A Handy New Tool in the Lighting Tool Box
Richard Pilbrow & Michael Gottlieb on the PLCyc LED in The Great American Mousical
Thursday, February 7, 2013
by Philips Strand Lighting

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Dedicated to producing the very best in both established and new theatrical works, Goodspeed Musicals recently debuted The Great American Mousical, a whimsical, musical comedy that celebrates life in the theatre, directed by Julie Andrews. Performing inside the Norma Terris Theatre, the production team was challenged to bring the excitement and spectacle of Broadway and the magic of New York City into a compact 200-seat venue. To accomplish this, co-lighting designers Richard Pilbrow and Michael Gottlieb brought in a new and compact lighting tool, the PLCyc LED luminaire from Philips Strand Lighting and Philips Selecon.

“The book which the play is based upon is full of gorgeous illustrations and since the illustrator (Tony Walton) was also the set and costume designer for our production, these design elements were the starting point for the lighting design,” began Pilbrow. “The great challenge was that the production played in the Norma Terris Theatre and it’s a very small stage, but the show itself is very complicated so the lighting really tries to preserve, amplify and enhance the cheerful progress of the story.”

The Great American Mousical tells the story of a colony of mice that live in the basement of a Broadway theatre and have an exact model of the real theatre where they do their own shows. When the theatre is threatened to be torn down and their star disappears, it begins a wild tale that travels throughout New York City into 38 different locations. So as production meetings began last summer, Pilbrow and Gottlieb knew that the lighting design would be integral in helping to bring the show to life.

Gottlieb continued, “In a production such as this the set design comes first and we are there to essentially follow and support. There are so many locations in the show, the lighting really has to do its best to keep up. The set had a number of challenges to it. Initially, there is the idea of scale and trying to imply that the actors playing the mice are very small. We had to find a way to have a cheerful, happy musical set against a variety of black drops or the black void of an empty theatre space. To do this, we decided to light the actors as sharply as possible and make them pop from the backgrounds, which were comprised of three different styles of roll cloths.”

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Inside the Norma Terris Theatre, Pilbrow and Gottlieb faced another challenge in that they only had 80 dimmers to use in the programming of their design. So in choosing the exact fixtures needed, they had to make their dimmer counts stretch as far as possible.

“Within the constraints of the Goodspeed’s smallest theatre we really had to make a lot happen with modest resources and the PLCyc LED luminaires proved to a life-saver,” said Pilbrow. “In the show we have lots of roll cloths that hang far upstage and the PLCyc fixtures allowed us to achieve all sorts of different colors and effects, and because we had a lack of channels it was very helpful to be able to use a few fixtures to do a whole lot.”

Gottlieb added, “Some of the cloths were painted and opaque to be lit from the front, and others were translucent to be lit from behind. A third style was translucent and punched so that it would have a glowing quality with little pin pricks of light that shined through. The roll cloths illuminated by the PLCyc LED luminaires allowed us to create a lot of different layers to the show, and it looked great.”

A breakthrough in cyclorama lighting, the PLCyc LED luminaire delivers smooth and even cyclorama lighting in a compact and light weight design. Using a maximum of 120 watts, each unit can replace the equivalent of a traditional 4-color, 500-watt per cell, cyc light. A typical cyclorama can also now be powered from a single circuit using the convenient PLCyc LED Powercon cabling system for power in-and-through applications.

“The first time I saw the PLCyc LED was in South Africa while speaking at a Lighting Master Class where they were on display,” admitted Pilbrow. “I’ve used other LED fixtures before and the PLCyc LED luminaires proved to be very valuable. In the show, there are six PLCyc fixtures hanging overhead with two additional fixtures on the ground, and it turned out to be a lovely show with audiences adoring it.”

“I had first seen the PLCyc at Super Saturday in New York City and they looked very nice,” said Gottlieb. “I’ve worked quite a bit with LED in a theatrical environment and I have come to use it quite readily when the show calls for it. The trouble with a lot of LED is that they are incredibly harsh. They can be spotty and it’s hard to make them blend. The nice thing about the PLCyc LED is that it is designed to function in a way that is really analogous to an incandescent cyc light. It falls off nicely and it’s easy to blend which are all welcome attributes in any stage light.”

As The Great American Mousical closed at the Goodspeed it received raved reviews from audience members, but behind the scenes, it was the performance of the PLCyc LED luminaire that garnered accolades from Pilbrow and Gottlieb.

Pilbrow concluded, “The PLCyc is a very small and compact lighting instrument that throws out a lot of light with a rich variety of color. They were a great attribute on this show and are a very useful new tool. They were ideal for our confined space with small channel counts and they provided our design a richness of color that we could not have found any other way.”

“A lot of manufacturers are putting out LED equipment that may be the brightest or do the most colors, but for the storytelling we are doing in theatre, we are looking for a soft source that is versatile and blends with the legacy equipment we have,” said Gottlieb. “The PLCyc LED does all this and it’s easy to think of it as a direct translation to a conventional cyc, but it doesn’t use any dimmers and you can make any color you want without all the gel. It’s definitely a handy tool in our lighting tool box.

Photographs © Michael Gottlieb

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