Peace: It's All About Respect!, at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, marked the first use of the new Borealis fixture in a practical application. The production, which ran from November to January, showcased talents from baton twirling to singing to rhyming--all under the colorful glow of the 10 new LED fixtures. The action took place in the 99-seat theatre, which has a stadium-style setup and a sparse, bi-level stage.
Paul Dexter of A-1 Audio and Lighting Productions met with lighting designer Marc Rosenthal at LDI98 in Phoenix. Together, they decided to test drive the fixtures for this show. Dexter, who has been in the lighting business since 1973, explains that the LED technology used by the Borealis line ups its life by many thousands of hours. At a time when most bulbs max out at 2,000 hours, going brown and fuzzy around the 1,300-hour mark, an LED fixture has a potential lifespan of five years, burning 24/7 with minimal heat.
Larry McNinney, who co-developed Borealis with Phillip Scheldt and Yoichi Aoki, meshed the LED technology with manufacturing capabilities as he created the circuit boards, power supply, and enclosure (Borealis is an umbrella company for Asian manufacturer Lite Vision). McNinney and Dexter met on an Ozzy Osbourne tour in 1982, where Dexter worked as the lighting designer and McNinney the tour manager. At a recent reunion, McNinney expressed interest in finding a distributor for his Borealis brainchild, and Dexter told him about A-1, the West Coast distributor for Avolites. McNinney chose A-1 as a distributor for the product, then A-1 and Dexter chose Rosenthal to work with the fixtures for Peace. (Avolites is now distributing the product exclusively in the Americas.)
Rosenthal's company, Personal Creations, has worked with the Los Angeles Ballet and numerous concert artists. His lighting design expertise has been put to use in theme park projects like The Three Stooges at MGM Grand Theme Park in Las Vegas, and Metamorphosis at Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island. He had four Borealis fixtures on the floor for Peace, and six on the stage. An additional fixture sits in the lobby as a demo.
Rosenthal says that with a pure color beam that throws as far as 20-25' (6-8m), with no multiple shadows, the instruments work well in banks as color washing fixtures. The fairly concentrated beam helps straighten the path of the light. Dexter says, "I don't feel that they're ever going to replace any existing fixtures in stage or theatre. It's a different quality of light altogether, and more of an additional tool to existing technology."
The Borealis is an intelligent lighting fixture controlled by DMX. It has color-mixing based on red, green, and blue, operated by three handles on a console, allowing the operator to achieve any color. The word "convenient" doesn't do the LED fixture justice, says Dexter: "All it needs is power. Just plug it into the wall socket."
Because an observer can see the light coming from the fixture, it appears more high tech than traditional units. Barndoor and PAR can accessories that direct the light differently are available, allowing the user to color-mix without seeing the fixture. "It's a magically odd thing when the color on people is different than the color when you're looking right at the instrument," Rosenthal points out.
This new approach to tri-color mixing can be used to a designer's advantage. In Peace, Rosenthal's use of the Borealis caused the silver in one performer's baton to reflect the numerous colors. The fixture also accentuated and created a different quality of light in flashback scenes. In a cold-colored hospital sequence, the Borealis fixtures create a harsh and artificial fluorescent look. Traditional theatrical lighting on the performers during the scene offered a warm contrast. The white light suddenly changed into a flashing blue to slap the audience in the face, making the scene even more dramatic. Rosenthal took care to mix the Borealis fixtures with traditional stage lighting (about 50-55 instruments in total) because their light is so unusual.
Because the programmers did not have to wait for gels to scroll, they were able to create an intentionally choppy and abrupt change of lighting to set the tone, except for dance sequences, which were always smoothly illuminated. This lighting setup guided the audience through flashbacks and monologues that demonstrate the necessity of peace.
Future plans for Borealis include museum applications, to highlight antique materials with little or no damage in the long run. Rosenthal says the fixtures are also great for color bumps and flashes, making them useful for rock-and-roll touring, clubs, ballet, and opera.