Lighting designer Jason Lyons discusses his design for Broadway hit musical Rock Of Ages. “When they first called me about lighting a large-scale rock musical Off Broadway, I knew we were headed for an uphill battle,” admits Lyons. “The 80s were a time of excess, especially in rock music, and also the birth of video and MTV. I went back and watched a lot of those early videos, some of which were recordings of arena concerts, all with very elaborate lighting rigs, and some that were very high concept and extremely theatrical.” Lyons discussed the 80s dilemma with Tony-nominated director Kristin Hanggi and felt they needed to think the same way those groups did about their lighting.
“I knew we had to attack this show in a big way,” Lyons says. “I needed to ask for the world and then figure out how to make it work on an Off Broadway budget.” This is where Larry Thomas and Ken Alexander of Hudson/Christie Lighting came in. “They worked with me in great detail on figuring out substitutions and details—including introducing me to some products that were outside of what we’re used to seeing in theatre—to get us to a point where we were all happy. Normally, the bid process is a daunting and frustrating experience, but this time it was inspiring and incredibly enjoyable. We continued that relationship on our move as we updated and enhanced the rig for Broadway.”
Lyons gives a nod to “period” lighting, while also acknowledging the influence of MTV. The opening numbers have tight color palettes and simple chases, recalling the era of PAR can rock. “As the show goes along, the lighting evolves, and the cueing becomes more intense,” notes Lyons. “Although it’s a rock musical, it was also important for me to not lose our sense of theatre. A lot of rock shows become about the music and the spectacle, and the people become shapes and shadows within the picture. Here, we still need to concentrate on the people. We worked very hard to create the rock concert feel but still create a sense of focus and further the story. That’s something I’ve worked to do on a few shows: create the spectacle and energy of a rock show, with the sensitivity of a play.”
The moving light rig is entirely Martin Professional gear, marking a departure for Lyons. “I’ve always been a little sensitive about color temperature in the past, so I’ve always leaned away from the cutting quality of the MACs, but for the rock musical, they were the perfect match and honestly won me over.” The rig includes a mixture of MAC 2000 washes, MAC 2000 Performance units, MAC 700s, and the new MAC III profiles, with the wash lights in the workhorse role. “They have such an incredible, bright beam that looks beautiful in the air and gorgeous on the dancers as both backlight and low sidelight. The MAC IIIs really cut through these perfectly and were ideal for poppy specials and stunning, striking templates.”
In addition to the automated rig, Lyons added ETC Source Fours for frontlight and LED fixtures—AC Lighting Chroma-Q™ Color Blocks and PixelRange PixelLine 1044s—and strobes (High End Systems DataFlash AF1000s and GAMProducts Star Strobes) all over the stage and the theatre. The entire rig is run on an ETC Eos console. “The choice was initially made for budgetary reasons, but I ended up being so happy with the results that we kept it that way for the Broadway move,” says Lyons, who also enjoyed his collaboration with Borovay. “His design Off Broadway had such an amazing kinetic energy that I decided to really step up our control of the cyc that surrounds the video screen,” Lyons explains. “We arranged to have the most resolution possible in the LED fixtures we were using to light the cyc, which allowed us to create amazing sweeping effects that matched and enhanced the energy of the projections.”
Stay tuned for more about Rock of Ages, including discussions on the sound and set designs.