After amassing a personal library of several decades worth of old copies of Theatre Crafts, Lighting Dimensions, and every product catalog she had ever run across, lighting designer Dawn Chiang finally filed them all under “R” for Recycling, rather than pack them up when she moved house last year. “I was able to dump stacks and stacks,” she says.
Now instead of flicking through magazines for sources, Chiang finds current vendors and manufacturers on the Internet, especially ESTA.org. One drawback with the Internet is that it can be too up-to-date, so Chiang kept a few older catalogs. “I occasionally run across a regional theatre with older equipment that would be considered obsolete, and it's great to have the original product cut sheets. Some of the places I've gone to have fixtures as old as a Kliegl 1355, which is from at least 30 years ago, if not more.” Another research tool she finds handy is the Photometrics Handbook, (2nd edition, Robert C. Mumm), which has information on current fixtures as well as some of the vintage pieces she finds on the road.
Another Website Chiang finds fascinating for looking things up is the League of American Theatres and Producers at www.Broadway.org, and the searchable Internet Broadway Database that lists the cast and crew for an astonishing number of shows that have opened on Broadway.
Like many designers, the New York Library for the Performing Arts is invaluable for Chiang's research and for her budget. “If I'm working on an opera or musical, I can go to the library and listen to any number of different versions of it without having to spend a lot of money to listen to them at home.”
The film collection available at the library is so extensive that while working on her first Athol Fugard play, Master Harold… and the Boys, Chiang was able to watch a video of one of his works that played off-Broadway to get a sense of the rhythm of his productions. Chiang has also given material to the library for other designers, scholars, and theatre historians to use. While working for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS flea market, one of theatrical lighting pioneer Jean Rosenthal's former assistants gave Chiang several boxes of Rosenthal's files. Chiang says, “Now, other people can look at her original designs and telegrams that she sent to famous people about famous productions that she lit. Even carbon copies of some her paperwork.”
Chiang routinely looks outside her industry for solutions. While working on Busker Alley with Richard Pilbrow, Chiang's moving lights programmer was using binoculars to look over her shoulder at her computer screen. To spare him the inconvenience and link several computers in different parts of the theatre, she used Timbuktu Pro, an off-the-shelf software product that was used mainly by tech support staff at the time.
Despite eagerly adopting emerging technologies, and in some instances being instrumental in the creation of new ones (Chiang was on the design team with Jules Fisher when they invented the ministrip for the national tour of La Cages aux Folles), she finds that the best resources are often human. She has an extensive business card collection from trade shows and events and says, “Sometimes I'm thinking about something and I think, ‘Oh yeah, I should call so-and-so from LDI 2000.’ People are the most amazing resources.”
If you have any secrets you want to share with the world, contact Kinnersley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Entertainment Services & Technology Association: www.esta.org
- New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: www.nypl.org/research/lpa/lpa.html
- League of American Theatres and Producers: www.Broadway.org
- Internet Broadway Database: www.ibdb.com
- Photometrics Handbook, 2nd Ed., by Robert C. Mumm: available at www.amazon.com
- Timbuktu Pro: www.netopia.com