The Big Apple Circus has shifted gears slightly for its latest, celebratory production, Big Apple Circus 20 Years. It's still an intimate one-ring affair, loaded with charm, but there is a sense that the circus has matured a bit in reaching this milestone year. With a new director, Guy Charon from the Cirque du Soleil (who shares directorial credit with Big Apple's co-founder and creative director Michael Christensen), and a new lighting designer, Sarah Sidman, there's also a new look under the Big Apple big top.
"This year there was a new way of putting the show together," says Sidman, who worked as an assistant to LD Jan Kroeze for the past two Big Apple seasons. The circus has bought land in Walden, NY, where they resided for a six-week rehearsal period before opening in Reston, VA, last September. "We had more time to rehearse and a longer tech period," Sidman points out. "In past years there were rules, such as no templates for the horses and no bright light for the elephants. Now we have added darker light and fog for the horses. We had the time for them to get used to new things."
The new production opens with white horses running loose in a ring full of fog, where a feeling of nostalgia prevails (above). Sidman starts with Lee 205 color correction for a warm tone, and templates to help create atmosphere. As the horses enter, she adds maroon (Lee 127), red (Rosco 27), and coral (GAM 335), then a loop of cues adds and subtracts additional colors including blue (Lee 120) and lavender (Lee 170). "This took a great deal of faith on the part of the equestrian director," Sidman admits.
Adding moving lights to the Big Apple rig for the first time, Sidman hung four High End Systems Studio Color(R) automated luminaires on the tent poles or masts which double as lighting trees. "The Studio Colors seemed most durable for the tour and the conditions in a dusty tent," says Sidman. She uses the movement to "make sure everybody has something interesting to look at from each perspective." The Studio Colors are also used to follow certain performers, and as uplight during the aerial acts. Sidman also added Reel EFX DF-50 haze makers to help see the shape of the lights as well as the shape and dimension of the performing arena.
"I'm not a fan of bright white light," says Sidman. "I have to find a way to keep it interesting. You also need to adjust the light to keep within the spirit of each act." For acrobats in copper costumes, she uses reds, golds, and aqua to "play with the shimmer off their bodies." For a take-off on Men in Black, Sidman hung nine ETC Source Four PARs (three rows of three) on a rolling rack pushed into position behind the entryway curtain by the deck electrician.
Production Arts supplied the lighting gear. The control console is an ETC Expression 2X with racks of ETC Sensor dimmers. After the Big Apple's New York City season closes on January 11, an East Coast tour begins in March and continues through the summer months.