The Myth of the Irrelevant Theatre Consultant

Kevin Willmorth has a long and interesting article on his blog in which he argues for the recognition of professional lighting designers, and what a professional lighting designer is and is not.  The post echoes Chapter 1 of Designing With Light, and many of the things I’ve written in the book’s blog, including promoting the lighting design profession, the value of professional lighting design, the need for projects to use a professional lighting designer (here, here and here), and  those other than professional lighting designers making design decisions, among other topics.  I don’t have much to add to Kevin’s post, except to say that it’s well worth reading.

Most of the arguments I’ve made about architectural lighting design apply equally to professional theatre consultants at all levels. At the professional theatre level (commercial theatre, regional theatre, or opera house, for example) no client or architect would begin a project without a professional theatre consultant on the team. However, the farther one gets from these projects, such as community or school theatres, the more likely we are to find owners and/or architects who think they an save money by not engaging a theatre consultant, or an architect who uses sales reps and manufacturers in lieu of a professional theatre consultant. We’ve seen this manifest itself in several ways, all of which are short sighted for a number of reasons, as we’ve outlined here.  The most common arguments are below.

The TD, production designer, or other in-house person can do it

“Theatre consultants won’t listen to us, so we’ll do it ourselves.” I’ve heard this argument many times, and some theatre consultants may have a tendency to think that they know best. There is also a very strong ethic of self-reliance in the theatre. In many, many cases what the design and production team dream up has to be built from scratch, so there’s a great deal of knowledge and a can-do attitude in most theatre organizations. It’s easy to see how that self-reliance would be applied to a theatre construction or renovation project. However, there are two reasons to avoid that path.

The first reason is simple scheduling. A theatre’s staff already has a job designing and producing the season, and designing or renovating a theatre is a full time job. Studio T+L values the input and collaboration of a theatre’s staff, in fact they are essential to a successful project, but the staff needs to focus on productions while we focus on the theatre building.

The second reason is that most people in the theatre don’t have a thorough understanding of architecture, mechanical systems, construction techniques, etc., any more than architects and engineers have a clear understanding of theatre production and operations. Theatre systems must be integrated into the larger building, which requires detailed knowledge in order to effectively communicate and collaborate with the building design team. The alternative is likely to be miscommunication, lost time, and wasted money.

The architect can do it

“The architect has photos of theatres they’ve designed in their portfolio, and they say they can do it.” Theatres are highly specialized buildings, second only to hospitals and laboratories in their complexity, and must meet the unique requirements of the theatre companies or artists that use them. Architects are experts in overall building design and the key contact between owner and design team. However, architects don’t design every building element themselves. They hire a team of specialists that includes engineers, interior designers, landscape designers, and others. The space planning and production systems design of a performing arts venue are best met by knowledgable specialists such as theatre consultants.

This hold true even for smaller projects. In our opinion, there’s no such thing as “just” a community, school, or black box theatre. Theatre as a process, “making theatre”, happens within an understood framework, but the specifics vary widely. A theatre building that is organized along generic or outdated principles will work against the production and the production process. People who have no experience making theatre don’t understand the difference.

My local vendor can do it

As with a technical director, a local equipment supplier has another job. He or she also has other priorities.  An equipment supplier has a financial interest in selling certain manufacturers or products.  A professional theatre consultant has no such conflicts of interest, and focuses on selecting the right system for each project. In addition, a supplier may be able to assist with a one-for-one exchange of old equipment for new, but is certainly not able to invest the time and effort needed throughout the design and construction process.

But the fees

Yes, theatre consultants insist on being paid for their work. However, consider the cost of not having a professional theatre consultant. The theatre will be in use, as designed, for decades. How much is lost if the space planning interferes with backstage operations or the production process instead of supporting them? What is the cost of production systems that are too complicated, or insufficient for the production’s complexities? Whose audience will return again and again if there are poor sightlines or badly arranged audience amenities?

So, call us. If you don’t call us, call someone. But don’t embark on a theatre design or renovation without the expertise needed to do it properly and see it through to completion.

ESTA and USITT Announce New World Rigging Symposium

ESTA and USITT announce the New World Rigging Symposium, on March 13-14, 2018 in conjunction with the USITT Conference and Stage Expo 2018 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The Symposium will provide an opportunity for riggers and those interested in the live entertainment rigging industry to network, discuss current issues and new technologies, and help shape the future of the industry. 

Sessions will give participants opportunities to further their technical knowledge, keep up to date with codes and standards, and learn what it’s like to work as a rigger in other segments of the entertainment industry. Attendees will also hear from experts in related fields such as structural engineering and risk management. The Symposium will carry ETCP education renewal credits for re-certification. 

Symposium attendees will receive free show floor passes to the USITT Stage Expo opening on March 15th as well as a discount on the conference registration. 

You can email riggingsymposium@esta.org to be notified when registration opens.

IES Lighting Terms and Definitions Now Online

ANSI/IES RP-16 Nomenclature and Definitions for Illuminating Engineering has long been one of the two major documents defining terms related to lighting design (the other is CIE ILV: International Lighting Vocabulary).  RP-16-10 (the 2010 version of the Recommended Practice) is now available online as a searchable database.  From the first page you can click on terms to see the definition and you can also search by keyword.  If you don’t already own RP-16 bookmark this now!

IES Disagrees With AMA on Night Time Outdoor Lighting

Last year the AMA issued Policy H-135.927 Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Community Lighting, which recommended, among other things, that LED outdoor lighting should have a CCT of 3000 K or below.  The AMA made this recommendation thinking that lower correlated color temperatures contain less blue light, which can disrupt circadian rhythms.

Today the IES issued a Position Statement disputing that recommendation, noting that CCT

is inadequate for the purpose of evaluating possible health outcomes; and that the recommendations target only one component of light exposure (spectral composition) of what are well known and established multi-variable inputs to light dosing that affect sleep disruption, including the quantity of light at the retina of the eye and the duration of exposure to that light. A more widely accepted input to the circadian system associated with higher risk for sleep disruption and associated health concerns is increased melanopic content, which is significantly different than CCT. LED light sources can vary widely in their melanopic content for any given CCT; 3000 K LED light sources could have higher relative melanopic content than 2800 K incandescent lighting or 4000 K LED light sources, for example.

Follow the link to read the entire Position Statement.  Blue light hazard, light’s impact on circadian rhythms and overall health, and related topics are a hot area of research.  We’re learning more all the time, but we don’t yet know enough to apply circadian lighting to every situation.  Outdoor and street lighting are among the areas where research is not yet conclusive.

A New Report on LED Color Shift

Like other lighting technologies, the color or chromaticity of light emitted by an LED can shift over time.  To address the challenge of developing accurate lifetime claims, DOE, together with the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance, formed an industry working group, the LED Systems Reliability Consortium (LSRC).  A new LSRC report, LED Luminaire Reliability: Impact of Color Shift, focuses on chromaticity. The purpose of the new report is not to define limits for specific applications, but rather to enable a better understanding of how and why color shifts, and how that impacts reliability.  Download it and take a look.

Tony Awards Tonight

Tony Awards 2017

This photo is from this morning’s rehearsal of the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.  The show airs tonight on CBS and is hosted by Kevin Spacey.  Our own Ed McCarthy is the lighting director.  It’s going to be a fun show.  Watch it!

Lenore Doxsee, In Memoriam

I’m sad to share the news that Lenore Doxsee, one of my oldest and dearest friends and a Studio T+L associate, passed away on Friday, May 19. It’s hard to say if Lenore was more of a theatre artist or a theatre teacher because she excelled at both, loved both, and wouldn’t give up either. In her last few weeks, she designed scenery and lighting for a 5-hour play in New York, and gave many additional hours of her time supporting and then critiquing her student’s final projects.

Lenore was a passionate, committed theatre artist who never lost sight of her own vision, even as she collaborated with a disparate group of directors and choreographers. She was the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Lighting Designer for Target Margin Theater. Their most recent production, Mourning Becomes Electra with scenery and lighting design by Lenore, closed the day after her death. A prolific designer, she worked on productions in many New York theaters, ranging from New York City Opera to La Mama, HERE Arts Center, Dance Theater Workshop, and The Kitchen. Regionally Lenore designed productions for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Glimmerglass Opera, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Boston Early Music Festival, Pittsburgh Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, and many others. Her designs for dance included collaborations with choreographers Jennifer Monson, Miguel Gutierrez, and Morgan Thorson.  Lenore received two Bessie Awards for her work with Miguel Gutierrez and an Obie Award for Target Margin’s production of Mamba’s Daughters.

Lenore was Head of Lighting Design Training in the Production & Design Studio in the Department of Drama at NYU. Inspired by one of her mentors, Arden Fingerhut, Lenore was deeply committed to her students and their art. If any one of them was in technical rehearsal, odds were that Lenore was there, too, night after night observing, suggesting, critiquing. She always seemed to understand what her students needed to hear or learn, and guided them through their education and beyond with care and compassion.

At Studio T+L, Lenore collaborated on space planning, dimming and control systems, stage fixture inventories, and more for Elmwood Playhouse, Bristol Memorial Theatre Feasibility Study, and Levoy Theatre, among others.

As a friend, Lenore taught me that no dish can have too much garlic or olive oil, that Indian food is delicious, and that seeing bad theatre is better than seeing no theatre. We laughed through a preview of Dance of the Vampires, had dinner parties on her Brooklyn rooftop, and listened to favorite bands at downtown bars. For at least 15 years we’ve had “family dinner” on Sunday nights at a local bar with her husband, Paul Bartlett, and a rotating cast of friends. Lenore’s intellect, wit, and modesty were loved by everyone who knew her. She will be deeply missed, especially on Sunday nights.

On A Site Survey

Yesterday we surveyed a site in D.C. for a possible new Vapiano restaurant.  The NYC flagship renovation begins soon, and a new location opens in Chicago later this year, all with lighting design by Studio T+L.

Hugh Hardy Passes Away

One of America’s greatest and most prolific theatre architects, Hugh Hardy, passed away on Thursday at the age of 84.  We had the great privilege of being the lighting designers for Hugh and his team on the renovation of the public spaces of the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street, which will open later this year.  His wit, generosity, and knowledge were always evident and always appreciated.  Here is his obituary in the New York Times.

Lighting For Plant Health

I have a current project with a green wall, aka living wall, and other greenery in the space. I’ve been given conflicting information about the lighting requirements I need to meet are and how to measure them, so I did some research. This isn’t definitive, but here’s what I’ve found.

First of all, the measurement units that we’re all familiar with don’t apply to horticulture because the average plant’s response to light is very different from that of the human visual system. We know that the human eye response curve is V(λ) (pronounced vee lambda) which is shown in Figure 1. Our response to electromagnetic energy falls between 380 and 770 nm, with a peak response at 555 nm. In order to measure light the way the human visual system perceived it, V(λ) is folded into the definition of the lumen, the footcandle, etc.

Figure 1 V(λ)

Plants, however, have a response curve called the photosynthesis action spectrum, shown in Figure 2. The wavelengths of light that are absorbed and used by plants are below 520 nm and above 610 nm [i], which roughly equates to the blue and red range of the visible spectrum. Plants need a great deal of red light, a far amount of blue light, and little or no green light.

photosynthetically active spectrum

Figure 2 Average photosynthesis action spectrum of chlorophyll [ii]

So, we can’t talk about the amount of light delivered to plants in a useful way if we’re using lumens and footcandles. The measurement of light for plant health is Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) [iii]. There are PAR calibrated light meters, and digital tools to convert lux/footcandle readings to PAR. Other common measurements are also not relevant to horticulture.

  • Color temperature is a numerical indication of the warmth or coolness of white light, but warmth or coolness are aesthetic criteria and are not relevant in light for plant health.
  • CRI is an indicator of how well a light source allows us to see colors when compared to a reference light source. The response of the human visual system to light is built-in to the CRI calculation. Again, for plant health we are not concerned with seeing the colors of the plants so this metric is not relevant.

What kind of light should we provide? Incandescent light has an appropriate balance of red and blue light for plant health, as shown in Figure 3. The power consumption will be high. Fortunately, power consumed by the lighting for plant health is exempt from the energy conservation codes. However, with their short life and high power consumption incandescents are, overall, a poor choice.

Incandescent SPD

Figure 3 SPD for incandescent light of 2800 K, 3000 K, and 3200 K [iv]

High color temperature metal halide lamps have been the horticulture light source of choice for a long time because their SPD provides an appropriate balance of red and blue light (Figure 4). While metal halide lamps are being replaced by LEDs in many applications, I expect they will be available for at least the next decade. For my project, these fixtures would only to be used during the green wall’s growth period in the morning before the space opens to the public. A second set of fixtures with warmer light will be used when the space is open so that I could light the wall in a way that is in balance with the rest of the space during operating hours.

Metal Halide SPD

Figure 4 SPD for a 4200 K metal halide [v]

One of the exciting features of LEDs is that they permit fine-tuning of the emitted spectrum. With LEDs it is possible to create a light source that closely follows the photosynthesis action spectra. This has been shown to “improve factors such as yield, flavor, color, plant growth, and flowering as well as pest and pathogen management and control.”[[vi] The impact has been studied, and results so far have been positive, for leaf lettuce [vii], cucumbers [viii], and tomatoes [ix], among others. At least one study has noted, however, has “concluded that the response of plants to the applied light is individual and depends on the species,” [x]

Therefore, an alternative to metal halide fixtures is multi-colored LED fixtures. Since multi-colored LED fixtures allow users to control the brightness of each color individually one could opt for a fixture with a Red, Blue, White (RBW), a Red, Red, Blue, White (RRBW), or a Red, Blue, Blue, White (RBBW) set of LEDs. This would permit one fixture to provide light for health and accent light. One possible result of a RBW fixture is shown in Figure 5. This is a much better match to the photosynthesis action spectra than incandescent, metal halide, or white LEDs.

Figure 5 Possible RBW LED produced SPD

For the time being, the people responsible for the greenery have asked me to stay with the tried and true metal halide lamps.  In the near future, as metal halide lamps become rarer, and as LEDs become more common in horticulture, I expect we’ll be changing over to LEDs.

References

[i] Yingchao Xu, Yongxiao Chang, Guanyu Chen, Hongyi Lin, The Research On LED Supplementary Lighting System For Plants, Optik – International Journal for Light and Electron Optics, Volume 127, Issue 18, September 2016, Pages 7193-7201, ISSN 0030-4026, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijleo.2016.05.056.

[ii] The Science of Food Productionhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/z23ggk7/revision/2.

[iii] Torres, Ariana P., Lopez, Roberto G., Measuring Daily Light Integral in a Greenhouse, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ho/ho-238-w.pdf

[iv] Livingston, Jason, Designing Light: The Art, Science, and Practice of Architectural Lighting, Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2014.

[v] TM-30-15 Advanced Calculator, Illuminating Engineering Society, New York: Illuminating Engineering Society, 2015.

[vi] Davis, Philip A. and Burns, Claire, Photobiology In Protected Horticulture, Food and Energy Security 2016: 5(4): 223-238. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fes3.97/full

[vii] Filippos Bantis, Theoharis Ouzounis, Kalliopi Radoglou, Artificial LED Lighting Enhances Growth Characteristics And Total Phenolic Content Of Ocimum Basilicum, But Variably Affects Transplant success, Scientia Horticulturae, Volume 198, 26 January 2016, Pages 277-283, ISSN 0304-4238, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scienta.2015.11.014.

[viii] Brazaityte, A., et.al.,  The Effect Of Light-Emitting Diodes Lighting On Cucumber Transplants And After-Effect On Yield, Zemdirbyste, Volume 96, Issue 3, 2009, Pages 102-118. https://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-73949144018&origin=inward&txGid=7294EF1D0E6304BAA77C73981961A69E.wsnAw8kcdt7IPYLO0V48gA%3a2 (Login Required)

[ix] Brazaityte, A., et. al., The Effect Of Light-Emitting Diodes Lighting On The Growth Of Tomato Transplants, Zemdirbyste, Volume 97, Issue 2, 2010, Pages 89-98, https://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-78249276864&origin=inward&txGid=7294EF1D0E6304BAA77C73981961A69E.wsnAw8kcdt7IPYLO0V48gA%3a7 (Login Required)

[x] Fra̧szczak, B., et. al., Growth Rate Of Sweet Basil And Lemon Balm Plants Grown Under Fluorescent Lamps And Led Modules, Acta Scientiarum Polonorum, Hortorum Cultus, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 3-13, https://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-84898647440&origin=inward&txGid=7294EF1D0E6304BAA77C73981961A69E.wsnAw8kcdt7IPYLO0V48gA%3a12 (Login Required)