NEWTON, KS – Like many designers, Erich Meitzner of Hoopty Lights can trace some of his best early memories to his participation in high school theater productions. It was through this involvement that he discovered his passion for lighting; a passion that was encouraged by a favorite teacher Michael Parker. So when Meitzner, who has enjoyed success as an LD for leading country bands, was asked by Parker if he could help out with a school theater production and offer students some lighting lessons, he immediately packed his bags and headed off to Newton High School in rural Kansas. Accompanying him, courtesy of some Wichita suppliers, was a collection of color mixing LED fixtures from CHAUVET Professional.
“This project was part stage lighting design and part educational,” said Meitzner. “Michael Parker was my high school teacher years ago, and he just became director of the theater department at Newton. When he called and asked if I could take two weeks off to come teach his students and design his fall musical, I was very happy to oblige.”
Newton High’s fall musical was All Shook Up, the 2004 comedy based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that features the songs of Elvis Presley. A fast-moving light-hearted production filled with music, romance and mistaken identities, All Shook Up calls for bold colorful stage lighting.
“Part of my job was to instruct the students in how to utilize a lighting system,” said the LD. “They had always just had ‘big wash looks’ for all their previous shows, but this was the first time they had really used gobos for texture and the first time their show was very colorful.”
Meitzner used the Batten 72s to uplight the backdrop. He arranged six of the Par-Quad 7s on the first electric in a cross wash position and six more units on the number two electric. He also used four Par-Quad 7s to light different parts of the set, and two additional units for color in front of the stage.
“The Batten 72s have always been my go-to fixtures for any sort of backdrop situations,” he said. “I also liked the Par-Quads in this setting, because I already had pretty full electrics, and the size of the fixture relative to the output was fantastic. I also really liked using these fixtures to make some custom colors instead of just using the standard 10 generic palettes. The hot magentas and some mint green from the Chauvet fixture hit the colors I was going for perfectly. They were instrumental in allowing me to create the big colorful looks needed in this production.”
Gobos were used frequently during the production to add depth and texture to the high school stage. Most of the gobos were stock pieces such as Medium Leaf Breakup, since they were simple, while still being immersive.
Meitzner controlled the rig at the high school theater with a ChamSys MagicQ MQ100. “I wanted to use a console that a student could learn to operate quickly,” he explained. “Initially, I couldn’t be at the school for every performance because of my touring schedule, so I needed a desk that a student could operate easily for the show. I think we ended up with 203 cues in a two-and-half-hour show, so I really kept the student board operator on his toes.”
The energy efficiency of the LED fixtures allowed Meitzner and his students to bathe the stage in richly textured light despite a limited power drawer. He ran all of the fixtures in his rig on three 20 amp circuits. “That’s pretty much all we had available,” he said. “We had a pretty tight budget. I really wanted to try to get the school and the students the biggest bang for their money. Working with Steve Sanders of PortaParty Productions and Josh Jones of Theatrical Services was a terrific experience; they understood my vision and what I needed.”
As for his own experience designing and teaching at a high school theater, Meitzner called it a “welcome change of pace from the country touring scene.” From a design standpoint, the theatrical production represented a departure from his concert work, although he acknowledges that some of his touring experience “definitely showed” during the Presley-inspired musical numbers.
In the end though, it was the opportunity to work with students that made this experience memorable. “For me it was kind of like a homecoming,” said Meitzner. “I designed for the theater department my first two years of high school. Doing this brought back good memories and, more importantly, it gave me the chance to give something back to the lighting community. All of us start out somewhere and it’s nice to help people along the way.”