Light Lab 2015: Most Recent Staging Marked Largest Ever, Engaging Both Students and Veteran Lighting Designers

By Williamson, Joshua Blackmer | TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology), Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Light Lab 2015: Most Recent Staging Marked Largest Ever, Engaging Both Students and Veteran Lighting Designers


Williamson, Joshua Blackmer, TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)


The 2015 USITT Conference and Stage Expo in Cincinnati this past March marked a significant milestone in the growth of the Lighting Commission's Light Lab project with the largest rig and most equipment in the history of the project. But perhaps most notably, the Light Lab demonstrated the profound changes in the lighting discipline that are currently underway.

The biennial Light Lab project is a special event that began in the late 1980s as part of USITT's Annual Conference and Stage Expo. Because lighting design is an art form reliant on technology, as that technology changes, designers need to see how the new equipment performs. Members of the Lighting Commission had long complained about the lack of equipment to use for demonstration purposes in the general conference sessions that were sponsored by the Lighting Commission. Teaming up with the Costume Commission in 1986, the first Light Lab was a session on using colored light to transform the color of costumes. At later conferences, a separate room was made available to set up lighting equipment for demonstration purposes.

Since then, the Light Lab has become an opportunity to create a learning environment away from the show floor with an emphasis on training students and other lighting professionals. Student volunteers set up the Lab, operate it, and strike it, all under the supervision of industry experts with the goal to educate people and exhibit and demonstrate equipment beyond standard theatrical fixtures and techniques. The Lab provides an environment for conference participants to see equipment that they otherwise might never have the opportunity to see at their home institution and away from the commercial pressures of the Expo floor.

Additionally, the Lab remains open during conference hours to encourage attendees to drop in and see the equipment and ask questions of the Lab staff. Even manufacturers have enjoyed stopping by to not only see their own equipment in use but also to see the other products. Past Labs have seen a Strand representative sitting at a MA console or an ETC technician working on a Vari-Lite fixture, for example. And the Lab provides an excellent opportunity for young lighting artists and technicians to learn directly from the manufacturers and professional designers attending the conference.

Building off of the ideas from the 2014 Fort Worth Sound Lab, which was combined with the Special Events/Keynote room, the USITT Conference Committee asked the Lighting Commission to consider merging the Light Lab with the Special Events room for 2015. At first, the Commission was reluctant to merge because of the level of control over the schedule and time we had to give up in favor of the larger collaboration with the Special Events team. But two issues quickly became clear: The conference budget really needed the two rooms to merge into one, and second, by doing so, more equipment and services would be available compared with past Light Labs. So what began in the 1990s and early 2000s as a modest light lab rig of a few ERSs and PARs has now become the 171-fixture rig used in Cincinnati--a rig that included only four conventional tungsten fixtures.

DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

The single-greatest challenge in assembling the design and plot for the Light Lab is to design a rig for a show that hasn't yet been created, with no budget and equipment. Because the Lab relies on the generosity of vendors to supply the equipment, the wish list for the Lab must be submitted in the fall, and the details of the sessions for the Lab may not be fully confirmed until late January. Therefore, the design of the Lab has to take a generic repertory plot approach. In the year preceding the Lab, the Lighting Commission agrees to a certain format for the Lab such as a dance plot, a theatre plot, or small ground support rig, for example. Because the previous years had largely been dance plots, the Lighting Commission decided to go in a different direction with a concert-style plot to both offer the Lab participants a rig that has been requested for some time and to address the design needs of the Special Events stage. …

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