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Sun, 08 Jan 2017

Adventures in 14/48, or, Why Are There Cello Pegs on the Ground?

I was invited to play with the band in 14/48 this weekend, and gladly accepted -- I've never been invited to be part of the show before. I've photographed, but that doesn't feel the same, since that job has no impact on what actually happens on stage. It's not one of the Five Disciplines (acting, directing, writing, designing, band).

I didn't know what exactly I'd be in for, but was excited to find out, and glad to have my friend Kenna in the band with me. I was also apprehensive: although I've been playing cello since the age of 8, I am not really fluent with the instrument at this point in my life. I've played a number of shows in the last few years, but those were situations where I had a month or two to practice and get the music down before I ever showed up on stage. The nature of 14/48 is such that you don't even know what music you might play until part way through the day. There's literally no way to be prepared other than to have a willing attitude and reasonable skill with your instrument.

As it turned out, I was the least skilled instrumentalist in the band, which was a good thing. Everyone around me was fantastic, and I was able to pick and choose my moments to concentrate on; I could really add the cello's voice where it mattered, without having to worry about supporting the whole show. Our keyboard player is, for his actual day job, a music director in musical theater. He is the choral master at a church, supporting (if I understood this correctly) three different choirs. He is skilled at keyboards, the same way that I am skilled at computer programming. Our guitarist, likewise, is absolutely proficient at his instrument. Also the drummer. Also the multi-instrument woodwind player I sat next to. They were an unbelievable crew, and I was humbled to be in their presence, but also so glad that I could allow their skill to shine through when the music was beyond me, or simply inappropriate for cello.

The first show, on Friday, went quite well. I flubbed my solo in the first show of the night, but nailed it in the second. There were some good cello moments, and the whole process was enjoyable (setting aside my own feelings of inadequacy, which are just par for the course).

The second show, on Saturday, was shaping up to be just as good, though there were fewer clear moments where a cello was called for. We had a good rehearsal, and were much more comfortable with each other as a group. I even had the fortune to contribute the seed of an idea that grew into the opening song.

We set down our instruments as the stage manager called out that she wanted to clear the stage so they could open the house for the 8:00 show and let the audience in, and all looked good. We filed back to the Bullit Cabaret, which was serving as a huge greenroom for the festival. It was that interminable wait between when you've finished preparations for a thing, and the actual doing of the thing.

A few moments later Lesley, the multi-woodwind player, came up to me with a slightly worried look on her face, and said, "There are cello pegs on the ground!"

I had a long moment where I tried to decide if she was joking or not -- she didn't seem the type, but the idea of my tuning pegs just falling out seemed preposterous. I decided she was joking, and said, "Ha! Funny joke!" but her expression didn't change. She repeated, "There are cello pegs on the ground. I think you should go take a look."

In a way, I had been prepared for this. On Friday, the C string on my cello had just come completely loose. I figured it was the cold, dry air outside interacting with the very warm stage environment. In that case, I'd just re-tuned and all was well, if a bit disconcerting. No further problems that night, though.

I got to where I could see the band area, and sure enough, there were two tuning pegs lying innocently on the ground under the cello, and three of the four strings were hanging loose. No problem, we still had five minutes, and it wouldn't take that long to re-tune. I walked out on stage, grabbed my cello, and prepared to head back to the Bullit.

Oh right, the cord. I'd forgotten that we'd plugged in the electric pickup for tonight, so I leaned over to pull it out without applying much critical thought to my actions. The C string, the only remaining taut string, came loose as I tugged on the tight connection, and there was a clatter as the bridge fell to the ground. Crap, thought I. Jen, one of the singers, had been hovering in the wings to see what was up, and I called her over to give me a hand as I disconnected the cable with a bit more care and gathered up the pieces to try to salvage the situation.

It was as if the cello had simply gone slack, like one of those toy figures where you press in the bottom of the base and it all falls over bonelessly. I found myself thinking of gelatin that suddenly de-gels and goes all sloppy.

There was no damage done, but you generally try to avoid completely releasing string tension on a bridged instrument like this, to avoid any chance of the soundpost falling over; that's the piece of wood that spans inside between the belly and the back of the cello, which keeps the belly from cracking inward under the pressure of the strings. If it falls over, you're pretty much done unless you've got the special tongs luthiers use to manipulate a soundpost, which I do not.

I carried the pieces back into the cabaret space and sat down with the cello on my lap, and started stringing the C back into place, trying to line up the bridge where it was supposed to go. The little lightbulb went off in my head though, and I stopped and peered through the F-hole, trying to spot the soundpost. Uh-oh. Flashlight came out, and confirmed: the soundpost was down. I almost laughed with actual delight: this was a completely new experience, and one over which I now had absolutely no control. It was very freeing, in a way. I was never worried, just trying to fix problems as they arrived, which is a very comfortable place for me.

By this time, a small crowd of concerned bandmates and performers had gathered around me, and I tried to explain what was happening, and that, essentially, I was done for the night. There was no recovering from this. I think they were expecting grief and agony, and I just sat there smiling at the universe's joke.

We conferred for a bit, and I ran through the runsheet that Nathan, our keyboardist, had so helpfully put together. We determined that there was nowhere that the cello just had to play (and which would therefore require that actors be notified), and Jessamyn, the stage manager, ran off to get things rolling again. The one cue I'd had that would have been important to communicate to actors had been cut by the director just before we went on, which turned out to be a stroke of good luck in the event of Cello Catastrophe.

I debated what to do with my bandmates, and we eventually decided that I'd come out anyway, and as soon as possible, we'd get Jason's bass guitar from storage and I could continue on that (I played bass guitar for a while in high school, and although I hadn't touched a bass for 5+ years, that would be better than just sitting there occasionally clapping or singing into the complete absence of vocal mic in front of me). Kenna handed me her tambourine, and I made some half-hearted taps when it felt right, but the first act I felt pretty naked just sitting there with no instrument. The band is also the source of many sound effects, to which I was contributing, but half my sound effects were based on having a cello in front of me.

Fortunately for me, Jason and Dan, the drummer, were on the ball, and produced the bass out of thin air at intermission. I had an instrument to play, even if it had been ages since I'd played it. Why not have my reintroduction be on stage, in front of 150 people, for songs I'd never played in my life? Sure!

It actually worked out pretty well, all things considered. Nathan was already playing a bass part on the keyboard, so I was able to come in and contribute to the sound when I could figure out which notes I needed to play. It turns out, to my unwarranted surprise, that "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones is basically played on open strings on the bass. It's super easy.

Between the 8:00 and 10:30 shows, I was able to scamper off to a quiet part of the theater and practice a couple of the other songs so I would be slightly more ready, and the 10:30 show did feel a bit more solid.

One thing that I found myself explaining over and over to people after the shows were finished was that although the cello explosion was a disaster as far as being able to play during the show, it's a more or less trivial operation to have fixed once I get it into the violin shop. Resetting a soundpost is a matter of a couple minutes for a skilled luthier, and restringing the cello is similarly very easy -- I would have done it myself if the soundpost had still been in place, and it would have delayed the start of the show by less than five minutes.

One advantage of explaining the situation over and over was I gained some cool insight into how a cello is constructed. The body of the cello is made of a particular type of wood (actually several similar types, but identical for the purposes of this discussion), and the pegs are made of a different type of wood. I think the soundpost is also made from a different type, but I'm less sure of that. I'm guessing that the materials are chosen such that the pegbox (where the pegs hold the ends of the strings, just under the scroll at the top of the neck) will expand faster than the pegs themselves. This means that the pegs should never have an opportunity to crack the pegbox where they pierce the sides, resulting in an expensive repair. Likewise, the soundpost material is probably chosen so that it won't elongate, or will elongate at a slower rate than the belly and back of the cello, so there's no chance of it accidentally cracking one of those huge pieces of wood.

Repairs to the belly and back are regularly made, because they're such relatively vulnerable pieces. Most repairs end up making the instrument sound better, although they negatively impact the value because they're visually ugly (where "present" counts as ugly, even if the luthier did a perfect job with the repair). So it would make sense to pick materials that would tend to prevent these kinds of damage. I'll be interested to chat with the luthier when I bring my cello in next week. (Conveniently, it needed to go in anyway, to repair a bruise in one edge.)

Several people commented that I have a very good 14/48 story now, and that's certainly true. We were asked to sign the wall with other 14/48 artists who have appeared at ACT Theater, and I signed as Ian "Cello Exploder" Johnston.

14/48 was a great experience for me, and I'm glad that I was invited, and actually had time in my schedule. It was fantastic meeting my new bandmates, a couple new theater faces among many familiar ones, and to have been part of an ever growing history of Very Quick Theater in Seattle.

Now, to get this pile of cello parts in to the shop...

Posted at 14:55 permanent link category: /theater

Mon, 15 Apr 2013

Team of Heroes

If you're interested in seeing the new Annex Theatre production of Team of Heroes: No More Heroes, you may want to hie yourself hence to that link and buy tickets now. For now through April 17th, general admission tickets are just $10, almost half off the normal online price, and exactly 50% of the normal at-the-door price!

Also, and I am more than a little happy about this, that banner image up there was put together from concept to final image by yours truly. Dangerpants Photography represent!

Posted at 10:05 permanent link category: /theater

Wed, 01 Aug 2012

Someone Got Shanked in the Shower

It's always great fun when I get to work on theatrical projects which are not only enjoyable, but get me flexing my various nerd-power muscles. This one hit my After Effects skills, which is always good, as they're always in danger of atrophy.

This video is from Kittens in a Cage, and it's a ridiculously fun show. It's not a musical, but there are a few songs. It also has lesbians, cannibals, and mad science, not necessarily in that order. I recommend the show highly. Note that you have until August 25th to see it.

Go full-screen when you watch this -- it's a 1080p HD video, and looks gorgeous at high resolution.

Posted at 00:17 permanent link category: /theater

Mon, 07 May 2012

Get Your Play Produced for Free, and $50 to Boot

Annex Theatre, where I'm Technical Director, has released its 2013 Request for Proposals:

Annex Theatre's 2013 Request for Proposals

We have eight show slots -- four mainstage and four late/off night -- and we're looking for awesome new work to stage. Annex is unusual, in that the season is selected by consensus among the company, and not dictation from on high. Part of that process is that we need your proposals.

It's a sweet deal, too. Produced plays receive a full staff, including marketing and production management; we'll find all the designers and stage manager if necessary; help with casting; no rent, for either rehearsals or performances; dedicated budget for production costs (sets, costumes, etc.); free marketing through a variety of media; and at the end, we pay you. Granted, we don't pay much (we wish we could pay more), but we've got to cover our $6k/month rent somehow.

So if you have an awesome project you want produced, send in your proposal before the deadline! Details are all in the link above.

Posted at 11:57 permanent link category: /theater

Mon, 30 Apr 2012


Theater keeps me pretty busy, I guess. One of the ways is occasionally producing fun little video projects to promote shows. Like, for instance, this one:

I'm having a lot of fun with Sideshow. I'm designing lights and working on props and set pieces, and the show is very pretty. I like that it falls somewhere between dance and theater, not quite settling in either world.

Posted at 12:56 permanent link category: /theater

Sat, 07 Jan 2012

Photographic Opportunities

Once again, I'm reminded of the amazing opportunities I get when taking pictures at theatrical events. From 14/48:

Posted at 13:47 permanent link category: /theater

Thu, 27 Oct 2011

Video Fun

So, I may have mentioned that I'm working on this show called c.1993 (you never step in the same river twice).

One of my several hats at Annex is that of photographer. This is probably the role I enjoy most, as I may have also mentioned before.

Well, we decided a few shows back that it would pay to work up a video for each show, not based on video footage from the show, but rather on some Ken-Burns-style panned stills. Honestly, theater doesn't really lend itself well to videotaping, unless you treat it like a TV show, and actually get the camera up on stage, completely in the audience's way. Even then, for a show like c.1993, the footage would be so jerky from trying to catch everything that's happening that half your audience would have to excuse themselves to go deal with the seasickness.

I had never produced such a video, but I have all the tools and skills necessary for the task, so I volunteered to do it for this show. The process has been educational, and resulted in the following video:

Because I was dealing entirely with photographs large enough to make a decent sized poster at 300 DPI, I decided to do the whole thing in 1080p HD video. Click on the full-screen icon (lower right, four arrows, if you've never done it before) and if your internet connection will handle it (and most broadband will), select 1080p from the size menu (right next to the full-screen button) to experience it in all its glory.

If you're in Seattle, we'd love to see you down at Annex for c.1993, Classy Nonsense, which opens this Friday (right, tomorrow -- it felt like yesterday was Friday, but that's a subject for a different post), or Improsia, next Tuesday. They're all amazingly good shows, and Annex has almost literally the cheapest theater tickets in town, just $15 for the mainstage, c.1993, and $10 for the other shows.

Posted at 09:20 permanent link category: /theater

Wed, 12 Oct 2011

God I Love My Job

Last night, at the theater, one of my jobs was to take bio pictures of the cast. We make a series of video slides, which are projected on a wall, with one for each cast member. They get a photo and whatever text they come up with as their bio.

With some of the cast members, I ended up taking a dozen or more pictures, trying to get the right look. With some, it was just one or two shots, and we had the perfect thing. Usually, we'd take a string, and on the last one, have a shared, "Oh yeah, that's the one!" moment.

I just can't get one of them out of my mind. This is Melinda Parks, who's playing Courtney Love in c.1993 (you never step in the same river twice). We took a ton of pictures looking for the right thing, then I dropped the umbrella down to knee height, she made this face, and it all came together in a moment of blinding awesomeness:

For the photo nerds in the house, this was taken with a Canon 7D, a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, and two strobes -- one as front-light into a silver umbrella, and the other with a dark blue gel as hair/shoulder light. The picture was desaturated in Photoshop, and levels adjusted slightly. The red highlight on the hair is the dim incandescent overhead light.

I'm stunned at how this picture turned out. I'm eternally thankful for the photographic opportunities I'm handed as part of my work with Annex.

Posted at 22:44 permanent link category: /theater

Tue, 16 Aug 2011

Penguin Love

One of the things I don't talk about as much on this little journal site is my involvement with Annex Theatre, where I'm the Technical Director. It's not for lack of thinking about it, or involvement, or time spent. It's actually something that's on my mind so much I forget it's not on everyone's mind that much.

Our own talented Ben Laurance came up with a little video trailer for Penguins 5: Mea Maxima Culpa, Baby:

Both Penguins and Patty (full title: The Strange Misadventures of Patty, Pattyʼs Dad, Pattyʼs Friend Jen and a Bunch of Other People) are excellent shows, although with different vibes.

Penguins is a sort of raunchy "Sopranos meets Catholic Church" late-night show, with contract killings, (really) forbidden love, and a huge number of, "they didn't just do that, did they?" moments. For instance, I built (for episode 1) a Ken doll with a switchblade penis the size of his thigh. He was, of course, dressed in priest's clothes before The Unveiling, and had a fellow dressed-as-nun Barbie to complete the set. (By the way, if you're interested in acquiring the world's one and only Autoschlong Ken, he's up for silent auction through the run of the show.)

Patty, on the other hand, is a no-holds-barred spectacle including super powers, dance numbers, economic theory, and that whole crash-to-earth moment when Dad re-enters Patty's life. It's a really good script, which works on a surprising number of levels. Mate that with the kind of extravagant (for fringe theater, anyway) production values we put into it, and it ends up being a really good show.

Of course, like all theater, you only have a few opportunities to see these shows, then they're gone. Penguins closes on the 26th, and Patty closes on the 27th. Penguins is running Fridays and Saturdays at 11 pm, with one prime-time night left, on Monday the 22nd. Patty is running Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with every Thursday being Pay What You Can.

Posted at 09:51 permanent link category: /theater

Sun, 27 Mar 2011

The Cheap LED Round-Up

As some of you may know, I'm technical director at Annex Theatre, a small fringe theater in Seattle. We have an opportunity to upgrade some of our equipment, and after our experience with LED instruments as part of Her Mother Was Imagination last year, I was excited to get some LEDs in.

I contacted PNTA, our local theater supply house, and arranged the loan of some instruments to evaluate in our space. It's all fine and good to look at specs on paper, but there's nothing like actually seeing the output in your own space.

For this evaluation, we ended up with five different LED instruments in the sub-$600 price range. (The rented LEDs from HMWI were about $1500 each, and there are LED instruments extending into many thousands of dollars each, so under $600 is definitely on the low end of things.) We had two from Omni Sistem: a PAR56 and a PAR64. We had three from Elation: an Opti RGB, an Opti Tri Par, and an ELED Par RGB Zoom.

It will help to understand the theater we work in, as it very tightly constrains what we want in a lighting instrument. The mainstage space is about 75 feet long, and about 25 feet wide. The back 40 feet (or so) make up the audience seating and the booth. The stage is about 25 by 25 feet square, with about a 6 foot backstage area that's given over to tool and fastener storage, with a comparatively narrow walkway. Our ceiling (this is the killer) is only about 9 feet from the stage surface to the grid pipes. The stage is slightly raised, perhaps 8 inches off the floor.

We only have about 100A for the whole theater, mainstage, lounge, greenroom, office and all. The stage's lighting circuits are on a 50A breaker. This puts a very real cap on our ability to light up the stage. We are using 7 SmartBar dimmer bars, for 28 channels, and part of an ancient EDI dimmer pack for another 5 channels. We are very excited about anything we can do that will make light without taking up power or dimmer channels. Enter LEDs.

The first LED instruments we tested were the two from Omni. The PAR56 is the size of a 6" fresnel, more or less, has a nominal 24W power output, and costs about $200. The PAR64 is longer, about the size of an Altman 6x9, putting out a nominal 36W, and costing about $250. Both use 10mm LEDs instead of the much higher-output Cree or Luxeon emitters. Both have individual red, green and blue LEDs (the only instrument to use all-in-one RGB emitters is the Elation Opti Tri).

The Omnis, from first impression onward, exuded a cheap, made-in-China feel. The boxes were printed in that gaudy, low-effort graphical style which seems to exemplify cheap Chinese construction. (I should emphasize that I have nothing against things that are made in China, it's the cheap part I'm complaining about.) Upon pulling the instruments out of their boxes, they are very light, and feel like it would only take the smallest drop to bend or dent the housing. They were plainly not suitable instruments for a working theater, but we put them up anyway to take a look.

The PAR64, upon being powered, immediately started whirring -- a surprisingly loud fan operated at all times. The PAR56 was silent. There wasn't a lot of difference between their outputs, with the color casts being noticeably different with all the sliders at 100. However, we're not interested in LEDs for white light (something they universally suck at until you add white and/or amber LEDs, which immediately tacks $1000 onto the price, at the moment). They both provided good saturated color. The beam angle was relatively narrow for our uses, maybe 35 degrees. Beam shape was erratic, as you would expect from a mass of 10mm LEDs which are aimed based on how their leads were bent during installation. There wasn't a substantial difference between the beams in terms of light intensity. Both instruments used such a slow PWM speed to produce a dimming effect that at low levels, they were more like strobe lights than anything else, producing visible and distracting stop-motion effects on any motion of any speed.

The DMX addresses of these two instruments are set by DIP switches. The bit values are helpfully printed next to (or at least in the proximity of) the switches. We actually received three instruments (two 56s and one 64) to demo, and were only able to put two up because one of the 56 yokes wouldn't take a C-clamp bolt, the hole being about 1/32" too small. Both models used 3-pin DMX cables. I ripped out the screws on one of the DMX out ports by plugging in the cable, pushing the connector into the body of the instrument. The ports were helpfully labelled DMX IN and DMX OUT, although on at least one of the instruments, the labels were swapped around, so that the IN port was labelled OUT and vice versa.

For our purposes, the Omnis were clearly insufficient. The beam angle was too narrow and too irregular, the construction far too light, and the always-on fan of the PAR64 was unacceptable. The quality control was obviously quite irregular as well. I wouldn't recommend these to anyone -- save your money and wait until they get cheaper, or get fewer of a better quality instrument.

The Elations were more our speed, and it was with real anticipation that I set them up. One of the Elations weighed more than all three Omnis combined. Each instrument was made with a heavy cast aluminum body (including an inbuilt safety cable anchor point on at least two of them), and was clearly much higher quality. They look similar to a Source4 Par except for the lens, with similarly finned bodies. Interestingly the yokes on each instrument were different -- the Opti RGB and Opti Tri had fold-out secondary yokes (presumably for floor-standing installation), and the ELED Zoom had a more standard yoke. The Opti RGB had a very shallow yoke, while the other two had unnecessarily tall yokes.

The Opti RGB, at about $300, is the low end of these three instruments. Its DMX channel is set by DIP switch (with no helpful labels showing bit values), with the 10th switch apparently acting as a DMX enable. With switch 10 off, the other 9 set DMX channel. With switch 10 on, the other nine are used to set the instrument into different modes. The manuals of all three instruments were definite low-points: poorly translated, and too vague, with wordy descriptions where succinct diagrams or tables would have been far more welcome.

The Opti RGB claims to have a 25° beam, which sounds about right. It was very tight, with a tiny clustered hotspot, and a very wide, nearly 180° spill that was a minute fraction of the hotspot's intensity, but was also clearly not just "black." The beam pattern was somewhat lumpy and uneven, like the Omnis. In our space, it lost out on beam size alone -- it would never make a good wash, and isn't really a good choice for a spot. Construction quality was fine. The LEDs were clearly using off-the-shelf molded glass or plastic lenses. It used 3-pin DMX connectors. It had fingers for holding a gel frame (something the Omnis lacked), and even came with a standard-size 6" fresnel type gel frame in the box.

The ELED Zoom is a very interesting instrument, and I was prepared to have it be my favorite. It includes the ability to control a 10°-60° beam width via DMX, along with the standard red, green, blue, color macros, strobe speed, and master dimmer. It is capable of defining a surprising number of channels. I have forgotten exactly how many (it's in the manual, which is available from the Elation site), but it ranged from something like 1 to 7 DMX channels, taking you from color macros (pre-defined colors depending on DMX level, which were clearly called out in the manual) only, to full control. It's also the most powerful of all the instruments we demoed, at a nominal 72 watts of LED power.

The ELED's various modes are set up via four buttons on the back of the instrument, and a four-digit LED display. The modes are entirely incomprehensible without the manual, and honestly are somewhat incomprehensible even with the manual. However, setting it up for DMX was easily accomplished, and it was delightful to see the DMX channel spelled out in decimal numbers rather than having to translate decimal to binary for DIP switches. Setting the address is accomplished by pressing an UP or DOWN button, and they scroll very quickly when held down -- a good thing, as with 7 channels per instrument, the last LED in the chain is going to be a goodly distance from the first one in channel count.

The beam pattern of the ELED Zoom was a bit surprising. I'm used to LEDs having a hotspot which then feathers more or less smoothly to a wide spill. This instrument had a very distinct, hard edge to its beam, much more like a focused ellipsoidal than a fresnel. There was some spill about 180° from the instrument, apparently leaking out to the side of the emitters, but the area between that spill and the beam edge was pretty dark. As the beam zoomed out to its widest, it gained a very noticeable bright ring around the beam, with smooth, even coverage through the middle of the beam. No hotspot to speak of.

The zoom feature is fun to play with. It takes a bit over a second to go from one extreme to the other (although I didn't time it, that's just an impression). The zoom is effected by moving the emitters inside the body of the instrument -- back and forth, closer and further from the lens board, which is fixed.

I found myself wishing for a moving mirror as part of the instrument. Having zoom by itself is not actually much of a selling point, at least for what we do. Once the novelty of the zoom feature wore off, the instrument's failings (for our purposes, I must stress) were clear: hard beam edge, gee-whiz but useless zoom feature, and a $200 premium over the one we really liked.

That would be the Opti Tri Par. This is clearly the newest design among all that we tried, and I encourage Elation to keep going in this vein. Among the features that set it apart from the others:

I really like the Opti Tri Par, although the unit we had was possessed of one or two very significant defects: although it seemed to speak DMX, it did something evil to the signal, so that all the dimmers on that DMX chain (ie, all the dimmers in the space) shut down in confusion. The LED display shut-off, which was supposed to come back when you pressed a button, didn't come back, and the instrument required a power-cycle to bring the display back. The unit we had also came in a box marked "Factory Renewed," so I don't expect these are intentional features of the instrument. It is a bit disturbing that we should have had this problem in the first place -- I really don't want to have any cause to explore Elation's warranty if at all possible.

I was able to use one of the stand-alone modes to view the beam, and we were very pleased with the pattern. It has a very wide hotspot, feathering beautifully to nothing, like an ideal fresnel. The beam is perhaps 50°-60°. Perfect for washes in our small space.

An interesting and unexpectedly nice side-effect of each emitter being an RGB LED was that shadows didn't have the half-tone fringing effect I've come to expect from LEDs -- they weren't sharp shadows, but they also didn't include different colors in the fade-off into shadow. When you have distinct emitters of each color, shadows look weirdly technicolor or half-toned, because a given emitter is shadowed, while the one next to it isn't, resulting in a multicolored fringe around shadows.

We tried putting a barndoor on the Opti Tri Par, and were underwhelmed with the result. Possibly it would work better with a snoot to put the barndoor edges further out, but controlling spill isn't a strong suit of LED instruments, due to the wide emitting surface.

The Tri had a bewildering array of modes, most of which aren't useful to a theater. The manual was just as useless as the other Elations. Fortunately, setting it into DMX mode is clear enough, and the different channel modes are understandable from the manual. Interestingly, the Opti Tri Par we demoed had a 5-pin DMX connector, and I'm hopeful that this is an optional extra. We'd much rather use 3-pin connectors, so we can hook these instruments up with microphone cable instead of the comparatively expensive dedicated DMX cable.

It's very nice to have settled on an instrument that will be useful, and doesn't break the bank. I'm disappointed at the ELED Zoom, but probably only because I had unreasonable expectations for it. I'm surprised at the significant difference between the $300 Opti RGB and the $400 Opti Tri Par -- the Tri is clearly a newer generation, and offers a huge improvement in quality for a fairly small difference in price. The Tri is even better than the $1500 instruments we rented last summer in some significant ways, and for less than a third the price.

Note that the prices I've quoted are from PNTA, and are approximate. I'm sure you can find these instruments for cheaper online, but I encourage you to shop with your local theatrical supply store -- if you don't shop there, it may not be there next time you really need it.

Posted at 21:35 permanent link category: /theater

Tue, 10 Aug 2010

Press photos

Every once in a while, I'll shoot a theatrical press photo that's just a really great photo. With Penguins, it's pretty easy for me to work with a huge grin on my face. Check those pictures out. They range from pretty good to fantastic. That's largely due to the content, though.

With Clubfoot (a show about stories from an EMT), I wasn't expecting to have the same reaction. What can you do with three people and more or less no action? Certainly not anything like what you can do with Penguins.

Which is why it was odd when I found myself grinning like an idiot over this picture:

It's really a fantastic picture. The composition, the lighting, the coloration, the expressions; everything came together. The subject matter isn't enough by itself ("three people looking at the camera" is not, on the face of it, a compelling idea for a picture) to grab you, yet this one does.

Anyway, it's nice to come away from something like this feeling so good about my work. These are the odd little moments that I'm reminded how much I enjoy what I'm doing.

Posted at 00:35 permanent link category: /theater

Thu, 05 Aug 2010

A Children's Book of Revelations

You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Come down to Annex Theatre for a showing of Penguins to catch this film in all its big-screen glory. Runs from August 7 through August 27, don't miss it!

Posted at 13:52 permanent link category: /theater

Thu, 29 Jul 2010

The economics of theater

Feel free to skip this one, it's kind of heady, and may not make a lot of sense.

So, think about how a normal consumer transaction goes. I make a widget, and it costs me $5 to produce. Let's say I spend another $5 on packaging, distribution, marketing, etc. My total cost to put a widget in a customer's hand is $10. I charge them $3 on top of that to have some profit, total $13 charge to the customer. They pay their $13, and go away happy with their widget. Don't dwell on the amounts here, just get that process in your head: cost, product, price, overhead, etc.

The end of that process is that I'm out my $5 product, and the $5 I spent on marketing and overhead, but I'm up by $13, so I've made $3 at the end of the day. Pretty straightforward. Do that a lot, and that's the basis of most trades.

Theater, however, is an entirely different beast, as occurred to me the other day.

In theater, you spend various resources to put together a product (a show) -- time, money, reused materials, etc. Rent costs a certain amount. If you assume a fixed-length run of a show, the product cost (the cost to put on the show) is pretty much fixed.

However, unlike many other transactions, the customer doesn't diminish your supply of the product. Whether you have three paying audience members, or a full house, one night of a show costs the same, and uses up the same amount of your product. You end up with the same amount of product left whether you cancelled for lack of sales, or completely sold out.

So income is, effectively, completely disconnected from cost. If you spend $100 on a show that is for whatever reason a hit, your profit would be enormous. If you blow $10 grand on a show that's a complete flop, you're out $10 grand. And through all that, the amount of product you have never changes -- your show is always (within the limits of what fate doles out in the form of actor performances, tech successes/failures, etc.) the same. Time is the only thing that diminishes the amount of product you have.

I don't really have a point here, it's just such a weird business to be in. The normal rules don't apply.

Posted at 16:22 permanent link category: /theater

Tue, 19 Jan 2010

Alecto madness

Alecto: Issue #1 opens on Friday. If I've been a bit quiet lately, that's why. Talk about a time suck.

Anyway, one of the fun projects I'm doing as part of this is making a "comic book" drawing of them for their biography page. Last night, while I was getting pictures of folks, I got this entirely badass picture of the run crew (Regan, Noelle and Mike):

I liked it so much that I wanted to share it.

And I suppose it would be teasing if I didn't share the corresponding comic book image:

Posted at 12:40 permanent link category: /theater

Sat, 05 Dec 2009

I am the tallest

I just posted pictures from the Comedy Fist Fight show last night, and we had this hilarious moment with Ms. Becky Poole. Neither of us is doing anything unusual to affect our height.

Posted at 21:36 permanent link category: /theater


Occasionally, I end up with a really good picture out of a Spin the Bottle shoot. Yesterday was no exception:

Posted at 13:32 permanent link category: /theater

Wed, 02 Dec 2009

The reviews are coming in...

The Weekly apparently can't get enough.

The Sunbreak thinks we're ultra-lowbrow.

All featuring photography by yours truly (although my copyright notice fooled them -- I should have said "photo credit to Ian, copyright to Annex"). Ah well. I don't really care about bylines.

Posted at 13:44 permanent link category: /theater

Sun, 04 Oct 2009

The spinning of the bottle

Just a quickie to point out that I took pictures at Spin the Bottle on Friday, and there are some really good ones in there. For instance:


Posted at 06:44 permanent link category: /theater

Fri, 28 Aug 2009

We win

Tonight is the last night of Penguins at Annex Theatre, and what a run it's been. Our biggest house was 83 people, out of 99 seats, and tonight's set to break that record with a sell-out audience. As of this afternoon, pre-sales were already up to the mid 70s.

One of the reasons? Maybe something to do with this:

Yep, one of the most-consulted "What shall we do tonight?" publications for our intended audience not only featured Penguins at the top of the list, but my photograph integrated with the headline.

We win. I'm immensely happy to be part of the juggernaut.

Posted at 19:08 permanent link category: /theater

Fri, 21 Aug 2009

There it is in black and white

First time I've actually captured my own byline in a print publication. Pretty cool. On top of that, it's a fantastic review. Sure, it's just a sidebar in a throw-away free weekly, but it's a sidebar that will probably increase audience. I'll take it.

Granted, that text over there is teeny-tiny, so click on it to see the huge-size version. Whee!

Posted at 16:31 permanent link category: /theater

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