After reading your recent “How I Did That” article about It's Karate, Kid! The Musical [March LD, p. 64], I felt the need to highlight some little discussed issues of the industry that I thought were glossed over. I respect Bill Sheehan immensely and find him to be a talented and well-qualified designer, but I would like to contradict the take that his production was a poor off-off-Broadway musical, when there were elements that elevated it beyond most typical off-off productions. I was the lighting designer for the Fall Collection, a festival that performed previous to Karate Kid at Teatro LaTea, and I'd like to use that experience to highlight the typical off-off Broadway production experience.
The Fall Collection is a bold project in off-off-Broadway theatre, integrating film, theatre, and music into one festival. The producers of the Fall Collection were looking for an LD who could collaborate with nine different directors on nine very different short plays, as well as develop an environmental design.
My budget for this project was a total of $2,000 for both environmental and onstage lighting. LaTea offered no equipment that I found usable for the plays, which left me with no choice but to rent the entire package for the five weeks (one week of tech followed by a four week run). There was no money to hire an assistant or associate LD who could make calls and get price quotes; this project was completely mine to take care of. Two thousand dollars doesn't rent very much, especially for an unknown designer and an unknown company.
My ideal rig, which included four High End Systems Studio Colors® and four Studio Spots® (which I anticipated would hang quickly in order to concentrate on programming focus points and preparing for tech), was cut down to a simple rig, with no intelligent fixtures and only two back light scrollers. I was only able to budget for 36 dimmers and a total of eight specials over and above the base plot. This meant a re-patch and refocus for every evening.
Beatrice Bass, who was billed as a production intern, a title ill-matched with her duties, made the entire situation run smoothly. She not only ran the board for the four week run but also was responsible for every evening's refocus and re-patch — a task that sometimes needed to happen between plays in as little as six minutes.
The element of time also came into play in the design process. The entire Fall Collection load in period was approximately 24 hours before the first of nine grueling techs took over. The crew included the staff interns, a cast member-turned-volunteer (who had considerable tech experience), and me. The primary goal was to take very careful focus notes from evening combinations A, B, and C and make certain that the intern staff could redo them accurately. In the end, the rented units were not sufficient, and rather than attempt to stretch my budget, I was forced to make due with the 20-year-old stock of LaTea. I ended up using five 6" Fresnels as well as a three Berkey ellipsoidal units as floor-mounted specials.
The environmental design also diminished as time, money, and labor shrank. Originally, there were plans to totally alter the environment. Unfortunately, all that was possible was to hand-make some hanging fixtures for house lights and to light the static artwork adorning the walls with some 6" Fresnels provided from the LaTea stock.
Despite all of this, working on the Fall Collection was one of the most rewarding artistic experiences I have ever encountered. What I am emphasizing is that new designers must work on smaller budgets with higher rental prices and still somehow produce magnificent results. Despite limited resources, great art can be produced.
Thankfully, due to the public response, musical performances will also occur at LaTea this year, adding a whole new challenging element to the design. I am confident that, with some more time and money, we can make this year's event even more successful, and we will continue to show the artistic spirit of off-off-Broadway.
James Bedell is a freelance lighting designer based in New York. Contact him at email@example.com.
|9||ETC Source Four® 50°|
|6||ETC Source Four 36°|
|2||ETC Source Four 26°|
|8||ETC Source Four PAR WFL|
|5||Time Square ellipsoidal|
|7||8' R40 Strip|
|2||Wybron Coloram II|
DIMMING AND CONTROL
|1||12×2K ETC Sensor® Rack|
|1||24×2K ETC Sensor Rack|
|1||ETC Express™ 48/96|