The Parameters
cables, special c-clamps, just for starters. All things
that can break. You’ll need spare units (no matter
what anyone says, moving lights break—a lot). And
when moving lights are in the performance space,
you’ll need some amount of storage space somewhere
to store the travel cases, because they all need their
(not so) little homes when they’re not in the air.”
Then there’s the console; a basic decision is
whether to control the moving lights from a sepa-
rate console, or combine them with an existing con-
sole (which is also controlling conventional fixtures).
If there aren’t many movers, and the console has
programming hardware built-in (like encoders, for
starts), it might be possible to consider controlling
both fixture types on the one board.
Next, there’s time. If the existing console doesn’t
have the right additional hardware built-in to easily
control some number of movers, so much time may be
lost trying to inadequately program the movers that
they’re not worth the effort. The other half of that con-
sideration is the brain; that is, the programmer’s brain.
If both fixture types are in one console, then only one
fixture type will be able to be worked on at a time.
It’s impossible to program conventional lighting cues
at the same time as moving light cues. Only one sys-
tem can be addressed at a time. With two consoles and
two separate operators, both needs can be addressed
simultaneously: but now you’re back to having two
consoles and two operators, the potential headache to
combine the two once the show’s up and running.
There’s also the programming time; moving lights
are of no value unless time is built into the sched-
ule to pre-program and establish focus points, color
libraries, and template libraries. Without these basic
components, trying to quickly write moving lights
cues is like trying to write cues with conventional
lights without the plot being focused or colored. The
tools are not in place for the work to be efficiently
Which then takes us to the issue of labor and
skill. If moving lights are included as part of the light
plot, then there will need to be someone who knows
how to prep them, install them, replace them, pro-
gram them, trouble-shoot them, and maintain them.
(After a point, having moving lights in the plot is a
little like having kids in the cast.)
When it comes to moving lights, whether the
console is separate or combined with conventional
fixtures, any moving light programmer is going to be
a higher pay rate. Typical rates for good moving light
programmers are sometimes equal or greater than the
fees paid to lighting designers.
Now, just in case you think that getting a cheaper,
less experienced programmer is a potential solution,
the harsh specter of experience whispers from the back
row: fiasco. Renting moving lights without having a
competent programmer isn’t a solution, but a recipe
for disaster. When your new nervous programmer
jokingly admits that, due to his lack of program-
ming accuracy, his last lighting designer dubbed him
“Mittens,” it may be time to simplify the mover cues.
The moving light junkies, on the other hand, pooh-
pooh the nay-sayers; see how the movers can change
color, size, and focus? See how they can be used to
quickly sculpt a scene? And you know what? They’re
right. Moving lights are fantastic pieces of gear that
can become the additional character in the show. They
can exponentially expand the possibilities of the pro-
duction concept and the final product. They can make
a crummy script look like a million bucks (or, in most
cases, look like a really pretty crummy script).
While the flexibility of moving lights can be per-
ceived as the perfect solution for liquid theatre (and
in some cases they are), they must be carefully con-
sidered within the context of the surrounding param-
eters. If the money is built into the budget for them,
they can be lifesavers and, with budget, support, and
a programmer, make the lighting designer look like a
genius. More often than not, they just need money.
For now, any decision regarding movers in the plot
will be tabled. In order to make a clear decision, more
information has to be acquired; the labor questions
need some answers, the production schedule needs
to be more closely examined, and the remaining big-
picture parameters need to be examined. Is there
power to run them? What’s the venue? Is this a one-
off? A tour? By considering all of the parameters, the
lighting designer can make this major decision based
on fact, not just “gut instinct.”
Finally, one last thought regarding the topic of
budgets: While it may seem obvious, it’s worth remem-
bering that all monies spent for rental, perishables,
transportation, and labor, are all the financial respon-
sibility of the producer, not the lighting designer.
Understanding the parameters is wholly dependent on
exchanging information: asking questions and getting
answers, and typically doing it fast. Those exchanges
depend on the ability to communicate, and know-
ing how to get in touch with the folks who have the
answers. To that end, contact sheets, search engines,
email lists, and text messaging are now the primary
tools that accelerate that communication. Knowing
what questions need to be asked, and how to ask
them are important skills, but grasping whom to ask
the question from in order to quickly get that missing
piece of accurate information, is just as important.

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