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Girlstar – Signature Theatre


Girlstar, which closed in mid-November at the Signature Theater of Arlington, Virginia is a modern fairy tale described as “The Voice meets Maleficent.” Anton Dudley wrote the book and lyrics, while the lighting design was provided by Jason Lyons. The production was one of the largest that has ever played the theater. A crucial part of the magic that made Girlstar a hit was possible because of RC4 Wireless of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Creating the magic that was entwined throughout the production was a challenge. Lyons explains, “The craziest and most fun trick came from the sorceress- legendary record producer Daniella Espere (actress Donna Migliaccio). Her hands needed to glow green several times throughout the show as she was working her spells and then at the end of the play fade to red as her power starts to wane.”

The Signature’s head electrician, Sarah LaRue, was charged with creating that effect. LaRue asks, “How do you make hands light up? We went back and forth– is it going to be a prop, is it going to be a costume or is it electrics? What is it?”

At first, LaRue looked at LED gloves; they didn’t work at all. So she began the process of research, and found an unexpected solution: LED headlights for cars and motorcycles. “They come in a bunch of different diameters; we measured the actors hand to determine what size to get; we basically used this car headlight as a bracelet and sewed it inside her costume,” she explains. The solution was perfect, and was used in several of Migliaccio’s costumes. “For the final scene– we called it the nightmare scene–she had two colors in there, a green and a red. They turned green, then red and then they went back to green during her demonic transformation,” LaRue notes. The headlight was also used for Uncle Derek (actor Bobby Smith) “when his heart had to pulse red as the magic was taking hold,” explains Lyons.

Then there was the Jar of Souls– filled with Galaxy Goo and an LED headlight– that descended from the air. “We wanted to keep it as light and seemingly floating, so it flew in on the thinnest of aircraft cable. But we were able to get a battery and an RC4 unit into the base that allowed the Jar to glow from within,” notes Lyon.

The RC4 units that controlled the Jar of Souls and the headlights used for Migliaccio and Smith were DMX2dims. “The RC4 DMX2dim is very small, and it’s extremely reliable. We wanted it to light up every time it’s used, and it did,” LaRue states. The DMX2dim is a two channel, 16 amp dimmer that features RC4 OneTouch for quick and simple assignment of DMX channels and dimmer curves. RC4 Digital Persistence is also part of the DMX2dim, with basic options controlled via OneTouch. “RC4’s Digital Persistence makes those LED headlights respond like traditional halogen headlights, with very smooth dimming and a natural fade-out when turned off, explains James D. Smith, President and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless.

The DMX2dim could also be found in a prop guitar. LaRue notes, “I drilled holes right below the bridge and ran six individual lengths of EL wire from inside the guitar and then up to the pins, stringing it like normal guitar strings. Inside the guitar there was a splitter and an inverter for the EL wire which connected to the DMX2dim pack.” There was also an automated Plexiglas stage that used RGBW tape which was controlled via two RC4 DMX2dim units.

LaRue has been a long time user of the RC4Magic DMX2dim. “The first time I needed some sort of wireless control was for Witches of Eastwick; we needed a fake fireplace to light up and come on stage. At the time, the other wireless dimmers on the market were really large and bulky, and I was looking for something smaller,” she says. LaRue has been using original RC4Magic DMX2dim wireless dimmers at the Signature since 2007; the theater has also purchased a handful of newer models, along with two new units on loan from Ford’s Theatre. Smith notes, “Our original RC4Magic dimmers, released in late 2006, provided simple, bare-bones, work-horse features. It was a rock-solid wireless dimmer with linear and inverse-square-law dimmer curves and 14-bit resolution at the power outputs. That resolution made LEDs look pretty good, but it would be a few years before high-frequency 16-bit resolution eliminated visible stepping almost entirely. The extended features and performance introduced in RC4Magic Series 3 — a PLASA London Award for Innovation winner in 2014 — are astonishing in comparison to where this journey began. It’s the equivalent of moving from a flip-phone to a smartphone.”

Lyons found RC4 a few years later on Saved at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2010. He needed a pregnancy test to light up on cue each and every night. “We needed something bright enough to be seen, but small enough to be wirelessly controlled in the palm of her hand. With RC4’s equipment [specifically the Series 2 DMX4dim], we were able to create a rather incredible and effective moment with something so small and powerful, that allowed us to hit that perfect moment onstage every night to help tell the story.   There was nothing else that could have done that- we were able to make something so small a powerful wireless controllable light. It kind of blew my mind because up to that point I did not think something like that was possible,” Lyons admits.

When asked if she’d recommend RC4 and their products, LaRue replies with a hearty, “Yes. First and foremost, the customer service is always phenomenal- I can ask them any questions, big or small, and they’ll always have an answer for me in a timely manner.”

Lyons has a very similar answer. “I know when I have an idea or an issue that I can call RC4 to get info and solutions that help me get my work done every day. Not all shows are the same and not every wireless moment is the same, and it’s so helpful to have such a range of gear to choose from to allow us to dream up new ideas and new ways of creating theatre magic. Sometimes having these kinds of moments on a show can be daunting or worrisome, but I’m always happy to have RC4 products on a show as the experiences I’ve had with them give me the confidence to know these will be solid and effective effects.”

Girlstar ended their run at the Signature Theater on the 15th of November 2015.