Hair, Part 2: Let The Lighting Shine

May 8, 2009, By Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Read Part 1, discussing the sound design for Hair.

Rather than recreate Hair’s lighting rig from the late ‘60s, lighting designer Kevin Adams wanted it to look more like a present-day production, using a two-part plot. “I wanted it to look contemporary, loose, and kind of off-the-cuff—simple, not over determined,” he says. The first plot includes 120 ETC Source Four PARs—with and without Wybron Coloram scrollers—hung on exposed side ladder structures and 22 ARRI 2kW Fresnels with Wybron CXI scrollers that are used as diagonal backlight. Adams describes this first plot as, “the meat of the lighting for most of the scenes and the songs that are set in a ‘real place,’ which is the theatre where the hippies are hanging out. I wanted the lighting of these sections to reflect the staging, which seems improvised and organic.”

The other half of the plot consists of 60 moving lights, some from Vari-Lite—12 Vari-Lite VL5B Narrow units (no lens), 10 VL2000 Wash units, and 28 VL3500Qs with shutter—plus 10 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash fixtures. “When the songs leave the ‘real place’ and go to a more abstracted psychological place, the moving lights provide most of the illumination for those moments,” says Adams. “These are also the rock opera-driven sections of the show that have a more complicated musical structure, and the staging tended to be more geometric and formal. In these sections, the lighting is more muscular and transformative.” PRG Lighting provided the lighting gear for the production.

Adams intentionally left the plot sparse overhead, so as not to overwhelm the audience with dense gear everywhere. “I wanted overhead to look clean and empty,” he says. “And I didn’t mind that automated fixtures and new technology could be easily seen by the audience, although most of what is seen on stage are the PARs, large Fresnels, and empty pipes.”

The automated fixtures are broken down into a few basic systems, most of which mirror a conventional system. “There is a muscular row of 10 MAC 2000 wash units that act as diagonal backlight, just as the 22 2kW ARRIs do,” Adams notes. The exposed diagonal backlight also acts as a framing device for the large empty stage, which is framed on the sides by an exposed ladder structure that contains the ETC Source Four PARs as well as a mirror system of 10 VL2000 wash units. The ladders also contain eight VL5B narrow units that mostly light the band but are also used on the main playing area at times. “Overhead, there are six VL3500Q spot units that act as various specials and psychedelic effect washes,” notes Adams.

Photo by Scott Pask

FOH fixtures include 22 VL3500Q units: six on the balcony rail, 12 on the front truss, and four on the far box booms. These light the action on the stage as well as the action and architecture in the house. “The theatre has a very generous front truss, and I hung 12 VL spot units that can focus at the stage, orchestra seating, or the large mezzanine seating area,” says Adams. “This position came in very handy, as did the long balcony rail. At times, the show explodes into the orchestra and mezzanine, and I needed a lot of dynamic units that could cover this large playing space as well as light the walls and ceiling. They also project various images around the theatre.”
Two spinning moons for the preshow are projected on a large show curtain. “I like the image because of the symmetry of the sun imagery at the end of the show, and I thought it would be a startling and mysterious image to walk into,” says Adams. “And from that alignment of moons, the first song, ‘Aquarius,’ would begin.” During intermission, an image of an opened hand is projected over the entire theatre, as is a galaxy of spinning suns at the close of the show. “Various moon and star, stars and stripes, and trippy psychedelic templates are projected at the stage and onto a canopy that extends over the apron,” Adams adds.

Philips/Color Kinetics LED units—ColorBlasts and ColorBlazes—illuminate the upstage wall and mural, with 30 linear feet of LED strips mounted vertically left and right and another 60 linear feet of LED strips placed into the deck and shooting straight up the wall. There are also 30' of T-3 striplights vertically mounted left and right as well as an electric of T-3s that wash the wall from an overhead position. “The T-3s are mostly used for buttons and an occasional number,” says Adams. “The LED strips do most of the work of lighting the wall, and they do it beautifully. Moving light programmer Paul Sonnleitner made a variety of kinetic rainbows using various ranges of colors as well as making static single and multicolor washes.” The show is run via an MA Lighting grandMA console, with a City Theatrical SHoW DMX receiver and transmitter, four City Theatrical 12V dimmers, and five ETC Sensor+ Touring dimmer racks (four 96-channel and one 48-channel). An MDG Atmosphere haze generator adds to the environmental elements. The lighting team also includes associate lighting designer Aaron Sporer, assistant lighting designer Joel Silver, assistant to lighting designer Brian Tovar, production electrician Richard Mortel, and head electrician Brian Dawson.

Adams created an early rock show look that becomes more contemporary as the automated fixtures are added to the mix. “The Hair playing area is expansive and filled with staging that seems mostly improvised and needed roaming room,” he says. “I like the look of the big PAR64 rock shows from the mid-‘70s. That was the quality of light I was trying to deliver but with a hang that would look empty, mysterious, and hopefully somewhat elegant in its minimalism. There are some elements of ‘60s rock shows—strobing, deeply saturated contrasting colors, saturated monochromatic full stage images, psychedelic projections—but mostly, I tried to keep it bright, beautiful, simple, and focused.”

The designers and director looked at several possible venues for Hair and chose The Hirschfeld as it had the most communal audience spaces as well as wide rambling aisles that had a nice flow to them. “There are existing spot positions in the far box booms that allows for staging in the orchestra and mezzanine to be picked up by spots,” adds Adams. “I have two spots in those positions as well as a single spot in the booth at the back of the house.”

For the long trip section of Act II, Adams wanted a different look than the “real places” in the rest of the show. “The followspots use saturated color for that section, and there is much more movement and monochromatic color from the automated fixtures,” he explains, adding that the followspots are two Robert Juliat Korrigans and a Lycian 1290. “There is very little white light in this section, more darkness and increasingly assaulting lighting at the audience. The staging is a little more formal in this section, and I was able to use positions that I could not use for the rest of the show. There is a section in ‘Three-Five-Zero-Zero’ where the actors line up across the stage, and they are flatly lit in white light from VL3500s on the balcony rail. It is a kind of unflattering and alienating effect that could not use often in this show.”