Read part 1 of our discussion with Hugh Vanstone on Matilda The Musical if you haven't already.
Live Design: Were there any particular challenges moving the show to New York?
Hugh Vanstone: The only real challenge on this show was the physical one of just getting enough lights in the right places around the scenery. The Schubert Theatre in New York is several feet shallower than Matilda’s West End home—about 15’ shallower. There’s an upstage scene dock in London, which we use in the show. We had to find a number of ways of coping without that so things are pretty tightly packed. Overall it would be fair to say that the production period here in New York has gone incredibly smoothly—one of the best I’ve known, in fact. A lot of that has to do with [production electrician] Randy Zaibek. I’ve worked with him on a number of productions, the first being Bombay Dreams at the Broadway Theatre, which was many years ago now! Randy, as well as being a great production electrician, is a superb solver of technical puzzles. There were a number of tricky pieces of set electrics and various complicated systems to cram into a tiny space, and most of these Randy has managed to improve upon and make the outcome slightly better for me. Having his expertise and knowledge has been fantastic. He just keeps working away on stuff until he gets it right.
LD: Talk about some of your key equipment choices. How did they support what you were trying to achieve with your design?
HV: A key choice is that I’ve used the [Martin Professional] MAC III moving light, both the Performance and the Profile versions. I particularly like those, and they have been part of the rig since we started the show in Stratford. Their unique feature is the animation wheel; I just love having that and find it really useful. I use it frequently during the show, as a moving breakup behind gobos or to gently animate a lighting cue—without resorting to video projector, which I’m not generally keen on. That’s why I chose MAC IIIs as the main workhorse.
(Check out Vanstone's full equipment list for Matilda The Musical.)
Also, as with most of my recent designs, I use a good handful of [Philips Vari-Lite] VL500s. I suppose it’s become a trademark! I prefer to see faces mainly lit by tungsten rather than arc sources—certainly for the sculpting that I do onstage. Also, once again I deploy a straight run of them on one of the upstage electrics, which is my version of a Light Curtain, except that it can fan as well as tilt. I certainly used that a good deal in Matilda. PRG supplied the lighting and, as usual, they did a fantastic job.
LD: Talk a little about your work process during tech.
HV: This was my second show with associate Joel Shier, and in transferring the show here, I had him came over to see it in London. First I made a trip to NY to lay out the FOH, and then we spent some time in London discussing the minor details, and I said to him, "What would be great is if, by the time I turn up in New York, you’ve got it on stage looking roughly like it does in London. Then I can come and do the shaping and tweak it." I didn’t turn up in New York until just a few days before cast on stage, and he and [programmer] David Arch had done a fantastic job. They completely dry teched the show, and by the time we got to the beginning of actor tech, they had pretty much the full show in the can, and it looked, for all intents and purposes, like London. David and Joel doing such an accurate translation allowed me focus specifically on any adjustments and improvements for the New York production.
I repeated on this show something I’ve been doing in recent years: I set up in the theatre my usual position at the lighting table, but in addition, I have what’s become known as "the front desk," which is a headset near the director and choreographer. This makes it much easier for me to be a first-hand part of discussions about new ideas or problems. I find this works really well; it promotes faster and direct communication and less use of God mics, and that’s always a mercy!