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Rehearsing Reality

Brad Schiller • Feeding the MachinesMay 2020 • May 6, 2020

Online training options abound

By now, you have probably been home for weeks, if not months, and you have undoubtedly attended countless on-line training seminars. Any downtime is a great time for learning. Consoles, media servers, CAD programs, and visualizers are all complex tools that lighting programmers use routinely. All the manufacturers of these products have been offering free on-line training recently. Remember, though, that simply attending a Zoom class to learn the keystrokes and procedures does not make you an expert by any means. Practice makes perfect, and you need to take the time to rehearse your newly learned skills in a realistic manner.

‡‡         A Practical Approach

First, if you want to improve your programming skills, then get busy with programming. Don’t bog yourself down creating a perfectly designed rig, developing a visualizer file, and drawing a cool set piece. Instead, utilize a tutorial file or shared files that already include the completed visualizer and plot data. This way, you can simply jump in and start programming.

If you want to take on a bigger, full circle project, that is okay too. Start with a concept of a show and then draw your plots, visualizer files, patch and other essential items. Keep it real and assign yourself a budget. This way, you don’t make that small club gig look like a rig from EDC with thousands of lights. Remember to take into account other staging items such as screens, speakers and audience members.

‡‡         A Little Help

Need some help coming up with a concept or programming idea? Look no further than in the pages of this magazine or other earlier issues! Every show report and the listings in the Showtime section give you a list of gear. Pick a show and use their gear list and rig design as your inspiration. While you are at it, go download some music from that show and program a song or two (see more about this further down).

Remember that there is much more to our industry than concerts. Practice programming a corporate event, theater show, worship service, dance party, and other production types. Need some inspiration? Simply Google “corporate event agenda” or “Sunday service schedule,” and you will easily find examples that will help you to build realistic cuelists and cues.

Also, you can take examples and references from your various manufacturers’ products. For instance, visualizer and CAD programs often contain tutorial files or downloadable sample files. Even if you don’t plan to use their product, the file might give you inspiration for a virtual concept you can practice programming. Take the information and input it into your console to give you some new ideas.

‡‡         Dream Big

While I advocate practicing programming at your own level and within realistic budgets, there are some occasions where it can be beneficial to practice above your range. Perhaps you usually program for your local church with a decent-size rig. Imagine the excitement to get the chance to program a huge rig like the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney use. Well, now you can! After practicing with smaller sized show files, give your self the opportunity to try out a big rig. This way you can learn on a bigger level than what you might normally have access to.

While you are dreaming, perhaps add in some fixtures that you have never used. Maybe even that new super duper thingy that was just released in October. Practice sessions are a great opportunity to use fixtures that you may not ever get to play with in real life. You will find virtual programming a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with the features and capabilities of many products.

‡‡         Perfect Practicing

If you truly want to practice all your new found programming skills, the very best way is to pretend you have real show to work on. I find a great method is to choose a song and sit down to knock it out in a few hours. It can be a favorite, or perhaps a random song from the internet. This site will present you with random songs and links to play them:

Commit to a song and build the cues, effects, palettes and timing as you would in a real show. Use one of the rigs already discussed, a tutorial file, or build something from scratch. Rehearse playing back the cues and make edits to your timing, colors and focuses just as you would in a genuine show.

Don’t forget to practice your busking! Create a busking page with all the playbacks you think you will need. Then put your music selection on random, or better yet, use a tool like the site listed above. Then, as each song plays, start pressing buttons and moving faders as if you were in a real concert. Don’t stop part way through a song, keep going and do this for at least four to six songs. This is the only way that you will improve your busking skills and learn how to adapt your busking layout.

When you finish programming or playing back songs and cues, take a break for a few hours or even a day. Then come back and do it all over again just as if you were on the road or at a multi-day corporate event. The more realistic you make your practicing, the better prepared you will become.

‡‡         Don’t Be a Show-off

Once you build these files and start playing your cues, you might find that they look very exciting. You might want to record your visualizer view and splash it all across social media. While your grandmother may like to see what you made, most in the industry are not wowed by videos of virtual programming. There is a huge difference of a programmer in a real world situation versus one sitting in their office with no interruptions, constraints or concerns. Please do not post your rehearsal sessions for others to see. Feel free to send a video to a friend or two for feedback, or to enter it into a contest.

‡‡         Reality is Real

Remember that programming lighting in reality will always be remarkably different than programming virtually. This holds true for programming sessions and rehearsing programming. The real world has limits due to budgets, artists, time, producers, designers and more. Unexpected things happen all the time, and a good programmer must learn how to adapt and make changes on the fly. Even pilots are trained in simulators and thrown countless surprising scenarios.

Programmers desiring a more realistic practice experience may want to partner with another lighting person. You could ask a friend to randomly call you and throw a wrench in your plan. Perhaps they tell you that your front truss just lost power, or that the budget has been slashed in half. One of my favorites is to be told that the client just decided they don’t want any shades of blue on the stage. Having these crazy scenarios thrown at you randomly will further prepare you for your next actual production.

‡‡         Habit Forming

Improving your programming skills through continual practice is a great skill. You should never rest on your laurels and must always strive to improve. By putting together a realistic practicing regimen, you can keep your fingers busy preparing for reality. The habit of rehearsing should become a life-long routine that you utilize anytime you find yourself with some spare time. Wait no longer, get to practicing now!

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