It wouldn't be Christmas without Mannheim Steamroller. The distinctive ensemble is marking the 29th anniversary of its Christmas concert tours with a multimedia display featuring a light show and big-screen images and videos synchronized with their music. Lighting designer Richard Jackson has included Clay Paky Sharpy Washes in his rig for the first time along with an MDG Atmosphere hazer and grandMA2 Light console. A.C.T Lighting is the exclusive distributor of all of those brands in North America.
Mannheim Steamroller debuted their first Christmas album in 1984 combining the group's signature mix of baroque instruments and rock 'n roll beats to give a fresh twist to holiday classics. This year two tours of six-member ensembles are playing 80 dates on a Christmas tour running from mid-November to late December.
"Mannheim Steamroller is the longest-running, best-selling Christmas show of all time," declares Jackson, who has been the tour's lighting designer for the last five years. "I design the show with the production manager and lighting director for the other tour. I go out with one of the tours and do all the programming as well."
This year Jackson opted for 16 Sharpy Washes, from long-time Omaha-based equipment supplier TMS, as his primary wash units. "Thanks to the versatility of the light, they have become workhorses," he says. "We have ten in the air and six on the ground. They do a lot of graphical stuff, high-beam stuff. I can go from a wide wash with great smooth coverage from ten of them then tighten them up and get nice beamy graphical stuff.
"What I really like about them is that they work great in the range of venues we play - from a small place with low trim to a big college auditorium or arena," says Jackson. "I also like their speed - not just movement speed but the ability to change from a color wheel effect to a color mix wash almost instantly. They have also lowered my power consumption, which is I great. I think they're fantastic!"
Controlling the lights is a grandMA2 light, Jackson's "console of choice." A veteran grandMA user, he made the switch to grandMA2 Light on last year's tour. "The power of the desk is great, and the software is extremely intuitive and very easy to use," he says. "We can create a lot of things a lot faster; I can program complicated things and it's always rock solid."
Jackson, who is president of Last Minute Lighting, LLC, took advantage of running grandMA 3D on his own command wing to do previs for the tour. "grandMA 3D is a major tool, an absolutely wonderful tool that I use for all my jobs," he says. "I did previs at home on my command wing to start programming, cloning fixtures and solving problems. It was great to get a feel for the desk. Then I spent a week at TMS while the crews were prepping the system to wrap up previs on the console we took on the road."
Also on the tour is an MDG Atmosphere hazer, which Jackson calls "TMS's go-to hazer - and my favorite hazer as well. I love that we can get it every year. It's quiet, which is very important. And there's no mess with it. I don't get any complaints about using oily equipment. It's really nice how it creates haze that hangs in the air, too. It lasts a lot longer than haze manufactured by other hazers. I can fill the room up, turn off the machine and still have haze in the air for an hour or more."
Jackson seems to have struck just the right note for the Christmas tour with his trio of Clay Paky, MDG and grandMA equipment. "All the gear has performed flawlessly even in the extreme temperature changes we experience," he reports.
The LDs for the two tours are Richard Jackson and Patrick Haines and the lighting techs are Justin Borgelt, Tony Gibson and Andrew Shaw.
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