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ETC energy-saving LEDs light West Side Story
Thousands of venues around the globe have staged West Side Story, but none have approached the musical like the 49-seat Chance Theater in Anaheim, California. The theatre is producing West Side Story with a modern lighting twist: an all-LED rig, featuring ETC’s latest lighting innovations. The goal of the show is to demonstrate how to use ETC LED fixtures to achieve the look of a conventionally-lit show – with full-spectrum colour and naturally-rendered flesh tones – while achieving huge energy savings in a small theatre.
Show director Oanh Nguyen wanted to present a gritty, contemporary version of the classic West Side Story, so he and lighting designer KC Wilkerson discussed using a rig of practical, industrial fixtures – fluorescent, metal-halide, sodium – to achieve an edgier lighting design. A trip to the USITT 2012 tradeshow in Long Beach, California, changed all that.
Wilkerson saw a demonstration of ETC’s new Source Four LED fixture and the company’s Selador LED luminaires. “By the time I left USITT, I had decided that I wanted to pursue the idea of an all-LED show,” says Wilkerson. “To my knowledge, it had never been done before and I found that intriguing.” He brought Nguyen on board with the idea and began planning a design using only LEDs.
Faced with the typical budget worries of a theatre of its size, the Chance Theater enlisted a coalition of sponsors to make the show happen. Wilkerson contacted ETC dealer BCT Entertainment. “This was an untested area to some degree,” he notes, “and I was confident that they could deliver the support we were looking for.” BCT responded enthusiastically, purchasing 25 Source Four LED Lustr+ fixtures to be used on West Side Story’s rig. Chad Brook, CEO of BCT Entertainment, explains the company’s participation: “Our target market consists of lighting designers, video and film technical directors and producers. We thought this was a great way to bring attention to these new fixtures, considering it’s the first professional production we know of where every conventional fixture has been replaced by ETC’s LED fixtures.”
West Side Story also uses 28 Selador Classic LED luminaires – including Paletta, Vivid-R, Fire and Ice arrays – and four Selador Desire D40 Lustr+ fixtures, all on loan from Pomona College. An ETC Ion control desk with a Universal Fader Wing, also from Pomona College, controls the lighting.
This production is one of the first shows to use Source Four LEDs, which combine the optics of a traditional Source Four luminaire with the colour capabilities and efficiency of an ETC Selador LED. “The Source Four LED looks and acts like a Source Four,” describes Wilkerson. “It’s the best of both worlds. Putting a Rosco gel on a Source Four or punching in that colour on the Source Four LED gets you the same colour. They speak the same language.”
While most LEDs don’t make it into professional theatrical productions because their colour is so unnatural, the ETC LED fixtures are being used all over the stage. “We want to call attention to the fact that the Source Four LEDs aren’t just backlights. We’re using them as frontlights and they’re incredible,” says Wilkerson. In addition, the Selador Classic Vivid-R units are used for backlighting and the Selador Classic Fire, Ice and Paletta luminaires perform sidelighting. Says Brook: “ETC has gone to great lengths to design a fantastic product that challenges the stereotypes of LED lighting.”
The Source Four LED and Selador luminaires were based on the philosophy of the x7 Color System, which combines up to seven LED colours on a single unit to output a nearly unlimited array of deeply-saturated and softly-tinted hues. Their ability to naturally light talent and sets was the reason Wilkerson selected them for this production: “We wanted a conventional look without the flat LED look. The Source Four LED is the only fixture I’ve found that can truly deliver that. But then it can also deliver so much more with the x7 Color System.”
That colour capability also makes scenes with heightened emotions even more intense. “We wanted to create a dream world when Tony and Maria meet that’s really textured and layered with multiple colours and moving shadows. I’m using all LEDs to get us there,” explains Wilkerson.
Along with the expanded functionality of the LED luminaires come incredible savings. During preproduction, the theatre’s electrical consumption has shown a 50% reduction compared to the last two major summer musicals. The theatre has a capacity of 40 dimmed circuits and usually rents portable dimmers for additional channels during a production. For West Side Story, however, it’s not necessary: only 14 of the 40 circuits are used.
Other savings are possible because the ETC LED fixtures can perform so many tasks on stage. “Having all of these features in one fixture is great for small theatres. Their operation is budget friendly,” Wilkerson says. That affordable, multipurpose functionality is one of the reasons BCT signed on as a sponsor for the production. “These fixtures deliver energy savings that producers are going to love,” says Brook. Matt Gorka, master electrician for the Pomona College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, agrees: “We were excited to be involved with this, because we want the theatre community to be future-ready. Promoting green technologies in support of local arts organizations is part of that.”
The Ion console has been the perfect complement to the LED luminaires. “I like the sneak function,” Wilkerson says, “because I can make subtle changes on the fly. The colour picker has been incredible, too. I can easily get to the right colours to light skin. And one of the greatest things we found is that under the control of the Ion, colours are all identical. Rosco 02 is the same from all four ETC fixture types since they use the same colour-mixing system.”
West Side Story serves as the beginning of a capital fundraising effort to build a new theatrical space at the Chance Theater. With the donations, the theatre also plans to purchase ETC LED fixtures to be a permanent part of the rig, so they can enjoy the benefits of the Source Four LED and Selador technologies well into the future.
West Side Story runs from 6 July to 12 August
In picture: West Side Story at the Chance Theater is lit with ETC LED fixtures photos: Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
25th July 2012
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