Written by Michael S. Eddy
USA – When American Idiot hit the Broadway stage in 2010, theatregoers were treated to more than just the punk-rock sounds of Green Day’s iconic rock opera; they experienced the visual impact that lighting can bring to storytelling. When Pace University staged American Idiot in 2016, Lighting Designer Zach Blane took an approach with his lighting rig that – like punk rock – broke the rules.
The book of American Idiot, written by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, follows the parallel lives of three young men, friends who take different paths over a year. For his design, Blane says: “We wanted to play with the idea of keeping it theatrical, but also keep the rock edge. In the cueing, I worked by defining colour stories to help root each one of the main characters’ journeys, giving each their own world to live within.”
As Blane’s design required getting a wide range of colours from his rig, his choice of units was critical. “I selected an assortment of ETC [Source Four LED] Lustr [Series] 1s and Lustr [Series] 2s, because I definitely needed endless colour options, plus it is a rock show, so I knew there was going to be a lot of haze, meaning I needed something that would look great in the air and great on the floor. Also, the director [Leslie McDonel] wanted the entire rig to be able to strobe. The Lustrs strobed beautifully in any colour I wanted. They actually changed my perspective of how I can accomplish colour strobing in the future.”
There were several other features that Blane liked in the Lustr® units as well: “I was very impressed with the colour engine; how it could go from punchy and super-saturated to looking like a conventional ‘no-colour’ tungsten fixture in an instant. Plus, it’s quiet, it doesn’t get super hot, and it doesn’t take up a dimmer, which is always important. The Lustrs worked amazingly well. They checked off all the boxes that were required.”
Blane also got an entirely unexpected look that became defining to his design when he used some of the Source Four® LED Series 2 Lustr luminaires without barrels. “One of the things that I think is important when I design at Pace is the teaching aspect of giving students the experience of how to be an associate when working with professionals like myself and interacting with the rest of the design team. I often encourage them to offer ideas to the team. Using the barrel-less Lustr was my assistant’s [Brittany Trymbulak] suggestion. Taking the barrels out of the Lustrs was an idea that came a bit out of necessity and it became one of the best visuals in the show. We didn’t have the barrel inventory I needed to get a full-stage floor system using gobos, and my assistant [Tanner Simpson] said, ‘you know these things look amazing when there is no barrel in it.’ When I saw it, I was sold. It gave me the modern, high-energy, expensive look that I was yearning for.”
Blane used the barrel-less Lustrs as high-angle backlights that created shafts of colour in the air through the haze, but it was the incredibly unique texture that got people questioning how it was accomplished. “Because it took two or three different colour cells to get the floor colour I wanted for any particular cue, the effect in the air ended up having a lot of wonderful depth,” says the designer. “I had many lighting friends come see the show and afterwards everyone wanted to know what fixtures I was using to create such fullness. When I told them it was ETC Lustrs without barrels, they were amazed. It really did make the look of the show. It’s not like a typical gobo texture. They have this sort of ‘laser point’ to them that is so high-impact and ethereal. Something very different; it was very cool. I used them as part of the landscape of the show throughout.”
Pace student and ETC Ion® programmer for the show Jonah Camiel was also impressed by the Lustrs: “As a programmer, the colour-mixing system that has been developed for these fixtures is phenomenal; it gives you so much control. I am able to go in and have so many different options to fine tune the colour. I was working with a base colour palette library of about 150 colour palettes. Without having such a dynamic range of colour mix options on the Lustrs, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get that many different mixes of each colour. That was really fantastic. Especially programming for a designer like Zach who gets so much out of the rig just by using colour so effectively. His choice of the ETC Lustrs was definitely the right one and the show looked fantastic.”
For more information on Source Four LED luminaires and all of ETC’s products, visit www.etcconnect.com.
Zach Blane, principal at Zach Blane Lighting Design, has numerous New York stage and regional designer credits as well as being fleet-wide lighting designer with Norwegian Cruise Lines. He also teaches as an adjunct professor at Pace University in the School of Design/Technology.