The story of ‘The Little Mermaid’ is an enchanting one. When Lighting Designer/Master Electrician, Jonah Nelson at Xavier College Preparatory (Phoenix, AZ) needed to make their production more magical, they turned to RC4 Wireless dimmers. “From a designer point of view, they are an extraordinary tool that opens up many possibilities to place and control lights where it would otherwise not be possible,” says Nelson. The prospect of incorporating these types of technology has only come about through the robust support of Xavier’s Administration. Nelson notes, “Our President, Sister Joan Fitzgerald (BVM) and our Principal, Sister Joani Nuckols (BVM), have been incredibly supportive of technology within the arts programs, which has allowed us to give students hands-on experience with the latest equipment.”
For the production, Nelson used three RC4 Wireless W-DIMm3 Three-Channel Miniature Dimmers which work in the popular 2.4GHz frequency range and operate on the W-DMX platform. Nelson has been using RC4 gear for the last several years. “They are easy to use, extremely reliable and have great support from RC4; I’ve called tech support several times and have never been disappointed with their assistance,” he notes.
From a design standpoint, the W-DIMm3 helped solve some of Nelson’s challenges — and design requirements. “We needed the dimmer to be small, and had to meet the power requirements of the items being dimmed. It also needed to interface with existing wireless DMX equipment, and the dimming curve needed to be appropriate for the application,” Nelson explains. The W-DIMm3 features a variety of dimmer curves for smoothly dimming LEDs and incandescent lamps, as well as controlling servo motors, ringing telephones, and driving relays, solenoids and more.
For ‘The Little Mermaid’, Nelson is using the W-DIMm3 for several props, including the throne, a magic shell, and the trident, Nelson explains: “We made the trident out of LEXAN™ and had to Dremel out a section for the dimmer to fit into along with the wiring. LEXAN™ was forgiving material generally and the dimmer sat in there nicely.”
This isn’t the first time that Nelson has worked with RC4 dimmers. “For our production of ‘The Secret in the Wings’, we used the RC4 W-DIMm3 in four floor lamps and one book that we hollowed out. We own five of the W-DIMs in total,” he says. For the magic book that appeared during ‘The Secret in the Wings’, Nelson notes, “We had to find a book thick enough and then open just the cover, glue all the pages together minus the top 3, then we hallowed out the inside with a Dremel and other devices, then secured a light, battery and dimmer inside with Velcro.”
Nelson also has some insight for other lighting designers and master electricians who are thinking of taking the RC4 Wireless plunge. “Like anything, there is a slight learning curve but beyond that, the product is intuitively built. Miniature dimmers solve half the problem which is control of something in an inconvenient place/prop/set piece. The other half is powering the device and finding the appropriate fixture/lamp/LED to use. Over the long haul, I do consider them a worthy investment in the toolbox of a lighting designer. The ‘wow’ moments in theater are born from the ability to embrace creativity and achieve the unexpected and RC4 Wireless dimmers have certainly helped me carry out that goal in these shows,” he says.
As for the future productions at Xavier College Preparatory, it will continue to be wireless. “I had the vision to create a standard set of ‘dance manipulatives’ that would include a sphere, cube, 2d squares, etc. I think that would be a fun design tool for dancers to incorporate,” he concludes.