The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) recently began its 71st season at its three-theatre location in Ashland, OR, operating in true rotating rep, meaning a different show plays each afternoon and evening. Eleven plays are currently rotating on their three stages: the 360-seat Black Box New Theatre, the 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre, and the 1200-seat outdoor Elizabethan Theatre.
Michael Maag, master electrician for OSF, orchestrates an amazing routine to light these performances on a daily basis. They have approximately two-and-a-half hours between curtain down on one show and house open on the next. The lighting crew changes color, gobos, and shutter cuts on the rep lights in each theatre. With such a demanding schedule, there are very specific requirements. They needed fixtures that would operate easily and quietly, while still giving excellent color. Maag chose the Wybron Nexera CMY color-changing fixtures for two of the three theatres, with plans to purchase additional units next season.
“The creative staff of Oregon Shakespeare Festival is very conscientious about the artistic direction of the shows,” Maag explains. “When the curtain goes up, the audience should be captivated with the performance on stage, not distracted by the technical aspects. Every piece of lighting equipment is hidden from the audience’s view, and noise of any kind is unacceptable.”
Dinna Myers at Musson Theatrical suggested that Maag look at the Nexeras. He decided to do his own comparison and researched all similar products on the market. “When I tested the Nexeras, they were virtually silent, and the other units I tested were unacceptably loud,” he says, “I don’t want my audience looking up in the grid to see who’s hammering on the lights every time we change color.”
Currently, he has 46 Nexeras split between the Angus Bowmer and the New Theatre. In the Bowmer, fourteen 25º-40º Profiles are used as downlights, and twelve 19º-26º Profiles are set on the diagonal (six on each side) in a box boom position (a front/diagonal wash of the stage from each side). “Having the ability to change colors in these lights is great because they are so useful for bringing out colors in costumes or scenery as well as setting mood in conjunction with the down lights,” says Maag.
The remaining twenty Nexeras (all 25º-40º Profiles) reside in the black box style New Theatre alongside nine Vari-Lite VL5B moving lights. “The initial install was 14 Nexeras for last season,” he says, “We got 34 more in October that saw heavy use in January. We have them in two theatres now, and we will be installing the 19º-26º Profiles in the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre next season. They’re perfect for the longer throws in that theatre.”
“We went with all Profiles for the simple reason of what they do best: theatre,” Maag continues. “In rep, we have varied stage shapes. Rather than use a wash to flood the stage with color, which would create unacceptable spill light, we use the Profiles to shutter easily to our various scenic shapes. The fast, silent, and rich colors help us to focus attention to convey time, place and mood,” he says. “In addition, the units have beautiful transitions between colors, which adds a whole new dimension to cueing.”
“Believe me, we handle a lot of equipment on each changeover,” says Maag. “The rep plots alone use a combined 600 conventionals and 24 moving lights, and each show can have another 120 specials. Anything that makes my job easier while giving me a perfect result is a blessing.”
OSF entertains a combined audience of approximately 360,000 each year and receives rave reviews. To see a schedule of current plays, visit www.osfashland.org.