Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre is a popular five-week summer festival in Logan, Utah, that presents four fully staged works in repertory at the Ellen Eccles Theatre. Lighting designer Chris Wood, who just wrapped up his seventh season working on the festival as part of a top-notch cast and crew, had the opportunity to use Elation Artiste Picasso™ LED profile moving heads on this year’s productions – Newsies, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and The Marriage of Figaro. 4 Wall in Las Vegas recommended the Picasso to Chris and although the fixture entered the lighting specification somewhat late, which didn’t give the designer much time to familiarize himself with it, he says he got better acquainted with the light through fixture documentation. “I appreciate that Elation puts out a lot of photometric data,” Chris said, “which gave me really good information about what the fixture could do and what the light would look like without actually seeing it in person. That was very helpful in planning.”
Following June rehearsals, the festival opened in early July with final shows wrapping on August 3rd. All popular classics and all big shows, the festival schedule was quite demanding with two shows running every day and around 90 minutes between matinee and an evening performance to change out, redo colours and refocus. “Because we don’t have time to refocus lights between shows, and the scenic designs are completely different, our moving light package is extremely important in making each show look unique and individual,” said Chris, who had 14 Artiste Picassos at his disposal along with other LED moving heads and a large amount of tungsten sources. This was the first year they went completely with LED moving lights with the Artiste Picassos replacing some noisier arc source fixtures. “When you’ve got 30 moving lights in a theatre and it’s basically an opera company, trying to keep arc sources cool is a substantial problem,” the designer said. “Once manufacturers started coming out with fixtures with cold white LED engines in moving lights, like the Picasso, we knew we wanted to start shifting in that direction and as a consequence, the noise level in the theatre has come down substantially.”
Chris placed 12 Artiste Picasso units over the stage at about a 28’ trim height – three units per electric – for specials, textures, etc., with two units at front of house for textures and washes. The range of shows required the designer to delve into the unit’s feature set with Wood finding some creative uses for its rotating 4-blade framing system. “The fixtures were impressively bright and in terms of gobos and the framing shutters, they worked out fantastic,” he said. “For Newsies, my programmer and I did a lot of heavy live moves with the framing shutters, creating shapes around pockets of dancers that corresponded with the choreography on stage. As the group of Newsies did different formations during songs, we reshaped rectangles of light around them, which would follow them in realtime with the shutters moving and snapping. The ability to do a full light with the shutter blades was fantastic. We did a lot of reveals with that.”
In one scene, where the Newsies enter stage left and stage right, Chris describes a look in which he had the Picasso framing shutters pushed all the way in, then as the actors entered, he pulled them downstage in a wall of light coming down from the set. “It worked out really nicely,” he said. “The movement was smooth and the shutters were pretty much spot on every time so we didn’t need to adjust them when we went back to that look.
With four shows in repertory, Chris says the Picasso’s two gobo wheels were extremely handy with enough diversity in design that he didn’t have to change them out. In one creative example, among many, he combined the long bar gobo with the linear prism and rotated it in a way that made it look like gears in machinery moving. He also used the 360-degree animation wheel quite often, for example for rain effects in Mary Poppins.
When it comes to colour, Chris says he is picky about his colour shades and appreciated the subtractive CMY colour mixing of the Picasso, which he says makes it easier to create duller shades or vibrant colours. He used the fixture’s CTO colour correction a fair amount to balance with a large number of tungsten fixtures and other moving heads in the rig.
Utah Festival Opera Musical Theatre is known for its high-quality productions and stunning visual design. From costumes to set and lighting design, the calibre of this year’s shows certainly lived up to that high standard.