Lighting Design and Elephant Puppets for Circus 1903

by Stage Directions

When Circus 1903 – the Golden Age of Circus visited London’s Royal Festival Hall over the Christmas period, its world-class performers and life-size puppet elephants were beautifully lit by lighting designer Paul Smith. As a part of Smith's rig, the designer used 26 of the brand new VL2600 Wash fixtures from Vari-Lite. Smith declared himself a fan of the new luminaire, impressed by its compact size, first-class framing, and versatile zoom capabilities, among other fine performance features. Here's a video from Circus 1903 on the puppet elephants that the production created:

The compact LED fixtures delivered a number of immediate advantages. “By switching to the much more compact fixture we’ve gained extra floor space,” he says. “We’ve also replaced the heavier wash fixtures overhead, which is a great as it’s quite a weight-restricted show.” Supplied by Siyan, the VL2600 Washes delivered “the best-looking version of the show that we’ve had so far – certainly the one that I’m happiest with,” says Smith.

Circus 1903 with a lighting design by Paul Smith. Photos ©The Fifth Estate

Smith was also delighted by the VL2600 Wash’s internal framing system. “I was absolutely blown away by the shuttering – I’ve never seen a moving wash with barn-doors that work this well. It was like using a bladed profile, but with a perfect, soft edge,” he says. “That was the big break-through on this show... I can shutter down to insanely narrow corridors of light which, in lighting a circus format, is perfect.” The framing allowed Smith to visually segment the performance area, keeping the audience focused on the action. “I can separate out areas with intensity and color, and I can put the light precisely where I need it, rather than having to re-aim the fixture and losing that hotspot on the action. Being able to shutter so tightly is perfect.”

The consistency of the Vari-Lite palette across the rig was also a key factor in the end result, says Smith – as was the CTO adjustment. “Having that uniformity of look across the whole rig is definitely helpful. It’s a very sepia, pastel color palette in the first part of the show, so everything is CTO’d. The VL2600s coped very well with that,” he says.

Of the VL2600’s zoom range, he says, “The zoom is perfect. I don’t think I ever managed to use them at their widest, although frequently at their narrowest! It covers every situation I could envisage for this show... they were a pleasure to use.”

Circus 1903 with a lighting design by Paul Smith. Photos ©The Fifth Estate

Circus 1903 with a lighting design by Paul Smith. Photos ©The Fifth Estate

Further information from Vari-Lite: