Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Accessorizing Your Gear

A continuation of 'Know Your Gear'...

Now that you have selected the best fixtures to add to inventory, how are you going to use them? It's time to start thinking about grip, control cable, power cable and distro. There is a decent chance, on a special event, that your distro may be seen to guests - there is an absolute chance that your cable will be visible. The look of your gear is just as important as how you lay it out and run it (stay tuned for that blog post!).

Grip. In the special event lighting world you may be hanging these fixtures in a variety of different type of spaces, which requires different type of grip. Consider where, and how, you are hanging the fixtures - in a ballroom on a truss, in a tent, inside a piece of scenery or decor, top mounted to truss. All different scenarios that you need to be prepared for, which all require different types of hang options.

Control Cable. Depending on the manufacturer, the fixtures can send data through either 3pin or 5pin (in most cases), sometimes both options. Do you buy one piece of cable per fixture? What lengths? Is your inventory constantly turing over on gig after gig, meaning do you need to have extra cable on hand so that you aren't waiting for a show to come back to the shop before another show is prepped? All of this information, along with a handy 'general rule of thumb' that true lighting techs know, you'll be able to make logical and economical choices.

Power Cable. These questions are similar to those above for control. However, there are several options if your fixtures have the ability to run at 208v. If running 208v, your typical GR (or Edison) cable won't help you out here. When you branch out into different types of lighting gear, cable options are an expensive necessity. Know your venue situations, and how you are going to need to run your lighting rig for a successful event.

Just a note about control and power cable. There is no magic formula. However lighting designers, most of the time, like their rig to be symmetrical. This is a decent jumping off point when purchasing cables.

Distribution. There are many choices of distros on the market. This decision will be determined by the type of fixtures purchased and how you will be powering them. 120v distros, 208v distros, some with GR, L620, Soca or a combination of outputs and inputs for that matter. Most manufacturers of power distribution offer a build your own distro. Although not as inexpensive as what they have in built stock, this is the best way to get exactly what you need.

A lighting inventory just isn't about the quality and type of fixture. Like I was writing about last week. This also applies to the above as well. There are the super inexpensive, cheaper options but quality needs to be taken into consideration here too. When speaking of the quality of your cable and distro, safety should be a top concern. Happy shopping! ~Beth, Lead Production Tech @ Solus Lighting LTD

"Choices are the hinges of destiny." - Pythagoras 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Know Your Gear

Know the gear that you are going to purchase.

Let's look at LED lighting fixtures as an example. There are many many different choices of LEDs to add to inventory. While trade shows like LDI are an excellent opportunity to see a vast variety of gear from many different manufacturers all in one space, there isn't too much of a chance to get some real quality time with what they are exhibiting. Vendors also typically bring their brand new, high end pieces of gear.

If possible, you are going to want to get your hands on whichever piece of gear you are thinking of buying. Have the sales rep bring a demo fixture to your shop. Write down or have in mind some questions for the rep about the fixture, hook it up to a console and put it through your test.

I know that it is possible to fall in love with a piece of gear the instant you have control of it (it has happened to me). Once you get into having control of all of the attributes of a fixture, there will be things you love and things that you 'can live with' - or there will be things you dislike.

Obviously, budget is always a concern here. What you want, and what you can afford may not always line up. The lighting market is flooded with quality gear, and these days seems to be even more saturated with knock-offs of that same gear. It may be tempting to purchase the cheaper option, but keep in mind it is the cheaper option for a reason. Don't make a knee-jerk reaction to keep costs low, chances are in the end you will not be satisfied and will not be making the best decision for your company and clients. Gear that constantly needs maintenance to function may end up costing you more. Whether that means extra time spent from techs, or even worse - a gear failure during an event, resulting in a refund to your client and word of mouth about the quality of your gear.

Other things to consider is what 'accessories' you need with this fixture...grip, control & power cable. I'll talk more about that in our next post. ~Beth, Lead Production Tech @ Solus Lighting LTD

"I'd rather make a show that 100 people need to see, than a show 1000 people want to see" - Josh Whedon

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

When it's time to punt, are you ready?

No one likes the punt. Not in football, and certainly not on a gig. Sometimes, when the time crunch is on and it's do or die time, you will have to punt. As a tech, how you handle the punt and what the end result looks like shows what you are made out of.

Although no one wants to be in the position where an element of the design or a piece of gear just isn't working, it happens. We all use a system wether it be Vectorworks, AutoCAD, old school paper & pencil drafting or making & triple checking gear lists, to ensure layout is solid and that spare fixtures can be built into the job. However, eventually you will find yourself in a situation where it's just not going to happen on time. Sometimes it's something small and only noticeable to the designer (which sounds like the better option, but not always). Sometimes it's a rather significant part of the design that the client isn't going to miss that they aren't seeing.

What I'm getting at is that at the end of the day, you have to have confidence in yourself and your tech skills. Most of the time when you're gigging, you are familiar with the gear being used - even if you haven't used that specific piece of gear, you get it. How many times have you been on a show with a moving light, LED or a connector torn apart to the point where a bystander who isn't in the industry would say a little prayer for you as they strolled past... these are the scenarios where you stay calm under the pressure and have faith in your experience and knowledge.

I have built up a toolbox over the years that helps put me in a position to handle almost anything when out on a show. Sometimes I take some hits over the neatness and how organized my toolbox is (same tools go back in the same spot...always!). If grabbing for a tool is second nature, then that's one less distraction from the task at hand.

Let's circle back around. No one likes to punt. No one likes to disappoint their clients and designers. I'm not going to say that this is never going to happen, it has to happen in order for you to grow as a tech. But how you handle your punts will help you grow as a tech that completes third down time and time again.  -Beth, Lead Production Tech @ Solus Lighting LTD

"The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way" - Robert Kiyosaki

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Celebration Of Hope

It’s not very often that I will admit I am feeling nostalgic.  Although I’m more sentimental than I let on.  Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of working a benefit held at 8500 Euclid Avenue – the former home of the Cleveland Play House.  I spent many years in various capacities at the old House of Play, and luckily had some time to aimlessly wander my old stomping grounds.  It seemed every square foot sparked a memory.  Every backstage area, hallway, and stairwell had its own story about my time there.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Entering the vacant theatres was sad and almost sacred – like visiting the grave of a long lost friend.

Seeing the spaces so lifeless was sobering. However, each space brought back memories of wonderful creative teams and productions from years past. Some of my favorite memories are of the Children’s Series produced by Bill Hoffman at the Cleveland Play House.  Bill produced several world premier productions through this Series over the years showcasing the talents of play writes such as Eric Schmiedl, Eric Cobel, and Kenny Kacmar.  Being part of a creative team and having the ability to work together as a script evolves is one of the most rewarding experiences I have been a part of throughout my theatrical career.   This level of collaboration creates truly remarkable work (even on a shoestring budget).  

Although theatrical productions no longer grace the stages of 8500 Euclid Ave, the city has a booming arts culture.  Cleveland Public Theatre offers several unique productions every season and continues to widen their reach.  Coming up this weekend, CPT is presenting Station Hope – A Block Party With a Purpose at St. John’s Church.  This free, one night only experience is a multiple disciplined arts event that celebrates the triumphs of the Underground Railroad, the history of St. John’s Church, and the contemporary struggles for freedom and justice.  Visual art displays, choral performances, dance, storytelling, and music will come together for this inspiring evening from 6pm – 10pm Saturday April 26.  You can get all the details here.

Among the performances will be a musical piece entitled “Get a Job” created by two of my much loved and respected colleagues, Bill Hoffman and Eric Schmiedl.   If for some reason you can’t make it out this Saturday, you can catch Bill and Eric producing wonderful shows throughout the year at the Lantern Theatre at Canal Corners & Farmers Market.  I hope you can make it to Station Hope this Saturday.  A truly inspiring evening awaits you.  Solus Lighting is a proud supporter of Station Hope. ~Maureen E. Patterson, Lead Designer Solus Lighting LTD

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Event Techs...What's In Your Workbox?

Twitter has inspired me today!  More specifically, trade show veteran Melissa P. Michel inspired me with her "Trade Show Toolbox" blog entry.  I was reading over her blog post and I started thinking about what I always have with me at events, as a lighting tech.  As I was going through my list, I realized that the core of my workbox is always the same no matter if it is a "one-off" event or a large corporate conference that lasts for days.

If I have the space (and luxury) to put an actual workbox on the truck it is a must!  If the space does not allow, or if the show is small enough, I have a back-up...which gets the job done, it's just not on casters.  Ok, here we go...

Spare Lamps - a decent ratio is one spare for every six fixtures, but the type of fixture will really determine what you need here.  Keeping track of lamp hours is also great knowledge to have.

Tape - all kinds of tape.  Gaff tape, e-tape, board tape, spike tape...there can never be enough varieties of type and color.

General Expendables - tieline, zipties, blackwrap, binder clips, fixture donuts, extra safety cables.

FOH Gear - Little Lite, paper, pens, Sharpys, highlighters, USB Flash drives, flashlight, first aid kit.

Tool Bag - the basics; multitool like a Gerber, meter, c-wrench, nippers, 6-in-1 screwdriver, circuit tester, DMX tester.  If there are LEDs or moving lights in the rig, the tool bag should definitely be beefed up with gear like soldering iron, solder, butt splices of various gauge sizes, spade connector of various types and sizes, crimpers, allen wrenches, socket get the idea, any hand tool that is used in the shop to work on LEDs or movers.

Spare Parts - if having spare fixtures isn't possible, then a good spare parts kit is the next best thing.  Techs get to know fixtures and this usually determines which spare components will be brought in the workbox.  Some general parts that are good to have on hand are small screws, nuts, washers, fixture & dimmer fuses, small sized zipties.

Cable & Connectors - it is always a good idea to have ~5% of extra cable on site for events.  "Oh by the way"'s always pop up at the last minute and a good tech should know that they are coming.  I, personally, also like to keep a 10' edison cable and a couple of cube taps at FOH with me (the reason for that is coming up in the next section).  Connectors are also important to have on hand.  Throwing a new connector on a piece of cable or a fixture is sometimes quicker & easier than replacing that piece of gear in the rig.  In addition to having all types of connectors that are in the rig, it s also a good idea to have turnarounds close by.  XLR for the com (that lighting always gets stuck with...I don't get it, you hear & speak with it - that's the sound dept!), DMX 5pin to 3pin, L6-20, GR, GP...the list goes on.  Be prepared.

Entertainment - there are some long days spent in the venue, especially at week long conferences.  Techs, don't go stir crazy, make sure you have some form of entertainment for the down times or hours long sessions with no cues.  Typically, setup just to the right of my console at FOH is my MacBook Pro, iPad, iPod, iPhone (I'm kind of an Apple fan), earbuds, some FOH snacks (I suggest Goldfish & Twizzlers) and some 5 Hr Energy shots.  Last but not least, and I learned this the hard way a while back on a corporate show in Orlando in August, make sure you have a hoodie or some sort of arctic cover.  Typically, hotels will crank the air conditioning the afternoon before show day and even if it is 90 degrees outside you will have that hoodie on in the ballroom!

I think that about wraps it up.  Everyone has their own method for getting through stand-bys, these are my ramblings.  The bottom line is find what works to put you in the best position to do your best for your clients & events.  ~Beth Reyes, Lead Production Tech Solus Lighting LTD

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holidays at home and around the world

What are your favorite things to see and do around the holidays?  Here are some of our picks of holiday special events from close to home and around the globe.

We'll start off in Cleveland, Ohio - as that's what we know best!  Here is an awesome guide from of must-sees for holiday vistors and locals alike.  One of our favorite holiday events happens in University Circle, Wade Oval Winter.  Here you will find an outdoor ice rink that features live music on Wednesdays and a couple of movie nights.  Admission to the rink is free, and if you show your rink wristband you get a discount at the museums around Wade Oval.  One of the museums offering the discount is the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Through out December & the first weekend of January, CMNH presents Ice Age 2013: A Winter Event of Prehistoric Proportions.  Ice Age 2013 has plenty of activities, including ice carving demonstrations and a scavenger hunt.  Below is a picture of the lighting that welcomes you to the museum.

Many countries have the tradition of having a Festival of Lights around the holidays.  Here are just some of the festivals that happen inside and outside the United States.  You can check out some great pictures from Italy to Columbia and back to the U.S.  Here's one that we found on Twitter of a long exposure of a tree lit up with LED tiny lights.

Who doesn't like a good holiday decoration light show?  We do!  Here are some of our favorites from around You Tube.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

Back in 2003, when the Case Western Reserve University MFA program made Cleveland Play House their home, I designed a production of Twelfth Night in the historic Brooks theatre with a fantastic creative team.  We were all familiar with how one another worked through the creative process and were truly in sync.  Challenges were overcome through collaboration, and the show turned out brilliant.

I recently had the pleasure of designing the lighting for the CWRU/CPH MFA production of Twelfth Night now running in the Helen Theatre at Play House Square.  Having been involved with the program for many years, I was thrilled to be asked back and a bit nervous to be part a new team in a new space.  What if we didn’t click?  What if my process drove them crazy?  After all, it has been over seven years since I had designed for CPH.  What if they had forgotten how persnickety I can be (or, as a friend of mine termed me as “a loveable canker sore” – Thanks, Ron!)?  

As it turns out, my fears were all for naught.  The team for this production connected seamlessly out of the gate with the director’s vision to set the production in the Mississippi Delta.  The music, costumes, sounds, and scenery all supported this vision (and the lighting isn’t too shabby, either).  A few familiar faces along with new found friends and colleagues reminded me how wonderful a creative, collaborative design and production process can be.  

Having hailed from a previous regime of CPH, I am certainly among many former staff members that had mixed emotions about the move downtown.  The history and sense of community that surged through the old building was a major part of my Play House memories.   It was quite like visiting the folks after they sell the house you grew up in to move into a new condo.  The combination of new conveniences and comfortable old favorites put you at ease.  The past is not gone or forgotten, just repurposed. 

If you haven't visited the CWRU/CPH MFA program's new digs, you should.  Twelfth Night  is a great way to start.  If you're a veteran supported, bravo - unless you haven't experienced this production of Twelfth Night yet, in which case, what are you waiting for?  It runs through October 26th, and you can get tickets here.  Enjoy the show!  ~Maureen E. Patterson, Lead Designer Solus Lighting LTD