mirror ball went from static to spinning, which is as old-fashioned as you can get, but it was the proper effect at that moment. The show is about doing things for yourself and being true, and the lighting had to reflect this,” notes Gottlieb.
“I went a little further with color than I might have in a different kind of show, yet you have to temper the LED colors with the tungsten in the Source Fours, especially on the actors,” Gottlieb adds. “Your eye likes white light and hard shadows, so you still use the same basic principles of lighting. There weren’t any scenes where it was all LEDs; they are another tool—part of the lighting rig—never just used for their own sake, but there to address a certain kind of challenge.”