Keeping Pippin On Track

June 17, 2003

While the colleagues of top Sydney barrister Peter Huntington choose to play golf to relax, Peter has opted for a more unusual out of hours past time – lighting musicals mainly for schools and amateur theatre groups across Australia. And we’re not talking just a few par cans in the local village hall, these are large productions utilizing the latest in lighting technology.
 
Over the past twenty-seven years Peter has worked on over eighty productions for schools such as Knox, Newington, PLC, Oxley College and Frensham, as well as theatre groups such as the Highland Theatre Group. He has also lit many of the Law Society reviews.
 
Peter admits he has a passion for new technology. Last year Peter saw the Martin TrackPod, a single-operator multiple-followspot controller. “I immediately thought that the TrackPod would be very useful in venues where there is no place to position followspots without erecting expensive scaffolding,” he said. “Followspots a long way from the stage and at a poor angle give you a bad lighting position, and often wash out the set. This is a common problem in amateur venues, however the TrackPod overcomes these hurdles. Essentially you can have a followspot position at a great angle from one of the lighting bars.”
 
Students introduced to TrackPod
Recently, Peter has been lighting a production of Pippin for Oxley College in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Working closely with Robert Graham (director/head of English at Oxley) and Robert Loyd (professional set designer), Peter decided that the students should be introduced to the TrackPod. Consequently a TrackPod was used to control a Martin MAC 500, situated on the front truss, as a followspot.
 
“The TrackPod is being operated by a boy in Year 10 who has never operated any kind of followspot before,” said Peter. “And it carries a lot of the show. A boy in Year 9 operates a laptop that projects imagery on video, a boy in Year 10 operates the moving light console, and a girl in Year 12 is stage manager. Mark Hammer trained them all and it is most rewarding when you see the kids operating everything in a school environment.
 
“Mark Hammer programmed the show and Graham Harper acted as production electrician. Working with people of this caliber and level of experience make each project especially rewarding for myself and the young people involved.”
 
Configuring the TrackPod
Initially it was necessary to configure the stage and TrackPod system to enable it to function correctly. The stage was carefully measured and the resulting information was fed into the TrackPod. Next, white markers were placed on the stage and illuminated by the TrackPod’s laser. At the end of this process the TrackPod learned where everything was on the stage and then the MAC 500 was patched into the TrackPod. Then features such as intensity, iris, focus, offset, and color can be set on the TrackPod itself.
 
Like a mini controller
“There are also a number of buttons that allow you to preset other functions in relation to other fixtures as well as a data screen,” added Peter. “In fact, it’s almost like a mini control console. You can control up to 120 lights from the one fixture. On my next production I plan to have two lights front of house and two from behind. In professional musicals, such as Les Miserable, where you often have several followspots on one character, you could have one operator doing the work of four people.
 
“You can also control the fixtures from the console and then hand them back to the TrackPod and vice versa. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of the TrackPod yet and I think it’s a valuable tool.”
 
This production of Pippin also has a video element made possible by the TrackPod because a followspot at the back of the hall would wash out the projection.
 
MAC rig
The lighting rig was made up of six Martin MAC 600, six MAC 250+, other automated lights, a variety of fixed lights, hazers, gobo rotators and zip strips used as a light curtain. Mark Hammer programmed the show.
 
“The Martin MAC range is simple to use and is very reliable – great for students,” said Peter.
 
“It’s far more sophisticated than just pointing a light”
The TrackPod didn’t have a fixture library for one of the moving light fixtures and so Show Technology’s Vince Haddad arranged for Martin to prepare such a library. This was done very quickly and emailed to Peter.
 
“This particular show uses a passarelle (where the stage extends around the orchestra) and I needed to be able to get this moving head to be able to dip down, in one hit, and pick up people when they went on the passarelle. The TrackPod was useful for that rather than programming numerous cues. It’s obviously useful for controlling many lights and it opens up a new way of dealing with moving lights. It’s almost like having a second console – it’s far more sophisticated than just pointing a light.”
 
The TrackPod has it’s own computer and monitor and that monitor can display all the moving lights in 3D, complete with beam width and color as they move. This is a feature that Peter found very handy.
 
“It’s very useful to be able to look at what’s happening and, when you’re programming, it’s a way of making sure you don’t forget about a moving light! It’s like a programming tool.”
 
Chameleon supplied
Chameleon Touring Systems, being Peter’s company of choice, supplied all of the lighting. “They provide an excellent service and support these productions by giving a reasonable price. The equipment is always well presented and works well. They also have a good mixture of equipment including all of the Martin range.”