The University of Maryland prides itself on having one of the premier performing arts departments in the nation. The university provides students access to the same current and technologically advanced tools used by lighting professionals on Broadway and on national touring productions.

The university recently purchased six VL1000™ ellipsoidal reflector spotlights from Parlights, Inc. for the lighting inventory of its Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

"Response to these fixtures has been fantastic," said Walt Dowling, vice president of Parlights. "The VL1000 fixtures are at the top of the wish list for many of our educational customers. They appreciate the features and flexibility of a moving light combined with the theater-friendly design of the unit."

The VARI*LITE® luminaires are the first automated fixtures added to the university's existing assortment of lighting fixtures, which includes several hundred conventional fixtures.

"We are an educational research university, so having technology like this provides a greater learning environment for students here," said Jason Aufdem-Brinke, a lighting designer with the university. "The VARI*LITE automated fixtures add a whole new element to the lighting designs we are able to create, which is a large and important program at the University of Maryland."

The automated luminaires purchased by the university have a tungsten source and four-blade automated shutter system. Because of the tungsten lamps, the VL1000 fixtures will have about the same color temperature as the university's existing fixtures. Because the VL1000 units are convection cooled, they have no cooling fans, which makes the units extremely quite, which was very important given the noise-critical types of productions planned by the theater department.

The 2004 fall semester marks the beginning of the fourth full season in the Clarice Smith PAC, and it is the first full semester in which students have had access to the VARI*LITE automated fixtures. The VL1000 units will not be permanently installed, but will be hung in different auditoriums as needed, providing added flexibility to the university's concert hall, proscenium theater, black box theater and the department's studio space.

The university actually took delivery of the VL1000 units, late in the spring semester, and was able to use them on a couple of projects. The two shows, both operas featured a turntable in the middle of the stage. Tales of Hoffman called for an "empty light" to enter the stage. For this effect, the VARI*LITE fixtures panned onto the stage, stopped, resumed movement, stopped again on a chair and expanded. The light later left the stage.

"Director Leon Major referred to the automated fixtures as 'magic lights,'" Aufdem-Brinke said.

The other opera, Clara, featured a grand piano circling during scene shifts. As the turntable slowly made its rounds, actors and scenic elements–primarily the grand piano–rotated to the front and center position, where the action took place. Lighting designers for the opera created scene transitions as the different elements rotated.

"We did cueing sequences where we picked the actors and other elements up with three different VARI*LITE fixtures at different points on the turntable and followed the piano around," Aufdem-Brinke explained. "The learning curve on the opera was very steep because we hadn't had the automated lights for very long. Fortunately, we had a wonderful lighting designer, Nancy Schertler, who has used the VARI*LITE fixtures before."

The four-blade automated shutter feature of the fixtures was beneficial as Schertler and Aufdem-Brinke were able to light actors on a ramp that began at the far edges and ran along the back of the turntable without spilling light onto the turntable or the backdrop.

The university will also be taking advantage of the flexibility of the automated units during an upcoming scholarship benefit in the concert hall. The fund-raiser will include a variety of entertainment, ranging from singing and music to skits. An MC will host the event, and between skits, the VL1000 fixtures will be used for house patterns and texturing to add atmosphere to the space.