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Philips Selecon PL1 LED Luminaires Crucial to Achieving 10 amp Lighting Design Load for Water Wars

25 August 2011,

Water Wars by Elaine Acworth, presented by the La Boite 2011 Indie Season and Umber Productions at the La Boite Theatre in Brisbane, Australia is set in the not-too-distant future at a time of water scarcity and its central themes of environmental awareness and sustainability are echoed throughout the production. The producers have set themselves the goal of presenting a production in the most environmentally sustainable fashion possible from the moment the audience walks through the door till the applause ceases and the house lights come on. From programs available to download to mobile devices instead of paper hard copy through to the use of environmentally friendly materials in the construction of the sets combined with the technical and theatrical brilliance of the production lay witness to just what is possible with modern theatre technology.

Lighting Designer David Walters became involved with this project about three years ago when the author of Water Wars, Elaine Acworth approached him with an idea for the show. The concept struck a chord with David and he was subsequently involved in a process that included several workshops and many different drafts of the script.

Says David, "From the outset I was interested in the concept of using light as a visual metaphor for water. In the water-deprived world of the story, this seemed to offer some wonderful opportunities to play with "water" spraying out of a hose or running from a tap or filling a bucket. The reality was that these ideas could work well in very specific moments calling for special effects; however they became compromised when broader visibility of the actors was called for. So the idea was then extended. If light was a metaphor for water in the futuristic world of Water Wars where water is a very precious commodity, then "light" would also be precious."

Although dealing with the darker sides of human nature, the play has at its heart a careful optimism and a longing to do the right thing for the future. This optimism is expressed through the central character, a 7-year old boy named Cal whose refuge is his backyard tree house. Designer Penelope Challen strengthened this idea by making the tree and tree house the centerpiece of her scenic design, leading to David featuring a central circular truss as the "crown" of the tree and the physical heart of his lighting design.

In preparation for the show a workshop was held in Toowoomba last year to analyse the extensive technical and production requirements of the script, and then explore the possible design solutions for those requirements. During the workshop it became very quickly evident that in order to balance the central environmental themes of the play, the design had to embrace the notions of sustainability that were inherent in the text.

David elaborates on this thought process, "To do anything less would have been hypocritical. Part of the design brief meant that a solution that did not preclude touring was highly desirable. Based on these ideas the notion of a lighting rig that required minimal power was born. Because of the variety of power efficient lighting solutions that have flooded the market in recent years I decided to set myself the goal of trying to design a rig that never consumed more that 10 amps at any given time. This limit was both arbitrary but also very pragmatic. If achievable it would not only fully satisfy the ideas on sustainability, but also greatly simplify touring. It was a somewhat daunting challenge and required a great deal of research which included speaking to a large number of people in our industry. One of the areas that was obviously of great interest was the brave new world of LED lighting technology."

At that time David had heard of the Philips Selecon PL1 LED Luminaire from friends within the industry and seen pictures in magazines however it was not until a visit to Sydney Theatre Company's Walsh Bay Venue in May 2011 that he actually got his hands on one. While at Walsh Bay David had a long talk to Graham Henstock, STC's head of lighting which proved very informative, explaining, "Graham had been instrumental in researching all forms of energy efficient lighting as part of the "greening" of their operations under the leadership of Co-Artistic Directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton. In short, after 18 months of research, the instrument of choice that genuinely fulfilled all areas of sustainability (including recycling), while at the same time providing all the desirable characteristics of a conventional theatrical luminaire, was the Philips Selecon PL1. It also delivered the wonderful flexibility of DMX control and of course, a stunning range of colours. It fitted what I was looking for perfectly."

Peter McKenzie, Australia Market Manager for Philips Entertainment who was instrumental in supplying the PL1 luminaires for the show attended opening night and was delighted to observe, "David has incorporated the PL1s in FOH positions and they are used to broadly illuminate a downstage centre area and to specifically light flats and acting areas on the left and right. Playing to the additive colour mixing strengths of LED sources he has taken advantage of quite bold lighting states where the PL1s deliver very acceptable warm white acting light and as well as wonderfully rich punchy coloured states. They are even used to "strobe" in some of the storm FX scenes in the play."

Geoff Squires from Pro-Nel Lighting supplied most of the lighting for the show as well as filling the roles of head electrician and lighting technician. Geoff was intrigued from the minute David explained that he wanted to run the show off a 10 amp general power outlet and fortuitously already had the required lighting equipment in his stock. "From the specification I knew I would need a large number of dimmer circuits as well as hot power so I rigged up a three way splitter fed from a single 10 amp outlet. This allowed me to run the rig without worrying about 3-phase supply while helping David achieve his goal of 10 amps. We have not tripped the breaker once! The curtain call is the largest power demand state and comes in at 7 amps. The average state runs at about 4 while the idle state of a blackout sits at almost an amp of power to run the dimmer and led electronics. In full flight the audio system drains about 5 amps, but we are not sure we measured everything as La Boite runs distributed audio power."

About a week before the first load-in David realised that he needed greater control over the led luminaires, wanting to control each fitting individually, and none of the other available desks had the right number of control channels. Geoff had just purchased a Strand Lighting Palette VL 16 control console through The Production Shop and decided to run to the show on it as a perfect opportunity to put it through its paces. Geoff says of his experience with the Palette, "The best way to learn a desk is to throw it on a gig and learn as you go! We were all very nervous using a desk that no-one on the production had ever used before, especially with very little time for the plot, but with support from Paul Lewis, Philips Entertainment Technical Specialist we were able to get through the plot very quickly, with the desk performing admirably. We are all very happy with it and we are discovering new features all the time."

The industry move away from conventional dimmer and filament based lighting systems to the onboard electronics and DMX control of moving lights, data projectors and LED fixtures is something that David Walters believes is revolutionising theatre lighting design. "Instruments such as the Philips Selecon PL1 will only accelerate this change. I found the luminaire very easy to focus with clean shadows from the barndoor accessories and plotting presented no problems. In fact these tools have been fundamental to achieving the design goal of lighting Water Wars with a maximum of 10 amps while not compromising on production values."

To read more on this groundbreaking production, see: www.umber.com.au

Photo Credits

Images from the Production = Water Wars 2011. Photographer: Al Caeiro.

Lighting states = Water Wars 2011. Photographer: Nicholas O'Donnell