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Thank You for Using Restraint

by PLSN Staff • in
  • LD at Large
  • October 2017
• Created: October 12, 2017
Illustration by Andy Au

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Sometimes, it’s the things that you don’t do that make all the difference.

I recently attended a show that was painful to watch and more difficult to experience. I couldn’t see the artists for half the show because the upstage wall was built with a tractor-trailer’s worth of LED strobes that were aimed at my face. No matter where I went in the audience, they seemed to track my eyeballs and flash open white on every downbeat.

The colors were amazing though. This show had every color used in nearly every song. The only emotion that lingered after the show was confusion. The band must be doing quite well, though, because they had every bit of video, automation, confetti, atmospherics and pyro that a much more successful band would have used. They used so much technology that I forgot where the artists were and what the song was about.

‡‡         Gratitude

Instead of writing a scathing article about how much I disliked the show, I decided to thank the LDs that are doing the things in a more artistic, restrained demeanor.

I sat down with my good friend Kevin “Stick” Bye, lighting director for Elton John, and we came up with a few ways that we have seen modern restraint in a recalcitrant industry. We would like to thank all of the LDs out there who can resist the urge to point all of the lights out at the audience and random strobe them in open white for less than a full chorus. We applaud you for not exposing all of your coolest tricks in the first two songs. We would like to celebrate your ability to refrain from treating every snare hit as an excuse to hyper-strobe the audience blinding flares.

Thank you for not pointing the lights at the audience in open white for too long. Stick says “I love big, bold graphic looks, audience sweeps, stabs, etc. and don’t have a problem putting lights in the audience. I use a ‘five second rule’ in that the beam should not stay in an audience members eyes longer than that, especially with Sharpys. No one wants their client on stage looking out at the audience and seeing anyone shielding their eyes and not looking at them.” I emphatically concur with Stick on this one. I have had more than one show ruined by a two-degree beam that is pointed straight at my retina for longer than necessary. When I do point lights out at the audience, I will make sure that they are in a saturated color or slowly sweeping so that I am not blinding any individual for too long.

Thank you for choosing the proper lights for the proper application. Back in the par can days, you only had intensity and color. The more par cans you had, the better an LD you were. You focus par cans at the band and in symmetrical fans, and then you hit the buttons with timing. Then moving lights were invented, and you had intensity, focus, color and beam. Your toughest decision was where and when to point the light and hope it hit its target. Nowadays, I am seeing fixtures with enough attributes to fill an entire universe of Multiplex. I am seeing more hybrid fixtures that can strobe, wash and spot your principal simultaneously. Stick and I need to take a second to remind everyone reading that, just because the fixture can do it does not mean that it should. To be more clear, just because your fixture has shutter macros that can twist your beam around into 40 different configurations per second does not mean that you have to use it in the second verse of the first song just to show the audience how cool it is. Stick added to the conversation by saying, “Just because there are 500 moving lights in the rig doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time.” He continued by saying, “Don’t underestimate the impact of a single light, well-chosen and tightly focused, on your subject, for most of, if not the entire song. Yes, I know it will be hard.”

Thanks for not using all of the colors in every song. I prefer color-mixing fixtures. I like having infinite color choices available to me without having to scroll through the color wheel of random manufacturer-selected colors. Color mixing has taken the lighting industry to new levels by not locking us into a single color per song without fading out the light, changing the color wheel and then fading the light back in. But, our job is not to show the world how impressive or how fast our color-mixing fixtures have become. Our job as LDs is to create emotion that corresponds to our artists’ meaning. Imagery and colors are attached to emotion. If we use too many colors in each song, the message can get lost. If we use too many colors in a single look, the scene turns muddy and confusing. I want to thank the LDs out there for choosing two to three colors per song and sticking to them. Some consistent designers will change to white for the big hits and then to red for the breakdown, but they can generally stick to one emotion per song. Stick backed me up by saying, “Commit to color. I learned this during my last collaboration, and it took me a while to embrace it, choose a color (no more than two) and pay attention to composition. Then, when you do break out your ‘bag of tricks,’ it’s that much more impactful.”

Thank you for using strobes appropriately. This one is a real bone of contention for me. Strobes are the most powerful tool that we have. They are the jackhammer of the lighting business. We can blind an entire stadium with a single button push by using just a few strobe fixtures. With great power comes great responsibility. You have to respect the power of the strobe and not overuse it. Strobes should be used as accents, not as a BPM counter. Thank you.

‡‡         The Big Picture

Thank you for lighting the band when I want to see them. Seriously, take a few seconds out of your day and imagine that you are an audience member who traveled from Santiago, Chile to Detroit to see your favorite band. You saved up $4,000 for this trip because you know that they will never tour South America. You were finally able to get Monday off work and your grandparents to watch your kids for an entire weekend. You moved mountains just to come see your bucket list band, and you can’t see them at all. The lead singer is never in a followspot because they move too much or too far; the drummer is in the dark because no one thought to give him a special and the rest of the band is blocked by scenery that does not add to the quality of the show in any way. Take a little time to make sure that at least one light hits each artist appropriately. Be sure to highlight the artist when they are soloing and for Brian’s sake, make sure that the followspots can follow him wherever he might roam.

Stick said it best when he said, “I am all about ‘flash and trash’, I’ve paid my mortgage with it, but the art has to come first.” If we can get a few more modern button smashers to subscribe to this ideology, we may be able to enjoy some great shows for many years to come.

Chris Lose is a touring lighting programmer and director who just learned that “recalcitrant” means “resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant; refractory.” He loves that word and wants to use it more often. If you would like to give him some of your choice words, you can email him at close@plsn.com.

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