The union of religion and entertainment is hardly anything new. However, there may be nothing in the US quite like Sight & Sound, located in Strasburg, PA. Its mission: "To present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of our customers, guests, and fellow workers by visualizing and dramatizing the scriptures through inspirational productions, encouraging others, and seeking always to be dedicated and wise stewards of our God-given talents and resources." To this end, the company, which is non-denominational, develops, designs, builds, and stages its own shows, in two theatres, the Living Waters and the Millennium.
The Millennium Theatre opened last September, as a replacement for the company's Entertainment Center, which burned down in January 1997. The new venue, which seats 2,069 patrons, is a behemoth; according to David Neupauer, the company's general manager, "There's about 18,000 sq. ft. [1,620 sq. m] of deck space on the main stage and 2,000 sq. ft. [180 sq. m] on the two side stages." The current production, Noah, is an epic retelling of the Bible story, employing 100,000lb of scenery. The lighting requirements are enormous as well. According to Joe Basinger, the production's LD, Noah requires 1,546 conventional units by ETC, plus 39 Clay Paky Stage Scans, 13 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), 12 Lycian followspots, and 53 Wybron Forerunner scrollers.
Naturally, the production generated enormous challenges. Perhaps the biggest is the long second act sequence set in the interior of Noah's ark (pictured). "There are seven different set pieces, about 40' long (12m)," says Basinger. "Five of them separate and float on air casters. We had to put junction boxes on each set, with multi-connectors, DMX connectors, and hot connectors on each one. They can't be daisy-chained together because the set change happens too quickly, so the deck electricians have to plug in each unit separately. We use three 96-dimmer racks just to power the ark interior."
The LD adds that the first appearance of the ark interior is one of the production's highlights. "When Act II opens, it goes completely black, then I have cool shafts of light coming into the audience and on the main stage. You can barely see what's going on. Then, as Noah lights the altar in the ark, I start at the center of the set and do a step build--the lighting slowly wraps around 300' (91m). When the lights get up to full, the audience goes nuts."
The show begins with a prologue, which suggests the creation of the world and leads into the Garden of Eden. "We show off the Stage Scans in the creation scene, using their prism effect on a 40'x100' (12x30m) white screen." A number of Stage Scans are built into the front of the stage, "so we have some nice beamage coming from the floor." During the storm sequence, as the ark lifts off, Basinger has the Stage Scans rock back and forth to imitate the movement of the boat. The storm is enhanced with Jauchem & Meeh 1k strobes and Diversitronics strobes for different lightning looks.
The LD notes that the Studio Colors are used for set washes, then adds, "I use them for a scene where the rain has stopped and Noah runs up to the top level of the ark. He opens the large window up there very slowly. Then I have a huge sunlight effect that rolls across the interior ark--the Studio Colors move across the whole set, onto the side stage, to make it look like the sun has burst through the window." Both lights are used for the moment when a rainbow, the sign of God's promise to never again destroy the world by flood, appears in the sky. The rainbow itself is a slide projection, says Basinger, but "when it appears, I go into some rainbow prisms in the Stage Scans, with multiple colors in the Studio Colors."
One of the theatre's most notable aspects is its catwalk system which is designed, says Basinger, "to get anywhere during show conditions and to get as many lighting angles as possible, without having to put a bunch of trussing and chain motors everywhere over the house. There's a grid over the main stage that holds five triangle trusses that are 108' (33m) long. There's also a 120' (37m) followspot truss attached to the grid; there are three [Lycian] followspots on it that can move anywhere to get different positions." Jim Weaver, the theatre's technical service manager, adds, "The catwalk is designed like a spider, with a central area and legs going out to the corners of the theatre to allow lighting angles for both the main and side stages."
Noah is controlled by an Obsession II console from ETC and a Wholehog II from Flying Pig Systems. The lighting package was supplied by Production Arts. Basinger adds that he creates his king-sized lighting plots on Softplot, from Crescit Software. Speaking of the project's size, Andrew Nikel, project coordinator from Production Arts, says, "Have we done jobs this big? Yeah. But not too many bigger."
But then, Nikel notes, what really makes Sight & Sound unique is the people involved. "They believe in what they're doing. It's their faith, and this is how they express it."