Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Projection, Lights & Staging News. CLICK HERE to signup now!
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

RPI’s EMPAC Updated with Robert Juliat Followspots

PLSN Staff • News • January 21, 2009

TROY, NY —The new Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is using a pair of Robert Juliat Topaze followspots for its venues. EMPAC encompasses 220,000 square feet of theatres, studios and workspaces that are designed to bridge the gap between the world of digital data and the physical world of the senses.  EMPAC’s mission is the creation of new time-based art, facilitation of advanced research in science and technology, and the formation of an unprecedented intellectual community.

“We’re not a traditional performing arts center; we’re more focused on edgy, forward-looking technology development,” said RPI’s Geoff Mielke.  “Our style is eclectic, and there’s a wide range of what we might do in any of the spaces.”  A 1,200 seat concert hall is complemented by a 400-seat proscenium theatre with movable stages and seats, and two “black box” studios, which act as immersive environments.
As can be expected, the unconventional venues “present a lot of challenges in terms of lighting,” Mielke said.  “We have two Topaze followspots which are currently in the theatre.  One of the reasons we selected the Topaze was for its portability.  The theatre has two levels, so we placed one Topaze in the projection room and one in the ‘followspot room’ so we can accommodate whatever comes along with minimal labor.”

One of the criteria when specifying lighting equipment was ease of use.  “We needed something that would be easy to convert to multiple users,” said RPI’s Bob Bovard.  “We have varying crews and lots of guests, and everybody has to be trained on the lights.  So we needed an instrument that was intuitive, and the Topaze was perfect.”

When EMPAC opened, one of the initial performances was a student production in the theatre, Mielke said.  “We gave the student crew a very cursory overview of the followspot and let them try it out.  They were very happy with its ease of use, flexibility and functionality: A lot of hands-on tactile interfaces were very ergonomic, and they really liked the rolling handle douser.  They were easily able to figure out the color changes. So we’re really impressed with this unit.  The Topaze is proving to be a good light for the theatre.”

Bovard said that the throw in the theatre is 60-85 feet but the followspots could be brought in “as close as 50 feet.”  The light’s versatility means “we can take them into other spaces if we need them.  Our venues are flexible; we can move anything anywhere if needed.”

The Topaze has already been tested in the concert hall, RPI’s Angel Eads added.  “The concert hall has a longer throw, but we were very impressed with the light’s ability to hold its own in the larger space.”

Dave Naone of Limelight Productions in Lee, Massachusetts, handled the Topaze sale.

For more information, please visit and

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!