Cutting The Right Color

Internationally renown poet Nikki Giovanni performs at West Side Theatre in Gary, Indiana. A special technique was used to gel the fixtures that front-lit the podium.

When the West Side Theatre Guild booked internationally renown poet Nikki Giovanni to headline a speaking engagement, I was asked to create a classy, clean lighting design that would not overpower the artist, yet still stand on its own as a visually attractive element of the production. After kicking around some ideas with assistant director Rashaad Cherry, we quickly agreed that using the theater’s white Austrian curtain as a backdrop was the way to go (it’s kind of hard to beat the look of a well-lit Austrian curtain when you’re looking for classy).

I up-lit the Austrian curtain with several Alkalite TP-84 RGB LED strip lights, allowing me to bring out the curtain’s texture and evenly wash it with a variety of colors (different looks were used for two musical opening acts, including a jazz trio). Eight High End Systems X-Spot Xtreme moving lights were used on the floor, four to add texture the Austrian curtain from downstage, with the other four placed upstage for “eye candy” aerial beams through haze added to the air.

As for Ms. Giovanni’s area lighting, I used Youtube to research her speaking style, and quickly found that she tends to stick to the podium and not move around too much. This meant that I could isolate her area at the podium with clean, flattering light, while allowing the rest of the stage to fall off into rich, saturated color. I front lit the podium from opposing 45° angles with two ETC Source 4 10° 750w fixtures, and back lit the podium from the same opposing angles using two 26° Source 4′s. Two Source 4 PAR WFL 750w fixtures were added on floor bases as low fill lights with heavy diffusion.

A pink gel color that was too saturated to be used in the front-lights on its own (the lightest pink that was available in the inventory) was cut into strips and applied in a spaced pattern to a piece of clear frost using Scotch tape. This alternating clear / pink pattern resulted in a light beam with a color that was only about half of the gel’s original saturation, giving me the subtle “no color” pink I was after.

When it came time to pull color for the front lights, I ran into a little snag. I wanted to use a very subtle “no color” pink, just enough to take the cold tinge off the Source 4′s and warm up Nikki’s skin, but the only pinks the theater had in the gel inventory — the night before the “use what we have available” show, mind you — were fairly saturated. After raking my mind for a solution (and raking through a few folders of gel scraps), I decided to try something new. I took a piece of the too-saturated pink and cut it into strips, applying them in a spaced pattern to a piece of clear frost using regular Scotch tape.

Much to my satisfaction, this technique worked flawlessly. When I dropped my Frankenstein gel into the fixture and looked down at the stage, I saw a much more subtle version of what would have been a very saturated color otherwise in the beam. The color in the beam was even, and there was no trace of the alternating pattern I created when I taped the gel scraps to the frost. I’m sure the fact that I was using a very narrow 10° fixture helped to blend things together in the beam at the end of the 50′ throw from our front of house coves, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use this “gel stripping” technique on down to a 26° fixture, even at closer throws.

Clean, even light on the artist combined with saturated colors and texture on the Austrian curtain provided a visually appealing “podium look” that meshed well with Ms. Giovanni’s classy, eloquent delivery.

It never fails that in all my crafts, be it lighting design, photography, or video production, a limitation presented to me at the last minute is often the catalyst for discovering a creative solution that I end up using over and over again. I have a feeling that my gel stripping technique will be back for another podium look at some point down the road!

A closer look at the Alkalite TP-84 RGB LED fixtures which lit the Austrian curtain upstage, as well as the X-Spot fixtures used for “eye candy” behind the podium.

The color mixing LED fixtures provided versatility, allowing the stage look to be changed effortlessly for the jazz trio opening act.

Posted in Lighting Design, Tips And Tricks by Guy Rhodes on September 19th, 2011.

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