LEWISBURG, PA – The Stephen Sondheim production Company won widespread acclaim when it debuted in 1970, not to mention six Tony Awards, for its trailblazing treatment of adult relationship themes and its departure from the traditional “linear storyline” that characterized musicals of its era. Lighting designer William Kenyon reflected a similar outside-the-box spirit recently, when he illuminated the Sondheim classic at Bucknell University’s Natalie Davis Rooke Recital Hall.
The 160-seat Rooke hall is a sleekly attractive modern facility with excellent acoustics. However, being designed primarily for recitals, it presented challenges that had to be addressed when lighting a full-scale musical production. Kenyon met this challenge and managed to fit a fully realized show into a relatively small (20’ across by 15’ deep) semi-circular space with limited power draw, thanks in part to his innovative use of CHAUVET Professional COLORado 1-Quad Tour LED fixtures provided by 4Wall Entertainment.
“My design plans definitely had to account for factors that you don’t’ normally find in a typical theatre,” said Kenyon. “This is a very beautiful hall, but it doesn’t have much theatre lighting infrastructure. To address this, I had to rely heavily on LED fixtures so I could extend the limited power available to me. There was adequate power in the catwalk for the conventional ellipsoidal fixtures that I used for front lighting, but my entire over-stage rig had to run on four 20amp outlets, which also had to be shared with the band. This obviously made it essential to deploy energy-efficient LED fixtures in this area.”
A collection of ten COLORado 1-Quad Tour fixtures helped Kenyon address his power draw issue while still providing a vast and vivid palette of colors for the production. “I set up the COLORado fixtures as a combination of diagonal back lights and color washes for the performers and the floor,” he said. “We had two booms over the stage with four COLORado units on each. The booms were located USR and USL so they shot along a diagonal path and not straight out to the audience.”
In addition to the eight COLORados projecting light diagonally over the stage, Kenyon used two more of the Chauvet LED pars as cross-light washes to tone the band, which were positioned up center through a set of doors in the back wall where a piano normally is stored.
“This venue only has a small FOH catwalk, so it was critical to create additional positions to give some flexibility to the looks,” he said. “The COLORados were essential to helping us add extra depth to the space. They also helped us control the look over the stage’s distinctive blonde wood deck with color. Architecturally speaking, this is a pretty hall, but unlike in a typical theatre, the back wall and floor is all bright wood, so you have to address it with intentional lighting choices. It just won’t go away in the dark. We had to colorize it to control the look. The color-mixing capabilities of the COLORados were very much appreciated!”
Like all successful projects, this one was the result of a team effort, said Kenyon, who thanked director Emily Martin-Moberley of the Bucknell faculty, Katie Kudrick of 4Wall Entertainment’s Washington DC office, Kalen Sowul from the Weis Center at Bucknell and Heath Hansum at the Bucknell Theatre program for their help and support.
“This was an experiment to see if it was possible to fit a fully realized show into this kind of space,” he said. “The reaction was very positive from everyone who saw it. Most people had no idea that we would be able to take over and control the whole space from a color-and-light perspective the way we did. So we were very proud of what we accomplished here.”