Beacon started out as a showcase piece to explore the ultimate collaboration between design and performance. I was trying to bring to the stage the creatures that film had been bringing to the screen for years. It is a theatre piece about two characters (an actor and a light) discovering each other. When I began working for the dance department at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I felt that resurrecting Beacon and adapting it to a dance piece would be a wonderful way to allow a student choreographer to collaborate with a director and a designer from the ground up. It would also give me the opportunity to explore and expand this little showcase piece with someone else.
I was lucky enough to get a choreographer with whom I had already developed a working relationship. Jewel Raquel had asked me to write some music for her Fly Piece the previous semester. (The piece was not about flying; it was about flies.) She came up with amazing and foreign movement for her dancers. I discovered that slow automated fixture head movement can be very human looking. I had an idea to make the dancers less human than the light, and I knew Jewel could pull it off.
Logistically, Beacon would be difficult. For most rehearsals, we would have to use a chair or something on stage and imagine the light there. We decided all the light's moves ahead of time. When it came time to pick up the light, I had the whole thing mapped out in my head so I could program without the dancers there. This way, the rehearsals would be about fine tuning and running the piece once the light got to us.
Because of its size and presence on stage and quiet running (I am also a sound designer), I wanted to use a VARI*LITE VL3000Q™ spot. The funny thing is that there was not one in Las Vegas that I could rent. A friend of mine at a rental shop put it quite succinctly: “Just turn the music up.” I love Vegas: bigger, better, louder.
Fortunately, Charlie Hulme with Vari-Lite had one shipped from the East Coast (where they can do things more quietly, apparently). Then, realizing I had no spare, he donated the use of a standard 3K spot, which was fortunate because the Q had ballast issues, and the regular 3K got me through rehearsals.
I still needed control for Snowflake (the name we gave our performing light due to the VL asterisk on its shell). For this, Todd Mertzel at 4Wall Entertainment set me up with a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 1000. I wrote more than 150 cues for the five-and-a-half-minute piece and was able to just use an A/B switch to change control over to my console for this one dance piece (in a concert of 10). I added conventional lights to another playback fader and triggered it with my “Snowflake” fader, thus only having to press one play button.
The show had four performances, and all went off without a hitch. The house lights flickered in one performance of Beacon, but, fortunately, it just added to the piece. It was as if Snowflake was controlling the theatre.