Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Friday, 28 August 2009

How to Put on a Musical – Part 15 – Sound, Lights and Video Tape

In an ideal world a musical creative team would have met on a regular basis from ‘Day 1’, they would have bonded and in a very 21st century caring sharing way collaborated together under the chairmanship of a director, who, while having a clear vision of the general conception of the production, is grateful for the input of his colleagues and endeavours to ensure that each discipline gets a fair slice of the cake. The world we live in however is not ideal and what really happens is that the director and set designer work up a concept over a period of months and then invite the techno teams in and are horrified to find that their pristine vision will have to be cluttered with unsightly speakers and lamps. Even worse they find themselves involved in conversations about ‘projector throw’, ‘surround sound’, ‘LED resolution’ and suchlike.

We production managers find ourselves in the middle of what often turns into open warfare. The set designer will storm up saying “Tell him he can’t hang those lamps there! Go on tell him!” or “Fucking hell those speakers are the size of a garage! They can’t go there!” but sadly yes they can and they usually do. We do our best to limit the damage, on Porgy & Bess we draped the speakers in tasteful khaki gauze, on We Will Rock You at the Dominion the PA is painted to match the proscenium wall which in turn is painted to look as though there has been a major plumbing disaster upstairs. I often think how nice it must have been to be the production manager on the original West Side Story. Hang a few painted cloths, bring in some wooden scenery so light that a hamster with a slipped disc could carry it, change the colours in the lighting battens, and the sound, what about the sound? It was simple, the cast on stage sang, the orchestra in the pit played and everyone enjoyed it. Not a microphone, amplifier or speaker in sight. A golden age I say.

Project Model – Maintenance!

Lighting designer Geoff Osram is sitting in a deck chair in his Wandsworth back garden, around him his family are enjoying the summer. Geoff is enjoying himself too, he is reading the latest catalogue from the Ghibbichung Lighting Corporation of Sacramento, California. Geoff loves catalogues and there is something positively erotic about the Ghibbichung Corporation’s latest glossy offering, in particular their new range of Vimto Stratoscan moving lights takes Geoff’s fancy. These beauties are undoubtedly the future of moving lights, they can point in every conceivable direction, carry an infinite number of computer generated gobos and carry a colour range that would make a Pantone book blush. These instruments (never called lights or lanterns these days, possibly because they cost about the same as a Stradivarius) have appealing little extras, they have an LCD screen on the back which shows the lighting plan and that particular instrument’s position on it, the screen can also tell you which city you are in (useful for disorientated touring electricians) and give simple directions to the nearest Starbucks. In short they are the lighting designer’s ultimate weapon, ’infinite possibility’ is the copywriter’s strap line, indeed they are so flexible that a salesman at Plasa tells Osram “Geoff these are so flexible they can do a fucking endoscopy for you”. Despite this unappealing image Osram realises that if he moves fast he could get the Vimtos into the rig of Maintenance! and be the first lighting designer in Europe to use them.

Coincidentally, at the same time as Geoff dreams in his deck chair, sound designer Ian Geek is being lunched by Simon Hurstmonceaux of Blue Sky Audio Environments. This Orkney based company makes bespoke sound systems and Hurstmonceaux, an enormously tall ex-public school boy, is trying to sell his latest creation, the Ziggy Soundscape System. “…..and I can assure you Ian that we only use Zambian copper in these speakers, none of that Bolivian shit and the cabinets! Well you can forget plywood, these are made entirely from Jacaranda wood so you can say goodbye to that brittle mustardy sound that we have all been going on about since the Ark”. Ian Geek salivates and not because of the dish in front of him, which consists of a large plain white plate carrying 2 cubic inches of meat crowned with a pyramid of tiny and unfamiliar tropical fruits, surrounded by a perfect circle of bright red sauce, but because he can hear in his head and heart the opening chords of Maintenance! exploding out of the Ziggy system.

By an almost dizzying coincidence at the same time as Osram and Geek are experiencing their epiphanies video designer Harry Redeye is in a southeast London pub drinking with Steve Twaddle of Used Video Systems (2004) Ltd.
“You could do me a big favour Harry.” says Twaddle “I’ve got 200 LED screen panels coming off the ‘Sputum Test’ tour. I don’t want them lying around in the warehouse not earning”.
“What are they”
“Vegemite 2000s, they’re 2 years old and they’ve seen the world in that time but in the West End no one is going to know any better”.
Harry Redeye considers for a moment, he owes Twaddle far too many favours to lightly dismiss the proposal and after all why shouldn’t Maintenance! have a video wall, albeit a rather travel stained one.
“I’ll do what I can” he eventually replies.

In due course production manager Stewart Cowless receives the bid lists from the three designers and is appalled to find that two of them have specified the most expensive kit available and the third has specified a 12m by 6m video wall weighing nearly 4 tons. He gets on the phone to each in turn and tells them not to be so silly. They promptly ring director Kevin McHarrowing who rings producer Alvin Toxteth to complain about his insensitive and cavalier treatment. Toxteth calls Cowless.
“Stewie we need to get on board with these guys. Geoff tells me that the Vimtos give out a unique quality of light and that they are so user friendly that we will effectively be saving on two crew and Ian is right we need to get into this sort of technology. I really hate that brittle mustardy sound that we get all the time, don’t you? We should be moving on. And Harry, well he’s a bit of an old hack but he tells me he can get a really good deal on this video wall which will make a great backing for the pet shop scene. I know it’s heavy but can’t you just put some steelwork up in the grid? That’s what you normally do isn’t it?”. He hangs up and Cowless punts the three kit lists out to London’s rental suppliers and vents his frustrations on them when they ring back with their quotes by shouting “Just do it for fucking less can’t you!” at them down the phone. He also calls the Armageddon Rigging Company to get the “the putting some steelwork up in the grid” thing under way.

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