Misunderstanding CRI

Last Friday I took my class on a visit to a fixture manufacturer’s showroom.  The visit was pretty successful, but I had one issue with the information that was presented.  This manufacturer’s rep presented their CRI 80 and CRI 90 products by saying that CRI 80 dulls colors and CRI 90 makes colors “pop”.  I can’t blame him too much, after all it’s a common misconception that higher CRI is “better.”  However, it’s not true so let’s take a look.

 CRI (or more formally, CIE 13, Method of Measuring and Specifying Colour Rendering Properties of Light Sources Ra) is a fidelity metric.  That means it calculates the color rendering of a light source in comparison to the color rendering of a reference light source of the same color temperature or correlated color temperature (CCT).  A light source with a CRI 80 renders colors with more color error (that is, a larger mismatch or a larger color appearance error) than does a light source with a CRI 90.  That’s all. One of the problems with CRI, which is addressed in TM-30, is that a single number value doesn’t tell us the hue(s) where there is a color rendering error compared to the reference light source, nor do we learn the direction or the degree of color rendering error(s).  In other words: 

  • What hues are not rendered accurately?  CRI doesn’t tell us.
  • Are those hues made to appear more or less saturated?  CRI doesn’t tell us.
  • Are those hues shifted toward an adjacent hue?  CRI doesn’t tell us.

 TM-30 (ANSI/IES TM-30-18 IES Method for Evaluating Light Source Color Rendition) does give us this information, which immediately puts to rest the notion that higher fidelity is “better” color rendering in all cases. 

It’s entirely possible for a light source with a CRI 80 to render a set of colors more vividly than a CRI 90 light source if the color errors increase saturation and minimize hue shifts.  It’s even possible for two light sources of the same CRI to render colors differently.  Here’s an example.  The first light source has a TM-30 Rf (fidelity) of 90 and an R(chroma) of 99, meaning that on average colors are rendered slightly less vividly than the reference light source.  The TM-30 Color Vector Graphic shows us clearly that the rendering of red (Bin 1) is less saturated than the reference, and that the rendering of warm blue (Bin 12) is more saturated.  The other colors are a nearly perfect match to the reference source.

The second source  also has an R91.  However, the green and purple hues are rendered with increased saturation so that it has an R105. (Yes, the CCTs are different, but that doesn’t matter because in the calculation a light source is compared to a reference light source of the same CCT, cancelling out any color errors due to CCT.) 

Understanding this information opens the door to considerations other than fidelity.  The first is vividness.  Are you lighting the M&M store in Times Square?  If so, your design goal may be to increase saturation of the candy, not accurately render it.  In that case you’re going to want a lower fidelity (Rf) so that you can get higher chroma (Rg).  The light source shown below might be just the one for this application.

 The second is preference.  Studies have shown that in many applications people prefer slight increases in chroma, especially in the red range.  Are you lighting a restaurant?  If so, and if preference and increased red chroma are important, this might be the light source for your project: 

The increased information TM-30 provides is both more accurate and more detailed than CRI.  Not only that,  it gives us a deeper understanding of the color rendering capability of a light source and allows us to consider design goals other than fidelity. Designers who care about these color considerations need to keep pushing manufacturers to provide TM-30 information and train their employees in its meaning and use.

Building Target Margin Theatre

Earlier this year we began working with New York’s Target Margin Theater on converting a two story warehouse into a new studio theatre, rehearsal spaces, and office space.  Two acoustically isolated rehearsal rooms were built at the beginning of the summer.  When bids for the resilient stage floor were twice as high as expected the team decided that TMT could build it themselves.

TMT hired a technical director to oversee a crew of volunteers installing the resilient floor we designed and building portable seating risers.  The project required:

  • 50+ volunteers over 5 days
  • 125+ sheets of plywood
  • 50+ sheets of masonite
  • 2,000 rubber pads
  • 75+ 2x4s
  • 15 gallons of black paint
  • 3 gallons of wood glue

Target Margin now has a great floor and a set of risers.  Here’s a gallery of photos showing the progress.

Laying out the vapor barrier
Laying the first layer of plywood
First layer of plywood is complete
Laying the second layer of plywood
Laying the masonite
Completed floor painted black

Next steps will include a disconnect for stage dimmers, a pipe grid, and a new mechanical system.

Lenore Doxsee, In Memoriam

Lenore Doxsee

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.

What Will Your Last Broadway Show Be?

When my nephew was eight years old he came to visit me in New York for the first time and I bought us tickets to see “Lion King.” I paid about $100 per ticket for orchestra seats just off of the aisle. It was a lot of money to spend on an eight year old, but I love the theatre and hoped to engender the same love in my nephew. During the spectacular opening number he was so excited! He was on his feet looking around, and at the end of the opening he turned to me with huge eyes and a smile that stretched from ear to hear and said, “I like theatre, Uncle Jason!”

A few years later his little sister, then also eight, came to visit and I bought us tickets to “Wicked.” This time tickets about $125 and we were in the mezzanine house right. They weren’t ideal seats but they were the best reasonably priced seats I could get. My niece was silent throughout the show, and silent for about 20 minutes afterward. Then, suddenly, she was done processing what she had just seen and spent the next hour or more excitedly telling me everything she loved about the show. She couldn’t stop talking about it and even now, five years later, she still listens to the soundtrack, and it is one of the most memorable experiences of her young life.

During subsequent visits I’ve taken the kids to see “Annie,” “Blue Man,” “Matilda,” “Pippin,” and last year won Uncle of the Year by taking my nephew to see “Hamilton.” How do you engage a 16 year old? Find the one show that combines popular music with one of his interests, American history. I loved it, too. It is easily the best Broadway show I’ve seen in a decade, probably longer. The music and lyrics are smart, funny, and sophisticated with a breathtaking blend of traditional Broadway and hip-hop that works beautifully. And I wonder if it’s the last Broadway show I’ll be able to take the kids to see.

Why? Partly because I paid about $130 for seats in the second to the last row of the balcony. We were so far away that it was very difficult to make out facial expressions. More importantly, though, Broadway ticket prices are about to soar.

On Tuesday the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times. In it he complains that the average Broadway lover can’t get tickets because ticket brokers are using computer software, called ticket bots, to buy up tickets as soon as they are released and then reselling them at huge markups. Ticket bots are currently estimated to be buying up to 25% of the show’s tickets. He calls for the state legislature to pass a bill that will curtail the use of these bots so that average people can buy tickets.

In retrospect, one has to wonder if this wasn’t just a campaign to soften up the reader for Wednesday’s announcement that “Hamilton” was raising top ticket prices to an unheard of $849 for center orchestra seats, and that all other ticket prices were going up by 12% to 29%, from $139 -$177 to $179 – $199. How long will it be before other shows follow? Orchestra seats are already over $400 on quite a few shows, and if “Hamilton” can get away with extortion level pricing, can “Book of Mormon,” “Wicked,” and others be far behind?

“Greed Is Good” Gordon Gekko

“No it’s not” Most of Humanity

The thing about the announcement that really angered me is a quote from Jeffery Seller, the lead producer, who said, “What has certainly been frustrating to me, as a business owner, is to see that my product is being resold at many times its face value and my team isn’t sharing in those profits.” I’ve checked the Constitution, the Bible, and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and nowhere does it say that he’s entitled to all of the money. Perhaps I should have checked the Complete Works of Donald J. Trump.

In one year the show has already recouped its $12.5 million dollar investment, and is making an estimated $600,000 per week in profits. It’s on track to join “Wicked” with $1 billion (with a B) in sales. Last month the show cancelled $10 million in bulk ticket purchases because it suspected that ticket bots were involved, and in the next round of tickets to be release there will be a maximum of six tickets per purchase. The show is doing great, artistically and financially, and is taking big steps to limit ticket bot purchases. So what’s really going on here? I have to believe that it’s simple greed. And, while that greed may be great for this show’s investors, I worry about its impact on the theatre at large and the people who love it. Think about it – two tickets at $845, plus taxes and fees, will cost about $1,750. That’s more than my mortgage!

The show’s producers point out that there’s a ticket lottery – 46 tickets at $10 for each performance. However, that’s only 3.5% of the seats. 10,000 people per day enter the lottery for those $10 seats. Assuming that the seats are awarded in pairs, you have a .23% chance of winning seats. With those odds you can’t make plans to see “Hamilton,” you can only hope.

My youngest niece is two. I worry that in six years I won’t be able to take her to see her first Broadway show because two tickets will cost $500 or more. I won’t be able to pass on my love of great theatre, or at least not my love of great Broadway theatre. Is Broadway going to become like most opera, the domain of the rich, or will it remain accessible to all of the people who love it?