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Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Chris Lose • December 2019LD at Large • December 13, 2019

Illustration by Andy Au

If one thing is true, it’s that everything dies. I will die, you will die, everybody and everything that you know and love will die. That is why it is so important to hang on to the people and objects that you love while they are still full of light. I want to take this time to appreciate the legacy of our good friends that are dead, dying, and soon to be dying right in front of our eyes. We need to take this time to appreciate their life, their utility and their brilliance. We need to grant them all due respect for bringing radiance into our lives and warming our hearts. Let’s pay our respects to their ever-present glow. The entire industry can thank them for their many lamp hours of radiance. It is with a heavy heart that I welcome you to mourn the deaths of conventional lighting sources with me.

‡‡         RIP Candle Lighting

The sun was a bit of a buzz kill for the Athenian Dionysus fans who wanted to get drunk and sacrifice a bull. When future theatergoers brought their debauchery indoors, they required an alternate lighting source. Candles were the obvious choice as the first artificial illumination source used in theaters. They provided the illumination necessary to bring the party indoors but not enough light to keep the pickpockets at bay. Candles were hard to keep lit, they dripped wax all over the artists and the toxic fumes were known to choke out a high rigger or a hundred. Anyone reading this article is too young to remember the passing of the candle phase. The world grieved for a short time. Their grief was hastily relieved by the invention of gas-powered lighting. Go gentle into that good night dear candle.

‡‡         RIP Gas Lighting

Gas lighting was a crude experiment at first, but after theater owners realized that they could have a hundred light sources controlled by one person instead of hiring nine candle operators, they were sold on the new technology. In the nineteenth century, gas was pumped into the building by miles of rubber tubing from outlets in the floor called ‘water joints’ which carried the gas to floor joints and wing positions. This new technology allowed the theater to better illuminate their actors allowing for larger sets and taller prosceniums. Inevitably, larger wooden sets and more gas tubing lead to countless theater fires and explosive conditions unbecoming of the arts. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.” Gas lighting died a proud death as it was replaced by the modern technology that we still use today.

‡‡         RIP Incandescent Lighting

Electric lighting quickly replaced gas lighting in the early twentieth century. Thomas Edison’s invention was safer, more efficient and didn’t smell as bad. Incandescent sources were easy on the eyes, easy to regulate and inexpensive to maintain compared to gas igniters. Tungsten sources gave such industry legends as the Molefay, the Source Four fixtures and the VL5. LED sources are currently having a hard time killing the leko, but the Molefay and the VL5s are being intubated on their death beds. The bludgeoning is not happening out of anger but out of convenience. Just like how gas killed the candle and electricity killed the gas, modern technologies continue to assassinate their predecessors.

For instance, I remember being on an event that required seven VL5s in a remote area far away from the main stage. We had to run 500 feet of Socapex, 500 feet of DMX, two repeaters, 12 different lengths of VL5 cable and a spare dimmer rack. And it took 30 minutes for us to remove the metal hooks to install the cryptic floor stands that consisted of three aluminum rails, four bolts, four nuts and eight washers — an undertaking that required a nut driver, a ratchet and a large screwdriver. You’d consider cremating a VL5 after doing that process 99 times. We did the same remote stage three years later, but we used GLP Impression X4s. Instead of the headache, we plugged all seven fixtures into a wall outlet and laid out a single DMX homerun to the console. The floor stands merely required some quarter-turn screws and minimal effort. The difference was night and day. We had the same colors and the same impact at a fraction of the effort.

Death is not the opposite of life but an inevitable part of life. It’s better to love our 1K Par cans, our nine-light Molefays and our 750-watt lekos while we still can. Their time is limited. They will be off to greener pastures sooner than we think. We need to consider drafting an advanced directive for the aging conventional fixtures of our era. How will we dispose of the bodies? Who will transport their donated organs to the universities for scientific study? How will we choose to honor their memories? Do we need a ceremony to honor their lives?

‡‡         RIP Arc Source Lighting

Arc source fixtures were able to pack more punch into a smaller source than tungsten ever could. We were able to harness the power of electric welding without welding. Technology allowed us to make that electrical arc so short that we could shoot a one-degree beam several miles away to annoy unsuspecting hotel guests from the rock festival across town. Short arc sources are bright, but they are not the right color. They don’t work for a front light without a correction. Short arc sources are also fan dependent. If you were to strike up a Platinum 5R in a room with no air flow, it would explode in minutes. Getting away from tungsten sources only brought us closer to fan noises. As an industry, that was the price we were willing to pay for such icons as the LSD Icon, the Cyberlight, VL7B and the Claypaky Sharpy.

Much like the resilient dinosaurs that lived through the Cenozoic era, the asteroid has already hit, but some dinosaurs just won’t die. Arc source fixtures are still alive, but their days are numbered. There are more efficient, less expensive, brighter and more versatile LED fixtures flooding the market, and arc sources will soon be laid to rest alongside their ancestors.

‡‡         Meditation on the Dying of the Light

You may think that I am wrong, and that if you hope and pray long enough, you can defeat death by designing rigs full of 1K Par cans. You cannot. You are only delaying the inevitable. Death is imminent, and all technology will eventually die. We should take this time to thank candles, gas, tungsten and arc for bringing us to where we are. We should thank them for the advancements and the revolutionary tales. We can be grateful for the memories. We cannot force them to live past their prime. These monoliths of our industry are dying an honorable death. They deserve our respect and not our pity. Thank you for your service.

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