Though the US theatrical lighting industry is relatively young, it still has a rich and colorful history, going back to the heyday of Broadway in the 30s. Unfortunately, some of the pioneers of those early days - Jean Rosenthal, Charlie Altman, Ed Kook - have passed on before a proper record of their contributions could be kept. In an effort to properly document the full story of the theatrical and entertainment lighting industry, ESTA, USITT, Entertainment Design, Lighting Dimensions, and several lighting manufacturers have created An Oral History of Theatrical Lighting and Its People. This ongoing effort is designed to create a documented history of this industry as seen through the eyes of designers, manufacturers, distributors, consultants, and technicians. Interviews for the project will focus on tracing the impact of developing technology on the creative process.
In this section of Entertainment Design, we'll be bringing you snippets of conversations from the project. Previous interviewees were Bob Schiller and Sonny Sonnenfeld. This month, we listen in on ace interviewer Marge Romans' conversation with Joe Londin, longtime educator at Hunter College in New York and one of the founding members of USITT.
Marge Romans: Until perhaps the early 1980s, there was the question of the availability of power, and not the type of dimmer board, where you might have 150 circuits on the stage, but only 36 dimmers. So everybody had these great big patchbays. What I'm wondering is if you came into a New York theatre, let's say with 150 lights and 48 dimmers, how did you get the power to those lights when they were all 500 watts, and the dimmers were 500 watts? Did you have plugging panels that you used?
Joe Londin: Oh, yes.
Romans: And they would troupe with the show?
Romans: And you'd have one guy running that at the board, and the other guy would be the dimmer operator?
Romans: That would seem to me to take an awful lot of rehearsing to get that so they work smoothly, but you had experienced operators who really could sit down and learn a show quickly?
Londin: Right. And there was a little stupid trick. Preset one was working. The electrician had to cue number two coming up in about five minutes. So he would take a piece of chalk and mark each dimmer the preset that the handle has to come down to. On cue, he would bring down them all to these points, and then a master would dim out all of the 500W dimmers. So there was no problem. It was just a question of setting the light intensity that was planned.
Romans: And for different scenes, did you use different-colored chalk, or whatever?
Londin: No. All we did was white chalk. The handle is in this position. Now we want it in this position.
Romans: So the electrician would put a chalk mark on the rheostat, and say this is cue one, this is cue two, cue three?
Londin: No, he would wipe it out.
Romans: Oh, I see, in between each cue.
Londin: And I used to do a similar thing with the followspot. There are very, very few electricians in New York who can handle a follow spot. But it's like shooting a gun. If you don't have a telescopic lens, you don't hit your mark. I don't know whether I was the first one to do it, but I went up into the booth, and took one screw out of the spotlight. And that left a mark....
Romans: Oh, I see, there's a little beam of light going up to the ceiling.
Londin: I would chalk that. Scene one, scene two. So if it was a blackout, and scene two came up, I would move the spotlight until the iris was closed, so no light came on stage, but I had a light shining at the exact point. I said, my golly - this is simple. There's a light hitting the floor wherever you want it.
Romans: Incredible. I would like to have had the chalk concession.
LD Scott Zielinski often works in the not-for-profit world, where fees are fixed. When he said that he wants "someone who's professional to negotiate for me," ["Designing a Career," September ED, p. 16] he was referring only to those occasional times when negotiation is possible and desirable.
In the September news story about Pacific Bell Park ["They Might Be Giants," p. 8], the structural engineer for the giant baseball mitt and the mini ballpark was misidentified. It is Dick Dreyer from Culley and Associates; Attraction and Entertainment Design (AED) engineered the Coke bottle.