ETC Eos Gets Lucky with 13

by Jacob Coakley

LOS ANGELES — When Mike Baldassari took on the new musical 13 at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum in December, he collaborated with a director he had never worked with before, a programmer he had never met before, on the world premiere of a show he had never seen, in a venue he had never worked at, with a new lighting control console he had never used. Not to mention the cast of teenage actors and musicians he would work with who, under California child labor laws, were often permitted to work only five hours at a time — making for a very compressed schedule.

With that much novelty and time pressure at the outset, as well as the daily script and blocking changes that form the ramp-up to any show’s debut, Baldassari needed an accessible console. “What I liked best about Eos was the familiarity. I could talk Obsession II to it and to the programmer, and it did what I expected it to do. Because it has Obsession DNA and syntax, I was comfortable working with it in the middle of so many other variables.”

“You aren’t going to know anything about a console until you use it on a musical,” says Baldassari. “That’s the ultimate testing ground. A musical — especially one like 13 — requires a set of parameters that will stretch any console. It’s not like a pop show where you’re cueing just one song at a time. There are a lot of people moving around on a bi-level, automated stage and you have to be lighting the music at the same time as the action. There are no repeated cues.”

“With a brand-new musical like this,” says Baldassari, “you arrive in the morning and they hand you script revisions the size of a small phonebook, saying, ‘These are the things we’re going to change today.’ During tech, you program in a linear fashion from the beginning to the end of the show. But once you get to rehearsals, every change you put in is going to be out of order, so that’s where a console will get stretched, showing you how well it can manipulate data and how well can you implement changes without messing up the things that come before and after whatever it is you’re changing.”

13’s lighting rig included 13 moving lights (five Studio Spot CMYs and eight Vari*Lite VL1000 Arcs), 46 Wybron CXI scrollers, 32 Wybron Coloram II Scrollers, eight Wybron gobo rams,  two Lycian Starklite followspots, as well as the Taper’s house complement of conventionals (for a combined 392 Source Four ellipsoidals and 36 Source Four PARs). The entire rig was controlled on the Eos console.

At the Taper, the show used a two-level set on a 3/4 thrust stage with automated parts that move in and out. Surrounding the stage was an arched truss filled with CXIs and Source Four PARs. “On a big open stage like that, it’s the lighting’s job to change the shape of the space. It’s important to create an intimate small scene, which can instantly bust out to a full stage number. Also, the thrust stage doesn’t have much of its own color; it’s mostly in grey values, with touches of color for the ‘scene-specific’ pieces. The lighting really had to supply the color, largely from the diagonal back light. In the musical numbers we added more saturated color from other angles. In the reality scenes, we did bright, time-of-day lighting to carve out very specific areas.”

Some of 13’s sets had their own internal lighting, cued in Eos. The realistic lighting in the garage set was created by no-color Source Fours hidden in the rafters, as well as real Home Depot worklights mounted on typical yellow stands.

One unique scene of the show, referred to as The Bloodmaster, spoofs a teen scream film. The young actors in movie-theatre seats face the real audience and react to a stereotypical horror flick that is projected above them. The front lighting (four Source Fours) on the kids mimicked the flickering light of the movie screen above, and whenever a stabbing occurred in the movie, a VL1000 front light went to heavy red, bathing the screaming kids in an exaggerated hue. There was even a simulated “clapper” light cue, where an actress claps her hands, and the video and lighting mimic a light coming on in a projected room. When the music went next into heavy-metal mode, Baldassari used rock-and-roll lighting clichés, using Eos to control the moving lights and the “hit-every-beat” ACL chases.

Programmer Willy McLaughlin worked with Baldassari during most of the production period, with Andrew Webberley stepping in during part of the Christmas holidays.

13’s sold-out run at the Taper finished in February, but the musical may make the leap from regional theatre to a higher-profile venue. Baldassari says if the next stage is a proscenium, he’ll add more low side light, shinbusters and other enhancements specifically for the dance sequences.

For more information, visit www.mike-o-matic.com or www.etcconnect.com.