Electronic Theatre Controls promotes its Source Four jr as a "smaller, lighter, and brighter choice of lighting fixture." The Source Four jr is also a smart choice for those of us working in small, non-traditional spaces with tight budgets, limited power distribution, and inexperienced crews.
When asked to test the Source Four jr, I insisted that it be examined in the context of process and performance, rather than an academic regurgitation of data sheets. I wanted to see how these units performed in quality of light, dimmer response, color temperature, pattern work, and physical manipulation and handling. Most importantly, I wanted to see how the Source Four jr could be integrated with fixtures I had been working with for a long time, fixtures that are the backbone of institutional lighting inventories and classroom instruction.
Incorporating Source Four jrs into a light plot for Sibling Species, a new play written and directed by Rachel Slavick of Chicago, presented an opportunity to challenge the fixtures. The production was mounted in the Grinnell College Flanagan Arena Theatre, a 34'x36' (10.4x11m) black-box theatre with an 11' (3.4m) ceiling, a space familiar to many small colleges, high schools, and experimental theatres. The set design for Sibling Species was minimalistic: black cubes and three video monitors. Lighting imagery transported us through the jungles of the Amazon, into a one-room apartment, and to several surreal evangelical meetings and symbolic transformations.
Twelve Source Four jrs were incorporated into a 67-unit plot, of which 27 fixtures had templates. Existing inventory fixtures in this space include 750W Kliegl and Altman fresnels, 750W Berkey Colortran 20/30/40 variable-focus ellipsoidals, 500W Colortran 30/40/50 variable-focus minis, and 1kW Altman PAR cans. Four 36-degree Source Four jrs were template units for jungle foliage and keylight for daylight jungle scenes, cued in combination with fresnels and minis, and another four were 26-degree units used as window specials with venetian blind templates. These fixtures were also used as tight spot head specials, cued with combinations of all the existing inventory. The last set of Source Four jrs were 50-degree units. These became jungle leaf template units to front fill all the night scenes in the play and were used in combination with a deep blue 1kW PAR can wash.
The Source Four jr has the same optical system as the Source Four, but smaller. Its output is about 24% less than its big brother and is specifically designed for use in short-throw venues. With that in mind, I felt the jrs were integrated into a typical, and fair, comparative scenario.
The quality of light produced by the Source Four jr is exceptional: clean, clear, and surprisingly soft on the actors' faces. Integrating them through focus and cueing with the higher wattage ellipsoidals was never a problem. The response of the lamp was also exceptional; never before had I used one that responded so well between the levels of 12% and 22%. Its sensitivity allowed the opportunity for more subtle cueing and undulating color shifts in a very intimate environment.
The minimal amount of backspill eliminated the usual problem of ambient light in the room, while the cosine beam distribution provided an even field with or without a template in the slot. Templates did not affect visible transmission factors. In contrast to the existing inventory, it was evident that the quality of light was superior and color temperature was compatible, allowing an ease of integration with existing units.
The Source Four jr also has features that are extremely helpful for the technician. Crewmembers no longer have to struggle with red-hot templates; venetian blind templates no longer warp and burn. For the first time, template inventories can be overhead items rather than perishables. These units are so cool at the gate that it is difficult to distinguish between used and new templates. Gel burnout is also diminished.
The attention to detail makes the jr an ideal instructional tool. Safety and learning are always coupled with process and product, and in this area, ETC has made useful and intelligent choices. The spring-loaded gel clip allows for easy and fast gel changes. Clearly labeled degree designation on the unit eradicates countless questions, color coding schemes, and selection errors. The alignment knob at the back of the unit is accessible and simple to use. The grip on the shutters is designed for maximum control. And the pigtail coming from the underside of the unit is very helpful in telling the student which way is up--how many of us are constantly amazed at the ability of our technicians to hang units upside-down?
The safety cable connection allows a permanent safety cable installation to the unit rather than the yoke, and the length of the gel holders allows the unit to rest on its nose when on the floor. The side bolt and disk combination for locking the unit tilt is a great improvement; students will not have to reach for wrenches to tighten or strip side bolts. Lamp replacement is easy to do on the ladder, with a spring-loaded lamp housing and a housing retaining ring on the brass screw; no more gaskets to lose or brass screws to drop.
Room for mechanical improvements on these units exist. First, although the dichroic reflector helps the heat loss at the gate and front of the fixture, the back and sides still get quite hot. For the inexperienced, it is not wise to leave your gloves on the floor. Assuming that your gloves are on, the focus knob can be difficult to grab due to its small size. With no barrel to hang on to, this knob becomes your only control of the lenses. A larger knob would help immensely.
Second, the set screw on the side of the C-clamp (suicide bolt) is always the first to be broken off by well-meaning, overzealous, and inexperienced technicians. A handle-style side bolt would be an advantage, though it might increase the cost. The only other considerations are that the size M templates for these units are not as frequently listed in theatrical supply catalogs, and as with all cosine beam fields, blending overlapping or abutting pools of light still requires the use of diffusion filters (primarily Roscolux 119 or equivalents).
When dealing with multiple production spaces, flexibility, affordability, and durability are factors one needs to consider. Grinnell College has two theatres: the black box previously mentioned, and a 435-seat auditorium. The ability to transport lighting fixtures between venues is critical. Designed for a short throw distance, the jr is just as efficient in an 11' (3.4m) room as it is in a mid-size theatre with throws up to 30' (9.1m). Our theatres are equipped with state-of-the-art dimming and computer boards; power distribution and control is not a factor. However, these are vitally important when you take the Source Four jr into the light lab or classroom setting.
Here the flexibility of the unit is paramount. It is in these spaces where you are often working with small dimmer packs powered from 20A wall outlets. With the 575W lamp technology, classroom setups can double their potential inventory using existing small control systems. This creates many possibilities in the light lab or rehearsal hall without blowing the breakers in the janitor's closet!
The $225 list price of these units is as welcome as their flexibility. Since using them in production, I ordered a small dimming and control system for our local high school. Using the Source Four jr as the primary fixture, the school was able to afford twice the units for the same small budget. Electrical efficiency also translates into savings, and those gained by replacing existing inventories with the new 575W lamp technology can save thousands of dollars and kilowatts over time. This makes the Source Four jr an investment, rather than a mere expenditure.
The unit is built to last. At a compact 12lb (5.4kg), with C-clamp, the unit is extremely manageable on and off a ladder. The only plastic on the unit is the shutter grips, which are riveted and small enough not to snap if caught. The glass reflector and lamp housing are well-protected; nothing can fall into the back of the unit, and there are no clips, flanges, or hinges to fall off or fall apart if accidentally pushed or hit.
Quite frankly, the Source Four jr makes teaching and production easy at a unit- and energy-saving cost. In their Source Four jr advertisement, ETC simply states, "No Compromises." Except for some very minor points, the company is absolutely right.
Scenic and lighting designer Pip Gordon, originally from New Zealand, has studied and practiced design in the United States since 1980. In 1989, she was the winner of the National American College Theatre Festival design competition held at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. As a teacher of design, Gordon was on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Iowa. She presently teaches and designs for Grinnell College, and is the founding member and managing director of Grinnell Productions Inc., a professional theatre company based in Grinnell, IA.