A World of Color at the Festival of Independent Theatres
Lighting Designer Jaymes Gregory raves about the PLCyc LED Luminaire at the BHCC
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
by Philips Strand Lighting

The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) is a division within the City Manager’s office which creates opportunities for local artists and cultural organizations to showcase their talents. One of the performance venues supported by the OCA, the Bath House Cultural Center (BHCC), hosts an annual one-act play festival called the Festival of Independent Theatres (FIT), a four-week festival comprised of small theatre companies producing seldom seen, new, or avant-garde works. Now in its 14th season, the FIT is showcasing the work of eight local theatre companies, but it also showcasing the capabilities of the new Selecon PLCyc LED Luminaire from Philips Strand Lighting.

“As a freelance lighting designer in Dallas, this is my third year with the festival,” began lighting designer Jaymes Gregory. “In this type of festival setting, I don’t necessarily know what each company wants their show to look like until we actually get into the first tech rehearsals. One of the main challenges to this is that it’s like shooting blind, so the first thing I have to do when creating the festival plot is to make sure we have full stage coverage and a variety of looks for the back cyc.”

As he begins the design process to create his lighting plot, Gregory starts with the basics, and then works in the color. He knows that he could be asked to create any number of looks, and so he must prepare accordingly.

“Basically what I do is grid it out so that each company has nine different isolated areas they can play with and we try to keep the color palette as interesting as possible. We want each company to be able to have a warm or cool look, and then we also give each company the option to use the cyc to play with different times of day and emotions within the staging of the scripts. The lighting has to be flexible and it has to be able to give them a number of colors to choose from.”

In previous years at the FIT, Gregory has seen a number of challenges with the performance of the older cyc lights at the BHCC. While he and his team have tried a number of solutions, they were never able to achieve the exact result desired, but this year he would be handed a new solution.

“In my first year, we did a 3-color RGB wash for the cyc, but it was sort of flat. Last year, we gave each company the option of either RGB or RBA, but then we had to replace gels in between each show based on what they needed. This was very time consuming and we burnt through a lot of gel. This year, before we started tech, I got a call saying the BHCC had purchased the new LED Cyc lights. I was apprehensive at first because I know that the technology is there with LED fixtures and they are doing amazing things with them, but from my experience there really isn’t a lot of acceptable LED in the cyc light area. So my initial reaction was to think that either the BHCC had spent a lot of money on the new fixtures or this was going to be a nightmare.”

“We actually purchased the first eight PLCyc luminaires to roll off the assembly line in North America as part of a lighting upgrade,” said Theresa Furphy, BHCC Technical Coordinator. “Our previous cyc lights were simply reaching the end of their life span, and when I saw the PLCyc, I knew that it would be the perfect light for us. We host many different theatre, music, and dance companies throughout the year and our cyc gets used quite a bit, and now we get a virtually unlimited color palette, we do not have to worry about gel costs, and we can run them all off a single 20 Amp circuit.”

The cyclorama at the BHCC measures 9’ x 20’ and the grid trims at only 9’. Getting a full color mix from a small throw distance has always been an issue, but with the PLCyc luminaire, that issue is no more.

Gregory continued, “Because of the throw distance between the grid and the cyc at the BHCC, we could never get a full RGB color mix and nothing really mixed the way that we wanted it to. With the old MR16 cyc lights, we had to put 3-4 sheets of diffusion in front of the light to get an acceptable wash, but then we lost the color. With the PLCyc the color is fantastic and really rich. It provides a nice, big, full wall of color which is everything you want from a cyc light, and it draws a significantly less power. When I asked how many dimmers they were running on, and I was told they are running from a single circuit, now that’s amazing.”

Furphy added, “The BHCC has a dimmer capacity of only 45 dimmers, which includes the house lighting. To be able to free up dimmer space by installing the PLCyc fixtures was a tremendous advantage. Plus, with the new fixtures, I can hang the cyc lights by myself. It was close to impossible for one person to hang a strip, and now the whole cyc can be done in a fraction of the time. Their ease-of-use is incredible.”

With many small theatre companies, production budgets are also a concern. The same applies to the production budget of the FIT, but this year, the budget got a little boost.

“Because we are not a large festival, the FIT has to be budget conscious, and to be able to cut the cyc gel budget was a significant advantage,” admitted Gregory. “While it may sound like a small line item, it’s not. The space is not conducive to running a cyc and with the old strips the only way I could combat the front light was to hit the cyc from the floor and the lights would get extremely hot. We were burning through gel like crazy and if you did any saturated looks the gel would last about one show. The PLCyc has none of these issues and that has been both a time-saver on the tech crew and a money savings on the final budget.”

As FIT 2012 draws to a close, Gregory has now had his first opportunity to work with an LED cyc light in a full performance environment. When starting the process, he was admittedly apprehensive, but in the end the PLCyc LED luminaire surpassed all his expectations and has him excited for FIT 2013.

“The PLCyc luminaires are awesome,” concluded Gregory. “The color mix rocks and that is what impressed me the most. Before we started, I had no idea they were actually RGBW. To have the white tint has been amazing. For all the companies in the festival, it’s opened up a whole new world because the color options are limitless. Next year, I am looking forward to using them on the floor and hanging in the grid to create an even more dynamic and beautiful color wash. They truly are an amazing LED cyc light.”

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