Sunday, March 16, 2014

Share with Me Saturdays - Alex Perry Dabble

"Painters paint with paint. I paint with gels."
Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
Happy Saturday, all! Today, we continue our time with Alex Perry, lighting designer for Egads! Theatre Company's current production of "Godspell the Musical." You can read his survey here to get up-to-speed!

What's been exciting for me in this process so far is learning how multi-faceted artists are. They rarely focus on one project/business, OR they manage multiple roles within a business. Alex is no exception. He's currently a founder/owner/designer for multiple organizations in KC:

A to Z Theatrical Supply: Alex and his wife Courtney (who we will get to meet later in my series) took over ownership of this existing company in 2013. A to Z offers everything from a store-front costume/theater supply shop to costume/set/fixture rentals to contracts (primarily lighting/set design and builds, I gather) for special events.

The Arts Asylum: Alex and Courtney ALSO bought a church building. They bought a church, spent a few years overhauling it into a hub of artist studios, galleries, theatrical productions, fashion shows, events, fundraisers, arts programming, and neighborhood meetings, all in the middle of the Paseo West neighborhood of Kansas City. Event/studio spaces are available to rent, too, just give them a call!

Egads! Theatre Company: Alex is a founding member and designer for my most-favorite theatre company in Kansas City. Egads! is best-known for their campy musical romps. Their straight plays are also quite lovely, but nothing compares to their production of "Evil Dead: The Musical." Splatter zone, anyone?

Unicorn Theatre: He's currently on staff as Technical Coordinator and Resident Lighting Designer. Unicorn is best-known for developing and producing new plays. Productions include regional World Premieres that have gone on to win Tony Awards. It's all very fancy.

Of all the work he does, he will always say, "Lighting design is the thing I do for fun."
Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
When I met up with Alex, the team was in the middle of tech rehearsals. While the actors were warming up and running scenes and receiving notes, Alex had his own list of tasks he had to do before they ran the show again. So, I followed him around and asked him questions, which I'm sure was amazingly helpful.
Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
C McG: What are you doing up there?!
Alex: Well, I'm trying to create a haze effect--atmospheric fog, and I originally had the hazer on the floor and it looked terrible. I need it to look like it's not coming from any place in particular. So, I'm hanging it. Can you hand me that cord?

Once the machine was in place, he had some gels to change. For "Godspell", he needed to create a certain outdoor/high-noon look for the stage, and was unhappy with the current effect. While we wandered, he talked about lights, and told us that with certain kinds of lights, at their brightest, they are white, but when you dim them, they can be more yellow, so you have to adjust for that when you pick the gels.
Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson

He had a color in mind, so we went to the gel library and looked through the file of pre-cut gels. There weren't enough of the color he wanted. He switched to another file and picked a fresh sheet of R37 and cut what he needed. He graciously let me label all of the new squares we made...and then nicely told me to stop writing on top of the cutter.

I learned you can re-use gels multiple times, except the darker colors tend to fade more quickly and don't get as many uses. So, at the end of "Godspell" these new squares will go back into the gel library for the next use.

Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
It turns out, lights are up high (I know, right?), so we ran around the theater while Alex climbed the ladder and switched out gels. At one point, I joined him on the "Jesus Ladder," one of the show's props (Note: I hate ladders).
Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson

C McG: I'm going to break this thing.
Alex: No you won't. Hang on.

Then he grabbed the pipe above his head and rolled us across the stage to the next light. I almost passed out.

The rest of his tasks involved finishing programming cues into the light board. We took a break to chat and get dinner.

C McG: So, why lighting design?
Alex: [laughs] Well, I started out doing theatre, but I originally moved to Kansas City to go to architecture school. I realized, though, that with architecture, you're in school for so many years, THEN you have to be an apprentice, and THEN you you'll maybe get one project that will take years to finish, IF you get to finish it, and I didn't want to do that. So I went back to theatre, intending to be a set designer...but the classes were too early in the morning, and the lighting design classes were at 2 design!

C McG: When does lighting design come into the production process?
Alex: For me, it usually starts at the "Producers Run" or "Designers Run." This is the last rehearsal with all actors, all the blocking, before the rest of the technical aspects are added.

C McG: Where you do you start from there?
Alex: Knowing the space and lighting available. I always ask for an inventory of lights in new spaces. If I'm in a thrust space, I know that means the front lighting is going to be different depending on what side of the stage the audience is sitting on.
C McG: Okay.
Alex: Do you know what "photometrics" is?
C McG: Okay?
Alex: [Charlie Brown teacher trombone noises] Wah wah. Wah wah wah wah.
OK, kidding (mostly). In Classy-friendly (but hopefully also kinda truthful) terms, lighting designers know about the different TYPES of theatrical spotlights (In my research of words he said, I landed here). Each type of light has specs about how bright it is, how far it will shine, at what ANGLE it shines. That helps Alex know what objects on stage he can light with them and where he has to hang the light, where he has to point the light, and how bright he can set the light when it's on.

Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
When it was time to start sketching, he knew what was coming and said, "Nope. I don't draw." So when I shoved a paper and pencil at him, he started trucking away at drawing the lighting rig/plot for Off-Center Theater; he knows it from memory now.
We continued chatting about his lighting design experience, and he said he really likes lighting design, but, "I don't really feel like a lighting designer." It was hard for him to explain why, but I asked what he could do differently that WOULD make him feel like a lighting designer, and he had a hard time articulating an answer for that, too. It could be that he's so used to designing for the same spaces that the process just isn't as creative as it could be, and that maybe finding new venues to work in could help. We didn't have much time left to really get into it. Maybe some other time...
  Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
Back at the light board, I watched the process of setting up a lighting cue. For each cue, someone (not me) has set which lights come up, how bright they are, and how long it takes them to transition to that state. Then, lather, rinse, repeat for hundreds of cues (and never mind all the sound cues that needs to happen, too!) and you've got a show!
During the performances, someone in the booth is hitting the "Go" button when it's time to move forward to the next cue. Alex says he creates videos of rehearsals so he can watch where the actors are walking/standing and when to match up the cue transitions as best as he can. Spotlight operators often are perched above manually moving lights to follow the central characters so the audience can keep track of them during big solos and lots of scenic chaos. Those lights are programmed into the cues, too.

Photo Credit: Sandy Woodson
The haze looks real nice.
Throughout our session, we compiled a list of devices you can use to correct/alter the light to achieve different effects for the stage:
1) Haze/Fog - Particulate in the air that allows you to "see" the light before it hits an object.
2) I-Cue - Moving mirror in front of a light to point it remotely.
3) Gobo/Template/Cookie - Shadow pattern in a lighting unit. Provides shape or texture to a beam of light.
4) Frost - Diffuses the light. Mostly used to disguise the edge.
5) Gels (see blog post above!) - Adds color.
6) Color Scrollers (or Gel Scrollers) - Contains a selection of gel choices in a single light or system.
And there you have it!

There is one more weekend (March 20-23) of performances for "Godspell the Musical," so be sure to come see what all the fuss is about. Visit
Egads!' website for tickets. I will be there on Friday the 21st!
If you need to reach Alex, contact him through A to Z or The Arts Asylum.
-C McG

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