Astera Lights Irish Drive in Drama

Fiach, a unique concept by Philip Doherty, unites the disciplines of theatre, cinema and comedy in a seat-edge live onstage and in-car drama. Lighting Designer, Mick Murray specified eight Astera Titan, supplied by Cue One, in a COVID-19 drive-in viewing environment.

The ground-breaking Irish-language work was presented (with English surtitles) by Fíbín in association with An Taibhdhearc in a car park at Baile na hAbhann, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, starring award-winning actors Fionnuala Flaherty and Dara Devaney.

Producers Fíbín acquired the services of Murray to create the lighting, video and staging designs. With an impressive array of idiosyncratic mixed media projects to his credit, Mick jumped at the chance and reached for Astera Titan Tubes – supplied by lighting rental specialist, Cue One – as a practical, powerful and aesthetically pleasing lighting solution.

Murray positioned the cars – the dealer’s Ford Capri and the policewoman’s unmarked Nissan Primera vehicle – on staging decks with the actors inside as far as possible into the audience. Four Astera Titan Tubes were rigged in the two cars and the other four on the four ‘scenic’ streetlights complete with custom-designed 3D printed hoods.

The four dynamic ‘streetlights’ completed the desired physical immersion effect extending from the edges of the car stages out through the lines of audience vehicles pulling them into the action. A pair of Astera Titan Tubes were the main key lights, augmented with fill coming from LED strips placed on the sun visors and dashboards. In the police car, the Titans were secured either side along the top of the front doors, and in the Capri, one was in front and one on the left.

Live camera feeds from the cars were beamed up onto a billboard style projection screen behind the cars. Much of the pre-recorded video content and close shots – feet on accelerators, hands of steering wheels, etc., plus some additional optical trickery – was also shot on site during the rehearsal period, all coordinated and compiled by Murray and programmed onto a Smode media server. “The Astera units were pixel mapped for effects to run over their static show states which were varied slightly in colour and intensity, always keeping the camera image looking good,” commented Murray, who was delighted with the results.

All eight Titan Tubes were run powered, via thin DC cables back to the Titan charger located in the boots of the cars, and were programmed, together with the other lights, via an ETC Ion lighting console by Assistant LD, Ritchie Lambert. The car headlights were also DMX controlled and run through the lighting desk for the performance.

The production was a highly rewarding experience in which to be involved elucidated Murray, who lives in Slovenia and had to quarantine for 14 days on arrival back in his native Ireland. The show evolved – parts of it very spontaneously – over about six weeks, four of which were spent on site ahead of the first show, building, preparing, tech’ing, rehearsing, shooting the prerecorded video parts, etc.

Accommodating 45 cars at the Connemara site, each show was sold out for the two-week run, and there is now talk of touring it as a fully self-contained – technical production, set, performers, crew – innovative and highly entertaining COVID-19 safe drive-in drama production.