The Great Outdoors - Josh Allen Lights The Lost Colony

by Michael Eddy
in Design
The Lost Colony
The Lost Colony

Lighting designer, theater consultant, and newly-minted owner of lighting representative firm WHOCO, Joshua Allen has been working with The Lost Colony in the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1991. After having started out as an actor/technician, Allen has worked his way up through the ranks as master electrician to having taken over the lighting design position two-years ago. The Lost Colony, which just celebrated its 80th season this summer, is an outdoor drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green that looks at the history of the first English colonies on Roanoke Island, NC.

The Lost Colony Theatre   Photo Courtesy: Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA)Stage Directions: How has the lighting and control technology changed over your time at The Lost Colony?
Josh Allen: When I started back in ’91, the lighting consisted of a bunch of old Kliegl and Century fixtures and some rusty PAR cans. There were no connectors; everything was bundles of Romex run to lighting positions and wire-nutted directly to the fixtures. I moved up to become the assistant master electrician and then the master electrician in the mid-90s. We tried to make an effort to bring everything up-to-date and added three-pin stage connectors and clean it all up. The theatre was renovated in 96 and we got a new dimming system at that point in time. 

Now, we have two, nice ETC Sensor 96-way rolling dimmer racks. I’ve been serving on numerous committees throughout the years and helped them re-design and get their infrastructure design up-to-date through my role as a theater consultant, which was my everyday gig. We pulled out the permanently installed dimmers and put in two company switches and these touring racks, since this is the Outer Banks and we wanted to be able to roll the equipment out to a safe place off-season. 

The lighting rig is now almost all ETC Source Four fixtures. Last summer, we added 36 ETC LED D40 and D60 XT and XTIs. We also have two SGM G-Spots in the rig as re-positionable specials; you never see them move. Since there’s nothing overhead, but the sky, we light almost everything from side positions or high sidelighting positions. There are some niche areas that are really tough just to get something into without washing out that area. They help to focus in on some specific areas where we need some punch, or some color and texture. We are using an ETC Gio @5 console for control. What a great desk; it’s a joy to work with. 

Talk about redesigning the towers and updating the lighting positions around the theatre.
The old metal scaffolding towers were removed and the historical wooden towers were re-designed. In 2011, Robert Long and I from Theatre Consultants Collaborative, redesigned the lighting positions. We incorporated the look of the historic wooden fort towers into a steel structure, so it looks like the fort tower and then out of the top pops this steel structure tower position with three catwalks on each tower. These are the main lighting positions and actually goes up 20-feet higher than they used to. It’s a really nice lighting position. 

There’s also the position on top of the booth. Some designers didn’t like to use it, but I load it up as I think that it creates nice angles coming into the side stages. I use a lot of ETC Source Four five- and ten-degree units there in the star position. We do get a lot of bounce from the wind up there with the larger fixtures, but the crew has gotten great creating a three-point brace for those units. 
The Lost Colony Theatre   Photo Courtesy: Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA)Are there other fixtures for hard to light positions that you’re using in your rig?
We have linear LED fixtures from Enttec that we’re using to light interiors of cabins, the Queens chamber and things like that. They’ve been great as we can tuck them up in hard to reach positions with battery power and run via wireless DMX control. They aren’t outdoor-rated fixtures, so we tuck them up inside or protect them from the elements; but they’ve worked out great for what we’ve needed.

What are some of the challenges working outdoors?
The LEDs that we have, the ETC D40 and D60s, are designed for outdoor use and are IP-67 rated so those are not an issue. We do have some fixtures, like the Enttec units, that are not rated for outdoor use. Of course, we’re mostly concerned about water intrusion, but secondly, we want to make sure that there’s no corrosion of any of the components. The crew takes time during the work call and checking that everything is completely dry. They’re looking in any area where there might be on opportunity for some sort of intrusion—whether salt air or water—and making sure things are wiped down and kept clean. We’ve replaced about 90% of the old PAR lamps that used to be in the show with the ETC LED fixtures. I still have about a dozen incandescent PARs for a two-color wash. 

The other issue we discovered is that no matter the precautions you take, nature finds a way. With LEDs, there’s data and circuitry involved. We had a pretty good lightning strike this summer and we thought that we were covered from a data standpoint and had our opto-isolation going on; there shouldn’t have been an issue. One of our lighting positions, behind the proscenium, had an RC4 Wireless DMX receiver mounted there and a hard line of DMX run up to the ETC D40 fixtures mounted there. The RC4 receiver was protected from water, but someone had plugged it into a convenience outlet and that’s where the lightning got into the system. We had a good jolt and it fried the D40s; we lost 14 units that night. I will say that ETC was extremely responsive and helped us get them repaired and back to us.
The Lost Colony Theatre   Photo Courtesy: Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA)Talk about your design associates, assistants, and your crew. 
My associate designer last year was Andrew Fisher and my assistant was Noah Trimner. Andrew was great, but he wasn’t able to come back this year, so Noah filled both roles and did a great job. Noah is a UNCSA graduate and he’s fantastic. The production master electrician is Bree Weintraub. She’s been at Lost Colony for a few years, but this past summer was her first as master electrician. She did a really great job taking it by the reins with all the changes that I threw her way. Bandit Lites has been supplying our lighting needs for the past two years.

It’s a lot for this crew of five to show up and deal with this place. I don’t think people realize what a different beast it is; it’s not like walking into a theater and roll everything off a truck. Here you have show reports that include things like, ‘Snake crossed stage, followed actor and then exited SR.’ We have racoons and birds at the top of the lighting towers, you get it all. 

You sound like you like this job.
I really do. The show has been running for 80 years and it’s actually a really great show and I have a real love for this place. At some point, in 1991, it got its hooks into me and I just keep coming back. I hope to continue to design this show for years to come.