If you’re just joining us, I’m lighting a local performance of The Drowsy Chaperone. I’ve been blogging my thoughts and experiences as a professional lighting designer. Click here to read from the beginning!
The Drowsy Chaperone is such an interesting musical when it comes to what the level of reality is and when it is that. The highest level of reality is when the Man is already breaking the fourth wall by speaking to the audience directly. As the musical progresses, he passes in and out of the Drowsy Chaperone Musical to explain it to the audience. Then there are other times when the moment is broken by some sort of outside force like the telephone ringing that brings him back to his highest level of reality. By the end of the of the play he is fully involved in the Drowsy Chaperone and any level of reality is simply not there.
This is a show where the use of followspots can be very helpful. Not only is a followspot a good pointer meaning, “Hey audience, look at this,” it also helps you isolate your contrast ratios making it fairly easy to balance. In this production I choose to use the followspots in these ways:
1 – If it was appropriate in the 1920’s Drowsy Musical to use followspots – I did!
2 – If the man froze the Drowsy Musical to speak to the audience I gave myself the ability to followspot him but in a specific tint of blueish lavender.
3 – By the end of the show the man was in the musical followspot along with the other cast members as he was now in the show with them.
Since this production was done in an education setting with a small technical theatre department, the followspot operators had no experience. I did start the rehearsal process for them a week earlier then their traditional tech week. I gave them instruction on how the followspots and headsets worked. I also then explained some of the terminology like, head shot, full body shot, bump out, fade out and such. Truthfully, they picked it up fairly quickly. The first two or three rehearsals they had I left light on stage. This way they had the freedom to make mistakes or not make the pickup and it would not interrupt the rehearsal process.
During this process, I realized that the units they were using (the Lycian 400 Arc) were a little difficult to make the pickup without a telescopic sight. The light had a wonderful brightness to it. We called Lycian to find out how much their sights were for the unit. They gave a price but they did not have any in stock so it certainly wasn’t going to make our time frame. They gave us a lead on an aftermarket site, but it too was out of stock.
So when faced with the challenge, I checked with our Technical Director and he said he would go to WalMart to see what he could find in the sporting goods section. He came back with a rifle scope which cost around $20.00 that we were able to mount onto the heat venting fins of the followspot. WOW! They worked amazingly. The operators were able to pick up their cues with perfection. They never missed. All for $20.00! The installation process was the only tricky part. Every followspot is different and every rifle sight has a slightly different mounting hardware. However, if you are mechanically handy or if you can find someone who is, there is always a solution. Perhaps large magnets, or wiring the sight on.
What I am saying is there is always a way. If your followspots are having trouble making their shot – experiment with some rifle sights. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive and you will greatly improve your chances of getting your cue right.