"The Great One" and Stage Lighting

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

A good LD lights where the guitarist is supposed to be. A great LD lights where the guitarist is going to be.

I recently moved from Las Vegas to Canada for a number of reasons. One reason for moving is the current political climate in the U.S. Canada has proven to be very polite and rather pleasant. I moved to a small community where my services as a concert lighting director might not be in high demand. Belle River does not have any casinos, convention centers, ballrooms or arenas. But it does have hockey rinks — lots of them.

Hockey Heaven

Canadians love their hockey. My wife is happy to see my children learning to skate and taking up their national pastime. I would like for my children to follow in my footsteps as an LD someday, so I am looking for ways that hockey can apply to stage lighting. I did not have to look much farther than the greatest hockey player ever, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky, a.k.a. “The Great One,” has been inspiring hockey players and humans alike for over 20 years. Recently, a colleague used a Wayne Gretzky quote to compliment my lighting techniques. I was flattered. This flattery led me to research more things that Gretzky has said. If my children learn from hockey what Gretzky has, they will become the greatest LDs ever.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Great One and how I apply them to lighting.

“You’ll never catch me bragging about goals, but I’ll talk all you want about my assists.”

This is the quote that Nate Cromwell, lighting director for John Mellencamp, used — one of my favorite compliments of all time. He used the quote to describe a programming technique that I use. I put all of the lyrics of each song in the notes of my console. I use lower case for lyrics and then I capitalize the words where the cues go. That way, even if a Zamboni hit me, a new LD could come in and know exactly where the cues go and take over the show. My technique does make me susceptible to other people who might want to take my gig, but it also allows me to know that the show will continue to look the way that it should. This makes me the player on the team who is willing to pass to whomever has the best shot on goal. This came in particularly handy when I had to hand the show over to Cromwell. I was on a tour that I co-programmed that was scheduled to last only two months. When the tour extended, I had to leave for a previously booked engagement. I only had one day on show site to hand the show over to a new operator. I was able to send the show file to Nate, and he sat down in his office with his onPC and learned the entire cueing of the show using the lyrics. We were able to use our single day on show site to go over every other logistic. Nate was off and running like the seasoned director that he is. In a world of sloppy programming, I was proud to be able to leave him with a clean show file that made perfect sense. As LDs, we often need to put our ego aside and pass the puck for the win.

“The day I stop giving is the day I stop receiving. The day I stop learning is the day I stop growing.“

I am currently 38 years old and just now starting to feel the effects of what I call dinosaur syndrome. Technology is advancing at a dizzying pace, and I am working extra hard to keep up. If I quit learning, I will soon become an extinct dinosaur in our high-tech field. More and more, I am hearing stories about young programmers who are manipulating the code inside the consoles to achieve faster, better results. On Bon Jovi, they are using Tait Navigator to send the exact XYZ coordinates of the fixtures back to the MA2 so that the fixtures can track their focus positions while they move around the stage. That is just short of magic. The data flow required to make that happen makes my analog brain want to crash. Instead of letting my brain overheat, I reached out to Madison Wade of Tait Towers to discuss their accomplishments. I will continue to ask questions about how other people are doing things every day to avoid extinction. Keep learning, keep growing.

“Give it your best shot. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

This quote also reminds me of a story that I heard at LDI three years ago. Patrick Woodroffe was designing the water feature at the Wynn in Las Vegas. He was reaching out to some programmers about who would be able to program the lighting for the feature. This one programmer was more than capable but was intimidated by the fact that they had never programmed a permanent installation before. The size, scope and saturation of the project were enough to deter this individual from accepting the gig. When this individual found out who did take the gig and what they were getting paid, the programmer immediately regretted turning down the opportunity. They didn’t take the shot — and missed.

“Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful.”

Gretzky is a brilliant human being and unquestionably the greatest hockey player of all time, but teamwork is definitely not unique to hockey. Teamwork is equally necessary in entertainment. This becomes most noticeable during load-in and load-out.

“No matter who you are, we’re creatures of habit. The better your habits are, the better they will be in pressure situations.”

On my most recent tour, I was lucky enough to train one of my lighting techs to also operate the show. I made sure that he listened to the way I called spots and watched how I took cues. After I felt that he had listened long enough, I started letting him take one song at a time. His skills were right where they needed to be. I made sure that he stayed consistent with his cueing and calls. That way, when something starts to go wrong, you can still keep your groove and not train wreck the show. Operating a show is rather easy when everything is going smoothly. It is only when the wheels start to fall off that your grace under pressure will allow you to show your true professionalism. It is all too easy to lose focus when the video wall starts to hiccup and you still have to call six spots, take cues and fight off questions from FOH dwellers.

I enjoy writing columns like these because I hope that my words are making PLSN readers better lighting people and better human beings. By listening to the words of people who are successful in life, we can elevate ourselves to the same level.

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