The Focus Session
Tales from the Road:
The Un-Called-for Channel
During a focus in a foreign country, I could not get
the translated numbers in my head. No matter how
I tried, every time I attempted to pronounce the iden-
tity of the next channel, the local crew would fall over
laughing. While this didn’t sour the mood, it did start
to slow the process. First I pointed at the number on
the page, and the translator would call the translated
number to the console operator.
By the time we got to the two-color straight
backlight systems, however, the hookup was so sim-
ple that I merely asked to switch between the two
colors. I would focus the blue backlight, point my
finger sideways, say “the other one,” the translator
would relay my request, the amber light would come
on, and I would duplicate the focus.
Then we got to the show. There was no time
for a technical rehearsal, so I had just pre-writ-
ten light cues. The curtain opened on the blue-lit
night scene for Swan Lake, Act 2, and it was . . .
Day? Whoops. The colors had gotten swapped in
the backlight, and since I didn’t consistently call
for it by channel, what should have been the blue
backlight at Full was instead amber. As the danc-
ers entered the stage, the scene became somewhat
dimmer, as the amber backlight faded out. After a
frenzied exchange on headset, the channel numbers
were reversed, and the blue backlight faded up to
complete the cue.
Since then I’ve learned my lesion. During focus,
I always ask for each channel by number, rather than
“the other one.”
This next section contains a series of checklists worth
reviewing before a focus session. Examining these
lists can avoid delays.
Items that are ideally complete
before the focus session begins:
masked. The sidelight booms are immobilized
and don’t spin. The sidelight ladders are tied
off. The deck rovers are plugged and positioned.
There’s been a channel check and possible
problems have been noted on the instrument
schedule, or focus schedule.
that you and the overhead focusing device will
occupy has been swept so the lighting designer
doesn’t trip, and so the casters don’t catch and
threaten to tip the ladder/lift over.
designer has already rehearsed much of the
focus in his or her head and believes that every
spike mark that may be needed has been placed.
Carrying a roll of spike tape in your pocket isn’t
a bad idea.
surface is down. As much of the scenic package
as possible is preset into position before the
focus begins. Borders and legs are at trim. The
downstage backdrop in the scenic stack has been
landed to confirm the upstage light line. If all of
the scenic goods are not available, spike marks
have been placed to serve as signposts. Obviously,
the ideal is for all scenery to be placed prior
to the beginning of the focus. Less time spent
mentally pretending where everything is going to
be, allows more time to concentrate on the focus.
another time. The piano tuning is complete.
Any audio that would compete with the lighting
designer communicating with the focusing
electrician, the board operator, or any assistants
who need to scream at each other are convinced
to take their discussion elsewhere. Projects
involving noisy power tools are relocated. Musical
instruments requiring tuning or practice are dire-
cted to a separate space or rescheduled for a
ambient worklight is reduced or eliminated so
that it’s possible to see the beam of light and
see everything the beam’s hitting. The house
lights are taken down to half or to a glow. If
worklight must be on for work to continue,
offstage worklights provide enough illumination
to be used instead. When needed, the worklight
control has been separated into three different
channels: downstage, midstage, and upstage.
accessible, lighted locations.
created onstage, so that the designer’s directions
can be heard, and the focus can be recorded.
The office position includes a writing surface, a
worklight, and enough copies of the forms. The
scribe understands how to fill out, report, or
update the focus charts.