Friday, November 2, 2007

No Moving Lights, No Tony

WARNING: If you think that a moving head is the same as a bobble head, you may not want to continue reading this post.

Part of the misinformation campaign that the League has waged is to take proposals about staffing and twist them out of context in order to make Local One look like a bunch of fat, lazy, union guys out to that do nothing and get over-paid for it. Granted there is a kernel of truth in it. The percentage of people who work like that tends to be universal. Theatre management is not immune to the person who drifts through work, having little ambition and taking up space.

One of the most convoluted of these issues is the one where "In some instances up to three electricians have operated the board that controls light, projection and sound cues -- a job that can be handled by one electrician." Ignoring for the moment that this is a work rule the League already has, consider what kind of machine is that can do all these things. Lighting, projection and sound. For somebody who started in the business when rotary dimmers and 6x9 Lekos were the norm, I stand in awe at these what has happened in the course of my career in terms of technology.

When "Chorus Line" opened in 1975, Tharon Musser was the first to bring a computer board to Broadway to control lighting cues. When Vari-lites first came out, their proprietary systems were so protected that techs had to open them up and work on them under a sheet or drop in order to keep prying eyes away.

In today’s world lighting designers say "no moving lights, no Tony." Everyone who has read this far has seen a Vari-Lite in action even if they don't know the proper name for them. But far fewer are aware of the newest equipment that this contract issues revolves around.

The extraordinary High End Systems has a line of units that are outstanding. The DL-2 digital lighting unit that has enormous capability. I won't go into the details but it lights, it projects, it sees in the dark and it can record video. High End also has a terrific range of other products such as the Whole Hog 3 board and the Showgun luminaries.

There are some terrific Strand boards that are radically different from the the older boards. There is also a line of LED washes from Color Kinetics that can create milions of colors and consume very little electricity. The Color Blast and the Color Blaze line are really going to change the future of theatrical lighting.

It takes a pretty sophisticated programmer and operator to be able to do all this and the Local has several. This is the future and we, as stagehands, embrace it. So when you hear the Producers complain about costs, look at the type of equipment we run and the dollars that this equipment and its operators earn them.

Darpa Geek Stuff

Tomorrow is Darpa's Urban Challenge, a race designed for autonomous vehicles. The vehicle must complete a 60 mile closed course in six hours, following California traffic laws and mixing with 50 human driven traffic.

“Vehicles competing in the Urban Challenge will have to think like human drivers and continually make split-second decisions to avoid moving vehicles, including robotic vehicles without drivers, and operate safely on the course. The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environments where many of today’s military missions are conducted.”

-Dr. Norman Whitaker, Urban Challenge Program Manager

Wired has been covering the run up to the race in it's Danger Room blog.

I love this kind of stuff. The entertainment business has gotten technologically more complex and computer driven. Many stagehands now come into the business with a love of spectacle and technology and are terrific engineers and programmers.

The race will be webcast, starting at 7:30 AM, PST.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Accidents as a way of life

I like to read because it's a look into life on the road and it's a little different world than Broadway. We do exactly the same things(set up stages, lighting, sound) and often in the same kind of lousy weather. However in NYC, we (the local crew) get off work, get on public transportation and sleep in our own beds. The roadies live their lives from arena to hotel to the bus and back.

One of the things often overlooked in the recent dispute with the League is the quality of the Local One crews. Since we do this work regularly, incessantly, we're pretty damn good at it and pretty fast. It's that whole NY minute thing. And we're safe at it. I recently spoke with a Onesie who is out of town. He told me that he was appalled that the Local Crew he was working on took 4 hours to set up part of an opera. "It would have taken an hour at the State and we would have gotten yelled at for taking to long!" Opera is a way of life in NYC. Not so much in other places, so it takes a little longer.

Rarely do we have problems like the canopy collapse at the Akon concert at Emory. In reading the blog about it on, it seem that this is the second time in two years that this has happened to this particular company.

In Spain, three stagehands are killed in a collapse at a Stones concert.

And for anyone who deals regularily with issues of public assembly, be it backstage or FOH, this Great White Fire video should be required viewing at least once a month, as a refresher. It's long and very difficult to watch so be forewarned. Go to the second entry for a link that skip the pop-ups.

In Local One, we've had our share of accidents, regretfully. Most can't be avoided. The causes can vary from exhaustion to carelessness to poor planning. We work to avoid them. The premise is that if I look out for my coworker, they will look out for me. This still holds true for us.

One other place I recommend is Bill Sapsis's site. Devoted to riggers, it promotes safety and technology.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pigs, Lipstick, Producers and the Press

In The Playgoer post about Linda Winer’s complaint about the Producers of “Walmartopia” and "Grease" pulling quotes, he cites a made up word to describe the situation, contextomy. Here is an example of just what I was describing in my previous post about the stagehands that complain about the press publishing the “lies” that the League of American Theatres and Producers are putting out about Local One without the context. Readers tend to accept on the surface what is printed or published but when a writer is personally involved, they’re shocked that the news bears little semblance to the truth. The Critics Circle wants to create a “commission” to research ethical breaches in the area of theatre reviews. A lot of research has already been done about the whole lack of quality journalism at FAIR or Project Censured. I would suggest that Howard Kissel, who is to run the Commission, start searching for ethical breaches on the front page and work his way back to the sports pages.