A Console for Everyone
Technical Director Shawn DuBois and Philips Strand Lighting together at Skidmore College
Monday, October 3, 2011 4:00 am
by Philips Strand Lighting

At colleges and universities around the world, technical directors are often faced with the same challenge when it comes to lighting control for their performance season. Using primarily student technicians, the control console must be intuitive enough for a novice programmer, but also must be able to handle the creative needs of seasoned programmer when the production calls for it. Such is the case at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, where technical director Shawn DuBois oversees a full production schedule using student technicians, and who has found a solution to his lighting control challenge at the Arthur Zenkel Music Center with the Light Palette Live control console from Philips Strand Lighting.

“The Arthur Zenkel Music Center is home to the Skidmore College music programs and 90% of the performances we do are acoustic in nature and classically-based,” began DuBois. “We have our house rig set up with general stage looks so that we don’t necessarily have to go back and refocus or reprogram the board for each different performance. For these types of shows, we simply need to be able to turn it on and then decide which sub-masters to use based upon how many people are on stage and what they are doing all in a classical white light performance. But occasionally, there will be a jazz or rock performance where we need to be more creative with the lighting and this is where we get to have some fun.”

Having been with Skidmore College since the opening of the Arthur Zenkel Music Center, DuBois faces a slightly unique challenge in that his student technicians are music students and not from a theatre program where one would be more familiar with lighting controls. Because of this, DuBois relies heavily on the ease of control offered inside the Light Palette Live.

“It’s the students who primarily run the board during the musical performances and it’s not quite like the theatre department where I would call them theatre electricians or technicians because they’re not quite at that level, but with the Strand console they don’t have to be. The Light Palette Live is extremely intuitive. If the students have any PC experience, which they all do, they can run the console and understand its interface at the Command Line set-up to turn on a light, record a look to a sub-master, or even record a cue. It’s that easy.”

Although the majority of the Skidmore College music production schedule consists of classical music performances, the full production season also includes a partnership with Carnegie Hall that provides a semester in residence at Skidmore for students of the Julliard School. Each semester in residence comes with a new a diverse set of performers and many times the premier of a brand new piece. Therefore, never truly knowing what the design needs might be, the lighting control must be expansive and powerful as well. And it is here that DuBois found additional value in the Light Palette Live.

“This summer we purchased some new RGB LED lighting and this was when I looked at the board and said ‘wow, now I get what this is all about’. I basically just told the board I was hooking up some new lights and it auto-assigned them knowing exactly which LED lights they were, it knew how to run them, and that was it, they were on. Very quickly I had full control and could bring up any color under the sun. Strand has done something really phenomenal with this console, this is amazing technology.”

While no production facility is complete with only a lighting control console, the Arthur Zenkel Music Center also uses Philips Strand Lighting Leko Lite luminaires to illuminate the performance area and C21 Dimmer Racks to power the lighting system.

“The back wall of the stage is a 30' tall window wall that makes it a fantastically unique space. The outside ‘scenery’ becomes an integral part of the ambiance of the performance where often I will incorporate a leaf break-up wash on stage and side walls to help visually reinforce the idea of the outside, or nature, being part of the performance space. For this and all of our front light, we use the Strand Leko Lite luminaires because they are dependable, easy to maintain, and provide a wonderful white light output.”

“For our dimming we have two C21 96-Rack Dimmer Systems with about 140 dimmers total and we haven’t had any problems at all, and isn’t that really what you want to say about a dimmer system. If they are working, then they are doing their job. I have been in situations or facilities where you had to pay close attention to power draw and how you are doing it and when you are doing it, but with the C21 Dimmers I don’t have to because I know we will be fine.”

As each production comes to a close and work quickly begins on the next, DuBois stands confident that his lighting system is ready for whatever may come his way and with the Light Palette Live console to control the designs, both he and his students will be able to quickly and creatively display the perfect lighting environment to accentuate the music on stage.

“I started with Strand consoles with the original LightPalette and MiniPalette as the first computerized consoles that I ever worked on, and with the LightPalette Live, Strand has truly created a no limitations console. You can configure it to behave however you need for your particular situation and it’s the ultimate flexibility that really sets it apart from other consoles on the market. This truly is a console for everyone.”

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