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The Grant Park Election Night Rally was a momentous event broadcast live around the globe on November 4, 2008. Over 120,000 people gathered in the park to hear President Elect Obama speak after he was elected the 44th President of the United States. From the first discussions with the Obama campaign, lighting designer Robert W. Peterson’s directives were concise: We were to elegantly transfer from the exuberance of the campaign into the seriousness of the Presidency.

The challenges were many. We needed to provide lighting to the main podium, stage, and a large park full of people, while controlling exposures and maintaining broad, unencumbered vistas that would allow composition of shots that included the dramatic Chicago skyline. These tasks were to be aggravated by a near-field light level that would be brought higher by more than 100 worldwide news organizations’ light kits placed on the press risers directly in front of the podium.

Rather than attempt to climb over all this contamination, we embraced these sources as a very large soft fill-light. We then feathered in automated lighting and out further still, layered in with Musco lights. Lastly, we cut in the trees that create the perimeter of the actual park. Lighting director Jim Gedwellas did an excellent job feathering level and color temperature from the stage edge to the far corners of the tree-lined crowd.

The Secret Service brought in two 10’x8’x6” slabs of laminated glass the morning of the event, and placed them to the left and right sides of the podium. This unprecedented and unplanned addition obstructed our long angle fill, so we negotiated in low-angle footlight. The combination of this footlight and the “super soft light” created in the media tent contributed a wonderful glow to the event.

Simplicity and elegance were our goals on stage. We worked to maintain scenic depth on the flags, walls, and podium through a combination of alternating cool hard and soft warm white uplights. Associate designer Monica Rose meticulously balanced the followspots and fills to assure the President Elect, his family, and the Bidens were evenly illuminated, despite the significant variations in throw distance encountered.

The middle ground audience lighting was delivered with the Martin MAC 2000 Wash XB luminaire. Vari-Lite VL3500 Spots were used on the near “ringside” audience. Six Syncrolite SXB-5/2s were placed in the deep background near Lake Shore Drive to provide brilliant beams framing out the centerline wides. All the lighting was operated by lighting director Kevin Lawson on an MA Lighting grandMA.

It was an historic event, and all involved were truly honored to contribute. Working closely with Christie Lites account representative Robert Roth, Bob Peterson chose each teammate for work ethic and experience. With the professional support of Local 2, IATSE, the team exceeded expectations. The pictures that we illuminated that day will be seen for generations to come, and for that alone, we are all very proud of our accomplishment.

Design Team
Scenic designer: Bruce Rodgers
Account executive: Robert Roth, Christie Lites
Lighting designer: Robert W. Peterson
Associate lighting designer: Monica Rose
Lighting directors: Kevin Lawson, Jim Gedwellas
Project manager: Michael T. Goodwin
Gaffer: David Hunkins
Lighting lead: David Harr
Lighting lead: Kurt Kalivoda
Rigging lead: Brian Knight
Synchro lead: Eric Braudaway
Musco techs: Joe Dursky, Derek Davis, John Dvorak

Equipment List
3 80' Stageco Towers, Eagles Nest
2 60' Stageco Towers
72 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash XB
24 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500S
6 Sycrolite SXB-5/2
29 MR16 2' Strip
53 Orion Ground Cell
4 Strong Xenon Gladiator III 3kW FS
2 Strong Super Trouper II 2kW FS
96 ETC Sensor+ 2.4kW Dimmer Rack
3 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazer
3 Martin/Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass
2 Musco Type C Light Trucks
2 MA Lighting grandMA