84095489_10214065350422487_2183156941985939456_o.jpgCUTAZZ Synergy here we go. Time is short so will be updating one blog post as the days go by this year… No promises it’s an exciting read but if this stuff interests you then you might be interested to know how this show has evolved over time, how the job of a lighting designer has changed over the last decade and why we do it.

Sunday 9th

Straight into (7 hours of) rehearsal with a bang. For the first time ever we have the first run-through (mostly) in costume which I have eagerly videoed with the GoPro. Then headed home to back up the video to the network and upload requested pieces (plus finale) to share with the company. Video and pieces spreadsheet is now organised to a first pass. Didn’t take the laptop along this year – was easier to make pages of illegible scribbles on paper mainly because you can draw what the movement is if something catches your attention.

But it’s looking good and there are some interesting costumes as well (notes say “OWN COLOUR PALETTE” by a number of them!)

Monday 10th

Today is catchup day. I got ahead in creating a showfile and drawing the basics of the rig over Christmas. However a month of back-to-back 60 hour weeks in work and the occasional skirmish with UK productions’ Shrek drawings put paid to being any further ahead. So have re-digested the entire show e-mail trail to factor out the TODO list and per-piece notes, fettled the rig plan and poked the venue for some clarifications on lenses.

The rig has gained a new positon (the stalls bars underneath the circle) which I am hoping will do low-level sidelight better than the 4 PAR Cans I normally use. Plus centre-line highlight. Oh and some speakears! Most of the missing bits of focus done in the visualiser (e.g. new zooms for frontwash and specials). Agonised over backlight gobos, realised that 3-5 working days meant buying two more of them today, spent out of own pocket (budget already spent and time is short etc).

Huge amount of time sunk into the lx bits and pieces – plan has all fixtures addresses and on hopefully the right universes, standard rig is in a different colour so you can see what has moved, masking and focus points all labelled. Legend and key wizards suitably tamed. There are enough gobo holders, DMX leads and powercon link throughs.

Risk assessment, method statements, CDM paperwork, schedule and plans are ready to email to the venue tomorrow morning.

All computers now on the plot desk; all updates applied.

And the curve-ball? Next week some anti-social bastards from Extinction Rebellion are attempting to close the roads all around the venue – which will be a mess for my hire order arriving, taking anything by vehicle to the get-in, the company rehearsing, and who knows what happens for the audience if they haven’t been moved on by Friday.

Long day but still feeling behind. Much to do tomorrow…

Tuesday 11th

I ususally start the day by clearing the correspondence to keep things ticking along on email (plus some time to drink my morning coffee) and today is no different. More videos to share with the company. RobH and I have a pretty slick system re keeping in sync with sound and we run from our version of the truth in run-throughs to flag any problems. So as of Sunday we were chasing five pieces as of last night that’s three.

Risk assessment, method statement, schedule, lx plan and section and masking and focus points plan are all copied to the venue. This prompted the need to draw the colour on the plan for the non-colour-changing fixtures and checking I have the colour is now on today’s TODO list.

Lunchtime says the morning has vanished but desk has been setup from scratch and visualiser is talking to it. Mission for the afternoon is get all the stupid control channels that never move at sensible HOME values (lots of user manuals to check), get the colour palettes in and time-code working so that who knows might get to actually plot some stuff this evening. Then we’re on track.

More of Tuesday then disappears to Hyper Procrastination. 32 All Fade Mark cue in 32 labelled cue lists with time code linked, 32 Intensity block assert blackouts. More venue comms. Visualiser mostly playing ball. Magic sheet taking shape. Colour palettes tamed. Better handling of colour palettes between show files could be the subject of a whole blog on its own.


WednesThursday 12-13th

Well, I always said there’s no time to blog when you’re getting on with the job. And there’s always more work hiding than there should be. Some quality time spent looking over all the videos and pondering costume and colour palette vs run order. And noting all the ones that can’t be plotted because sound / costume / choreography / whatever – more emails resulted.

And some actual pieces plotted. It’s always slow at first but it’s nice to get going and ideas tend to lead to more ideas. I tend to start by ignoring the clock and seeing where the process takes me – I know now I need to speed up but experience says that happens. Friday is heads down get on with it.


Friday 14th

Friday was heads down and get some numbers plotted. Started with the ones that have detailed notes (and hence fewer degrees of freedom – both within the piece and with making the pieces either side look different). Then some competition pieces as the sounds is tentatively confirmed, who knows may even match what’s in the video, and we don’t get to see those on Sunday.

Saturday 15th

Postie has delivered gobos and frost. Need to get at least 7 pieces plotted today. Will break to buy sandwiches for rehearsal tomorrow and to print plans for Wednesday.

Stop press! Purple strobe excitement.

Cannot label the plan as to which way around the movers go. Or at least the user manual has no information as to which way tilt goes based on the DMX setting and the orientation of the unit.

Wierd desk bug. Channel 513 is 513 in Park. Unless it’s patched whereupon it becomes 2/1.

Just done a complicated piece – work through it 5 seconds at a time tracking the movement and poking in the focus positions. Then got to the 20 second bit they hadn’t choreographed(!) Fail.

Effects engine many bugs what’s new. Especially where the Stop/Back button is concerned.

Sunday 16th

Today is freeze point; have videoed all pieces and not expecting any new information to come to light between now and the tech/dress. Uncertainties will have to be dealt with as best they can. Need to go over some of Saturday’s plotting as some choreography has changed since last week. But the task ahead is clear (if sizeable). Might have tea first while the video copies across though.

Monday 17th

The inability of the technology to just make me a proper orange colour continues to be upsetting.

Past half way in terms of pieces but don’t quite have a complete first half yet.

Nyaarrrgh. Was all going so swiftly this morning then there’s the one that won’t plot. I mean I want to be in the forest with little red riding hood, just where the shadows are purple and the sun shining through the trees is cyan. Still, naming cues always amuses. TopTwinkleReprise. And StrobeCeaseAndDesist!

Nodding buckets ate my plot time. 20/32 of the way there.

Tuesday 18th

To recall a conversation from last year “Time to channel your inner Britney”. There was some debate as to whether everyone has one of these, even me? Either way, lots of flashy stuff needs sorting out today so it’s heads down to get mostly the second half done. And find the glow tape, lx plans, print bar tapes, make sandwiches and generally get everything ready for being in the venue tomorrow.

Eeek! Just needed the user manual for the lighting desk. Danger. Although I can be forgiven for not guessing that [Shift][Forward-slash] means open-subgroup-bracket.

Right 26/32 means it must be tea time and time to make danger yellow sandwiches for tomorrow. The good news is that the hires have been delivered to the venue. The bad news is the magic smoke has escaped from the venue’s architectural lighting controller so it looks like white worker floods 100% houselights OFF until spares arrive from ETC. Should make for an exciting focus and plot tweak (!) More reasons to get more plotted tonight.

28/32 done but the remaining four are biggies. But my pile of stuff is ready to go to the venue (colour, frost, gobos, bar tapes, plans, tools, sustenance, glow tape). Have typed up my focus palette notes for all the mover cues. Will attempt to eyeball the focus in the morning so it’s fresh in my mind what all 100 fixtures do.

Wednesday 19th

Back from venue. Rig is in and focussed. Always amazes me that the human brain can marshall what over a hundred different lights do. Masking and spot marks are done. Colour palettes fettled (orange fail still makes my cry). Focus and beam positions for the movers mostly straightened out (have found new bits of tension wire grid that get in the way – must draw these on a plan). Here is somewhere where exporting pictures of all of them from the visualizer would have helped but time ran out on that one. Here’s us firing things up for the first time (prior to top masking):


New stalls position for low level sidelight seems to work well as does the extra units I’ve poked under the prosc. to deal with the very front of stage. Rob seems to have sound under control including new and improved over-stage speakers. Many thanks to Anna and Michael for coming along to help rig and focus. Delighted we ran to time today.

Show file has come back home and the visualiser updated to match the venue patch. This is only the 14 conventionals – the rest of the rig being LED/intelligent/etc it was all correct in advance. We’re not a 100% LED rig yet.

Home stretch now – four big numbers remain to plot.

So three done; am giving in on the right side of midnight will do the last one tomorrow. Experience says fewer mistakes that way!

Thursday 20th AM

Social media is convinced I have an event to go to this weekend. Wonder what that might be. Right. 11.15am let’s call that plotted. Time for fish finger sandwiches to power me through the rest of the day. We have three hours to look at it in the venue – check what real light looks like on real people, none of this visualizer nonsense. Main plan from now is to go over the notes – about says there are 536 lx cues to look at so without a system it’d be a long afternoon! And for whoever asked me what the plot desk look like:


Programming wing is on the left and by default cue sheet left monitor magic sheet right monitor. Next monitor along is everything that doesn’t have anywhere else to go – so show spreadsheet of doom, rehearsal notes, and spectral view of the sound for setting any timecode cues. Right hand monitor is dedicated to rehearsal video. The tiny laptop does the automation of sound and timecode. The visualiser is normally locked to auditorium view and projected onto the wall. The network storage box that keeps all the information in sync is hiding. And yes with four keyboards and three mice on one desk there is comedic potential for typing into the wrong window! Oh, and the remote for my camera is on the smartphone.

Thursday PM

Fun and games at the venue because the architectural lighting (house lights, workers etc) very not working. Mostly ignored this and got on with looking over the lighting plot. Managed to get through all 32 cue lists by 6pm as scheduled.


New magic for this year we ran the dress rehearsal with the technical point in the auditorium. I don’t have the words to describe how much better it is to watch from an audience perspective. In fact its probably the first time I’ve ever been able to watch the whole show from out front. In the less busy pieces totally lost in the moment. Unusually for me I’m mostly happy with how it looks – the moving lights are a good addition, the better colours make good skin tones, the cues and timing are there, it’s looking suitably sculptural.


Home now – it’s nearly midnight, video has just finished copying and the show file from the lighting desk is backed up. All set to do the tweaks tomorrow. Not a huge list – mostly need to poke the units that cover the very front of stage and poke a few moving light focus positions now the cast have performed on the right sized stage. Then we should be set for the opening night.

Friday AM

First ETC support case of the week – taking my F915FC colour palettes and [CopyTo] F415FC neither errors nor does anything at all….

If I get time I should file the logs from the venue’s Ion as well – lost use of encoder selects during the plot yesterday.

First half notes done. It’s always quite slow going after the dress – a lot of seeking around the video and very very carefully adjusting focus positions. At this point the focus is slightly off in the visualiser as it has been fixed for the venue (which isn’t perfectly square and true and the lights aren’t exactly 90 degrees to the bar etc) so it’s easier to make small relative corrections. But it’s no hardship to watch the show back 🙂 And it will help later because it’ll be easier to remember what I’m looking out for as the show runs live.

ETC are mailing my colour palettes bug to their developers so have turned around some more details on e-mail. Lunchtime!

Friday PM / Saturday

Is all a blur….

So the odd thing about CUTAZZ is having only a single tech/dress in the venue. A typical show has a separate tech (so change anything) and a dress (whereupon run the first night exactly like this). With only one opportunity to rehearse in the venue the choice was to force errors out into the open. So spots are as narrow as they can be so that if they miss it’s obvious, and the fill under the prosc arch is out unless it’s definitely needed.  Without forcing these errors the show is over-lit – the lights under the prosc broaden the space and take the audience eye out of the stage space thanks to the inevitable spill on the prosc, and the mover spots are too big with no safe way to reduce them. Which is all fine when you can spend Friday fixing this offline in the cases where it needs fixing. Until the desk bug bites – and your colour palettes for the lights under the prosc don’t match the rest of the rig. And that’s when Friday turns into a needless pile of stress. Manually colour matching over 20 palettes between fixtures eats venue time and with other fixes you’re then heading into a first night with a bunch of colour palettes you’ve never seen light the cast and which are changed since you looked over the lighting plot. Not ideal.

Friday is a come down for lighting. The contrast is palpable between watching the dress out front, with an excellent audience eye view and a screaming crowd cheering the show on and the control box experience of being insulated from the crowd with a poor view from the wrong angle with mainly your reflection in the blue-lit box window to look at. Which is a shame as the company had a great night and the audience loved it. Timecode failure on piece 23 was a pain and gets filed as a bug report to ETC.

Notes. An offline plot gets you 90% there. The Thursday afternoon gets you another 9% of the way. There’s still another 0.9% to have from the first night – the odd escape out of the front of the stage lighting and the odd timing tweak. Having given in post show Friday for a much needed beer and a round of drinks to say thank you to the crew who helped there’s an hour or two on Saturday to make the changes.

Some hurried phone-calls on Saturday morning and Rob has some instrumentation to observe what timecode is up to and whether the issue from Friday is the lighting desk or the sending laptop that does the music playback. You don’t really want to run your timecode through this but hey:


The bug shows itself in testing  pre-show (it was the desk) but not during either of the subsequent performances. Matinee is a battle with tiredness but the show is looking good and only three notes to fix before the evening. Pub tea intervenes.

Saturday evening is sheer joy. Nothing to adjust as no next performance the experience of running lights is psychic control. Stare out of the box window and get lost in the show. Every time you have that thought they’re about to escape the light or a cue is needed here you look down and the desk has already started running what is needed. It’s nice when you have a show under control to that point.

Then all too soon it’s over. A swift get-out follows – gel and gobos packed up, movers back in their flight cases, cables coiled and taped.  Car loaded, stuff extricated, and that’s it for another year. Thanks are due to Rob for being utterly on top of making it sound fabulous, to Rachel for being totally on top of the stage space and to Michael and Anna for making Wednesday go more smoothly than it ever has before. It’s a luxury to have a 100% trust in the people around you and I hope CUTAZZ realise how fortunate they are to have such competent people help them. On a personal level it helps me relax and enjoy what I am working on. And I think we all appreciate what a privilege it is to work with such a talented and energetic company.

Sunday is for sleeping and for tidying …

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