Dear Festival Lighting Designer

by Chris Lose
in LD at Large
Illustration by Andy Au
Illustration by Andy Au

I am well aware that you are more than capable of designing, operating, teching, programming and facilitating every single show that comes through your fine festival grounds. But today, you are my festival lighting designer. I only need a few things from you and I need them done to the best of your ability. I need a patch, a plot and a functional rig. A smile would be nice, but not necessary. I don’t need your résumé nor do I need your sob story. After checking in with a handful of my favorite programmers and directors, I have come up with a comprehensive list of tips on how to help me help you to make our time together as de-light-ful as possible.

The Patch

Standard is as standard does. Please patch your fixtures, especially B-Eyes, in standard mode. Extended mode is great for pixel mapping, but I’m not taking the time to pixel-map your albatross in the few hours that I have to clone my 300-fixture show into your 48-fixture rig. I don’t want 8-bit pan and tilt, but I don’t want two fixtures per universe, either.

Patch in order. Please patch your rig sequentially whenever possible. If I can patch your rig in fewer than one thousand keystrokes, I will be happier than a Chinese product sales rep that just discovered LinkedIn.

Expect the unexpected. You will make changes to the rig during load-in. I know that. The Sharpys that were drawn on the plot hanging from the non-existent speaker towers had to be moved to the upstage truss. That happens to everyone. It’s up to you to let me know sooner rather than later. If you keep your patch up to date and inform me of changes, then I will come prepared.

The Plot

Keep it Simple, Stupid. Please keep your rig to three or four fixture types. Just use one type of spot, one type of wash, beams and strobes etc. Adding too many fixture types is far too time-consuming for my daylight programming session.

Channel up. You must include fixture numbers on your plot that correspond to the patch sheet. Simply put, I can’t address the fixtures if I don’t know which one is which. I know this seems like a simple request but it is far too often overlooked.

Which way did they go? Chances are that, a day before I arrive at your festival, I will have time to pre-viz during my rehearsal for the prior show. I will be able to map out which of your fixtures I will use to replace my existing fixtures. Please notate display/whip orientation and coordinates. Laying down a few truss measurements and trim heights would be useful as well. This will help me save countless hours of position updating.

Plots Aplenty. Have several copies of your plot or cheat sheet that match your current rig. Letter-sized (8.5” x 11”) is best, but legal-size works as well. I need a copy that I can keep to make notes on. If it’s really good, I will take it to the next venue to show their LD what a good plot looks like. If it sucks, I will still take it but I will show the next LD what I was forced to work with, and I will whisper your name in vain. Patching the show based on the numbers in your head is worse than trying to argue with your promoter about sight lines during sound check. I want to patch on my timeline, not with you looking over my shoulder waiting to tell me the next patch number from your hand-drawn scribble sheet.

The Functional Rig

Duh. Make sure that your rig is fully functional at the start of each day. There are few things that make you look worse than having to explain to the incoming LD that half your rig isn’t working because of a dangling connection 30 feet above the deck. Have at least one spare of each fixture on hand to swap out if the schedule of rock ever allows for it. Confirm that the locally supplied generator is powerful and stable enough to support your fixtures and my floor package. Ensure that there is one or more reachable technicians who are able to leave their hammock and competent enough to repair the previously mentioned connection.

Balanced Beams. Remember to add spots, washes, beams, strobes and moles in balanced, symmetrical counts. Do not put 17 Sharpys on the DS truss and three washes. Your rig needs to be versatile. A festival rig is not the time to get overly creative. I need my fixtures to be on straight trusses at similar angles and degrees. You need to include as many audience blinders as it takes to illuminate the entire audience. Your strobe count needs to directly reflect your lineup’s heavy metal-ness. If you have three days of jazz trios, then save the strobes for another day. If you have one night of Pantera and Skrillex, get the strobes out and hang them everywhere. Remember the strobes!

Hazy Situation. Haze and smoke is no place to skimp on budget. Programming during the day is hard enough. Programming during the day without haze leads to disaster. Most hazers are acceptable indoors, but outdoor festivals require haze and smoke options. One solid hazer and a dependable smoke machine with fans in the upstage left and upstage right corners are generally acceptable.

Wide Open Spaces. Whenever possible, please allow enough real estate at FOH for traveling LDs. You get extra points if I don’t have to wade through two days worth of beer cans and empty water bottles. At least two empty tables with good visibility and an apple box for shorter LDs will suffice. I’m talking about Gigi. A toilet at FOH is a great idea. Not for me but for my 65-year old audio engineer who has to pee every 20 minutes. I know that’s not your gig, but maybe you could mention it to the promoter.

Network Flow. Your life will be much better if you remember to specify an easy and accessible network system that allows data from one desk to be switched over to the next as fast as possible. Remember that not every console speaks Hog-Net. You need to include the option to use SACN, Art-Net, MA-Net or even DMX if possible.

Above and Beyond

Don’t step on my toes. When the festival includes four co-headliners, two opening acts, three local bands, a children’s choir and a magician, please provide a clear programming schedule so that no one is stepping on each other over programming time.

Get the Picture? An up-to-date Wysiwyg, MA3D, Capture or even ESP pre-viz suite with a capable programmer is always a good idea, always.

Festivals can be challenging, with short changeovers, little or no programming time, daylight focusing, network problems, smoke blowing into the dressing rooms instead of the stage. If you take these tips into account, our day together will go smoother than
Rosco #127 (Amber Cyc Silk).

Chris Lose is a touring LD based in Las Vegas. He has been on both sides of the snake for several music festivals around the world.