A Perfect View

by Brad Schiller
in Feeding the Machines

Back in 1990, I was working for a theatre complex that opened a brand new multi-million dollar venue with two state-of-the-art theatres. Each theatre was designed with a booth that included large windows and built-in desks for the consoles. We were all shocked to find that the nice, new tech booths did not allow a good view of either stage. It seemed that the architects did not understand the diagonal view that was required. We ended up building a raised floor into each booth so that our viewing angle of the stage was correct. Since that time, I have programmed and operated lighting consoles in a variety of locations with various types of views. It is very important when setting up your front of house location that you consider your view of the stage.

Location, Location, Location

It has been said that location is the most important factor when buying real estate. The same is often true when determining where to place your console for programming and operation. In many cases you may have a different location for programming than for playback of the show. For programming, you generally want to be back from the stage and centered with the playing area. This way when you build positions and looks, you can ensure that the angles are correct for the majority of the audience. For instance, if you focus lighting in a down center stage position from a console located on far house left, then your beams may not align correctly with the center of the stage.

Many factors will determine where your console will be placed. Quite often the FOH location is in the center of the house or at the back of the room. Producers will always want to reduce the number of seats that are blocked by the console areas, and thus we often get regulated to odd areas. Theatrical spaces often use a tech booth location that may have steep viewing angles, while tradeshow events may hide the console in a closet.

You will want to ensure that you have a clear view of the stage for programming and then the ability to move the console to another location if required for playback. Many corporate events in ballrooms will want the FOH placed in a back corner, while architectural installs may not even have a FOH location. The big key is to ensure you have great views for programming and a decent location for playback.

Technology Blockers

Many of today’s lighting consoles include a number of built-in touchscreen monitors. In addition, they usually allow several external monitors to be connected. You can build quite a large array of console displays quickly. However, you need to confirm that these are not blocking your view of the stage. Most events will require you to see the action as you are operating the lighting, and usually this requires a direct view. Televised events are a bit different, as you are focused on the camera shots and not the live look.

I have seen some programmers who set up all the monitors possible and then find that they cannot see anything happening around them. I often wonder if they really need all the data that is presented on the multiple screens. Many programmers import the same screen layouts from show to show, without deciding if the various windows are actually required. You may not really need the console activity window, a copy of your layout view, or a clock taking up space on a monitor you never look at. In addition, you could save setup/strike time if you can reduce your monitor count at FOH.

Many FOH configurations also require additional technology elements that must be within our view. These include timecode clocks, video monitors, media server screens, switchers, and more. When setting up FOH, all your supporting technology must be within view without blocking your primary view of the stage. I have even seen a programmer use a cell phone clip to mount his phone to the console and hold it within his viewing area. This allowed him to keep up with important messages from the production as well as take notes and play music However, it could also be considered a distraction if he were to keep checking social media or personal emails.

Get Up and Out

I find it very important on many shows to leave my post at FOH and walk around the venue to see how the lighting focus positions and looks appear from different locations. This is essential to determine if you are blasting narrow beams into the audience’s faces, or if your gobo wash is illuminating undesired areas of the stage. Most consoles allow you to use a wireless remote (on your laptop, phone, or tablet) so that you can easily update looks as you roam around.

If you cannot physically leave your command post, or if a remote is not available, then you will need to work with the LD or a tech to remotely focus the lights. Usually a radio or phone connection will allow the other person to call fixture moves to you. Even the view on the stage is important to consider. Is the sidelight focus going to blind the lead singer or the monitor engineer? I once discovered that my “up-N-in” focus was perfectly highlighting the American flag at the back of the venue. I could not see this from my FOH location, but it became very clear from the stage view. I knew this would be distracting to the performers, so I adjusted the tilt a bit to ensure the flag was not highlighted.

Above The Rest

When you are working from a FOH position that is on the same floor as the audience, you are going to get blocked the moment the audience stands. It is always a good idea to set your FOH area on a riser at least six inches to a foot above the ground. This will help to provide an unobstructed view of the stage. However, you may also need to consider the audience members behind you to determine how many seats will be blocked.

Furthermore, you need to remember that often you are in the audience’s view as well. I have heard many stories lately of audience members posting images or comments about “workers” playing on their phones while blocking their view of the show. Remember that anyone behind you can see what is on your screens as well as what you are doing during the show.

Home is Where the Console Is

I have programmed consoles set up in many varied locations and with different types of views. Take the time to ensure you have a clear, centered view when programming and decent visibility when playing back. Make use of technology to help program from different locations, while at the same time not overdoing your monitor configuration. No matter if you are sitting in front of a building, the center of an arena, or located in a tech booth, remember that others are viewing you and your work too. Keep the information on your screens and your actions professional at all times. Remember that a perfect view from the console is important to great programming and playback.