July of 2022 was a busy time for the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre (UFOMT) in Logan, Utah; four shows opened simultaneously in the Eccles Theatre, including ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, ‘Carmen’, ‘Man of La Mancha’, and ‘The Magic Flute’. “All four premiered the same week and rehearsed at the same time; we had between 90min to two hours to change over between productions,” reports Lighting Designer Chris Wood.
Due to the quick turnover, “Everything that we put lighting into had to be completely untethered — it had to be extremely easy to move,” Wood notes. So, he turned to one of his favorite tools: RC4 Wireless dimmers and transceivers. He adds, “It’s easy to use; in fact, it’s pretty much plug and play.”
Wood used 470 LED pixels to illuminate Joseph’s amazing technicolor coat. “Amanda Profaizer was the costume designer; she designed the coat look itself. The team and I worked closely with the costume shop and Meg Merhar — who draped the coat — to find a good way to assemble it in terms of where we were going to put the electronics and the batteries. We collaborated with them intensely in terms of finding a good place for the battery packs to fit so it would be comfortable on the actor when he was wearing it,” says Wood.
Finding the right place for the battery pack was a challenge. He continues: “We had to keep in mind that Joseph had to dance in the coat and it had to take a beating from the brothers. Too high and the electronics hit the shoulder blades, it’s awkward and looks like a bump back there. If you go too low, the weight gets oddly distributed when he stands and the coat doesn’t flare out like it’s supposed to.” The solution was from Merhar. “It ended up just a little above the small of the back, between the small of the back and the shoulder blades,” Wood notes.
The coat also included animations, designed by Wood. “The coat itself needed 3 universes of data, but we only sent it two. In the DMXpix we replicated the data. We used a DXio transmitter with the DMXpix as the pixel driver; we had two of them inside the coat,” he reports.
The Joseph set also included LEDs. “We built into the set 1720 LED pixels that reacted with the coat visually. All the animations that went across the pixels on the coat also went across the background as well,” explains Wood.
Joseph also included four Dodecahedrons. “We custom-made them; they had large 50-watt LEDs built in. We laser cut them out of Baltic birch plywood, so when you shined a light out of them, it created all these cool shafts of light in the haze,” the lighting designer notes.
The dodecahedrons appeared in the song Close Every Door. Wood explains: “The children’s chorus came in to greet Joseph, and they carried the four dodecahedrons that were glowing. There was ground fog, it was dark, he was in jail and at the emotional point in the song where the bass drops there was this big push, all the stage lights went out and these four dodecahedrons turned on at full. You saw shafts of light coming out, and then they slowly fade out at the resolve of the music.”
For the wireless dodecahedrons, Wood used the RC4 DMX2microXB. “It just came out this summer; it’s a 2-channel dimmer that is extremely small, and really low profile, and that’s what we needed,” he says.
Having a two-channel dimmer was critical to the success of the prop. “We needed to have one channel to dim the LED and the other dimmer allowed it to turn on a cooling fan. Because the LED was so powerful, it would melt itself if you didn’t actively cool it. That two-channel dimmer gave us the ability to turn it on and keep it from destroying itself. We were pushing the limits of what we were doing in the time that we had,” Wood admits.
In the Magic Flute, the Magic Flute Dress designed by Jennifer Sheshko Wood. “For Joseph’s coat, we had to make it in a way that you had no idea LEDs were in the coat until they turned on. While in the Queen of the Night’s dress, we were not as worried about the pixels being seen, because they’re on the whole time she’s on the stage. There was no big magic reveal of the LEDs; there was sheer fabric over LED pixels so they shined through the fabric,” says Wood.
“The costume designer for that was Jennifer Sheshko Wood,” says Wood. “She wanted to have this energy, of the stars and the aura and all that stuff in the costume, so there are multiple layers. It was basically the same technology—we had an RC4 DMXpix built into it; there were 500 RGB LEDs that we only used in white.”
The Queen’s dress also included animations. Wood continues: “We were able to make it react to what the opera singer was doing; we could make the animations of the costume react to her mood.”
The Queen also used an LED-infused dagger. “We put 32 RGB Pixels in it and depending on her mood, the blade of the dagger would react to what she was doing.” The prop also changed colors according to who was holding it. “The dagger used the new DMXpixMicro; the size of the DMXpixMicro allowed us to fit it and the battery into the hilt of the dagger,” explains Wood. More information on the DMXpixMicro and the DMX2microXB can be foundon the RC4 YouTube page.
As for the new DMXpixMicro, Wood notes, “The DMXpix units are extremely powerful; if you have 1000 LED pixels you need to control but you only have one universe of data, the Micro or regular unit will replicate that data for you internally, so you can control a thousand pixels with one universe easily.”
The Magic Flute also included two different types of Flute Orbs. Wood reports: “We had 3 spirit orbs that were 3D printed with translucent filament and we put an RC4 DMXpix and 50 RGB LED pixels in each one to make animations and swirls and flashing and static in these magical orbs on the stage. I used PETG for my filament; it was translucent, strong, and could handle high temps. We were sending animations to the spirit orbs, so it was more like a handheld video device with extremely low resolution.”
Overhead, there were “another 19 orbs that were flown over the stage, they are similar to the spirit orbs,” says Wood. “Ten were pixel based and 9 were regular LEDs. They were hung on a batton suspended with fire line, which is a thin carbon fiber filament. That’s why we wanted to be wireless, we didn’t see the wires coming down, we wanted them to be floating orbs. Putting the battery inside and the DMXpix units, with that fire line, they just magically floated out there. We use the DMXio as the transmitter; the 10-pixel spirit orbs were DMXpix units,” he concludes.
Wood has been working with RC4 equipment since 2008 and has worked with the firm’s gear on countless productions. “They have fantastic customer support. They have a lot of great knowledge base articles on their website that can walk you through any question, they have tutorials online that walk you through how to use a device, and if you contact tech support, they will get your question figured out pretty quickly.”
When Enlighted Designs Inc. was commissioned to create LED dresses for several wax figures for the Glow Gala experience at Madame Tussauds NYC in Times Square — which opened in June 2022 — they turned to RC4 Wireless and their RC4Magic 2.4GHz line of products to help achieve the desired effects.
The centerpiece of the room is a re-creation of Katy Perry’s iconic 2019 Met Gala chandelier dress, which hangs from the high ceiling; Lady Gaga and Priyanka Chopra dressed in outfits inspired by their 2019 Met Gala looks, but with added illumination; and RuPaul wearing a lighted silver dress and wings, inspired by a classic Bob Mackie design.
All four of these “show stopper” dresses are programmed to pulse and change in sync with a multimedia music and lighting experience using a number of DMXpix dual string drivers.
Enlighted also added more subtle lighting to many of the other outfits in the room, including ties, LED buttons, and accents on other dresses.
For those on the American side of the Atlantic, the National Theatre in London, UK is THE most prestigious theatrical venue. Founded by the legendary Sir Lawrence Olivier in 1963, it comprises several venues: the Olivier Theatre, the Lyttleton Theatre, and the smallest venue, the Dorfman Theatre. They are also home to Lighting Technician Alex Varlow, who happens to have a fondness for wireless dimming and specifically RC4 Wireless. “I first started working with RC4 in 2014, when I began as a freelancer at the National Theatre,” Varlow explains. “Since then, I have worked on countless shows and can only think of a handful which didn’t use RC4. The flexibility, size and reliability make it a powerful tool to be rolled out on almost every show I have worked on here.”
Varlow gave his RC4 Wireless gear a workout on two recent shows: ‘Hex’, based on Sleeping Beauty and a modern version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Varlow notes, “‘Hex’ was our post-COVID Christmas musical in the Olivier Theatre. My role as Floor Electrician was to design, build and run the set, costume and hand-held practical lighting elements. ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ has recently opened in the Lyttelton Theatre. For this production, I was Assistant Lighting Supervisor. Similarly to ‘Hex’, the set had a large amount of practical lighting, which I designed and built with our brilliant inhouse props team. ”
First, the wireless aspects of ‘Hex’. “Being based around Sleeping Beauty, we knew early in the design process that there was going to be a castle,” Varlow notes. “As the show and design concept grew, we found out that the castle was going to be a flown element, housing a performer that would both track up and down stage and rotate 360 degrees. This meant we couldn’t safely get power or data cables run to it; the castle would have to be wireless. We also had a very strict weight limit, so multiple drivers and excessive cabling was not an option.”
Paul Anderson, the Lighting Designer for ‘Hex’, had another requirement as well: the castle had to be able to change color; Varlow had a solution: the RC4Magic S3 DMXpix Dual Pixel String Driver. “We chose pixel tape to give us added control but being a large set piece, it required over ten metres of product,” reports Varlow. There was only one slight problem. “This would quickly eat up addresses on the Olivier’s dedicated wireless universe.”
As Varlow and many others in the lighting world have discovered, RC4 equipment is not only reliable, but versatile. Varlow continues: “We used RC4s powerful keyframe tool to allow us to control the ten metres of tape in one universe. This gave us the ability to add texture and other interesting color effects to the castle without requiring multiple universes of data.” As for the rest of the production, “The ‘Hex’ castle featured twenty-five channels of fairy lights, Gantom spots and other LED tape hidden inside, all receiving data via an RC4Magic DMXio and functioning without a hitch; in total, we had another fifteen DIM2s controlling various lanterns, costume lighting and smoke effects, running multiple universes on separate IDs simultaneously,” he notes.
When technical issues came up during ‘Hex’, Varlow turned to RC4 customer support. He continues: “We were using a new string of pixel tape which was controlled by a protocol not yet implemented into RC4. James [James D. Smith, CEO and chief product developer] was eager to get his hands on a segment, so we FedExed a segment of the tape to him across the pond. Within a few days, James had mapped out the framework for a TM1814 protocol and sent us a firmware update allowing us to light the ‘Hex’ castle. James’ communication and commitment to solving any issues are second to none. No matter how time consuming or complex, I’ve not managed to stump him just yet.”
While Varlow had to deal with the castle in ‘Hex’, he had a different issue in the modern version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. He explains, “Our biggest challenge on Much Ado, from a practical standpoint, was a pair of Art Deco elevator floor indicators, present in the fictional hotel the show takes place within. In early meetings, our Lighting Designer, Lucy Carter, asked for each segment of a floor number light box to illuminate, indicating which floor the elevator was on. She also requested a motorized arrow, which followed the lift’s journey through the numbered floors. The prop was quite small in size and attached to a ceiling inside a revolve. This meant it would not be possible to get data, decoders and cabling to these practicals.”
Once again, Varlow turned to RC4 Wireless products for a solution. “We chose to use a RC4 DMXpix to control pixel tape for the lit floor numbers. Using the keystone tool again, I was able to group the pixels together to make each floor number an individual four-channel RGBW lightbox. To control the arrow, we used a DIM2 running in servo controller mode. This allowed our programmer to accurately select a floor controlling the 180-degree movement as an intensity control,” Varlow explains.
The RC4 Wireless DMXpix and DMXio aren’t the only wireless products from the firm at the National Theatre. Varlow notes, ”We have over seventy RC4 products here at the National, and we are always looking to grow our stock and test their new products. James and his team have offered outstanding support, helping us with any issues we run into; they have the outside-the-box thinking vital for creating products that we find so useful.”
“Flexibility is key to RC4’s success in a theatrical environment,” Varlow states. “Being able to be powered over a wide range of voltages makes them adaptable to many low voltage electrical systems. They are compact and so easily hidden in smaller props, such as lanterns and costumes. Their many different curves and control modes give us the chance to create some really special effects. We’ve hidden IO receivers in large LED walls, installed DIM4s in delicate LED-filled costumes and used DIM2s set as a relay to fire smoke effects. I’m sure we haven’t found all their useful applications… yet,” he concludes.
A new musical based on Sleeping Beauty : book by Tanya Ronder, music by Jim Fortune and lyrics by Rufus Norris
Director : Rufus Norris
Set and Costume Designer : Katrina Lindsay
Choreographer : Jade Hackett
Music Supervision & Vocal Arrangements : Marc Tritschler
Orchestrations : Simon Hale
Music Director : Tarek Merchant
Lighting Designer : Paul Anderson
Sound Designer : Simon Baker
Consultant Choreographer : Bill Deamer
Associate Choreographer : Bradley Charles
Associate Music Director : Cat Beveridge
Staff Director : Seimi Campbell
Ensemble : Christopher Akrill
Bruiser Thorn : Delroy Atkinson
Ensemble : Esme Bacalla-Hayes
Queenie : Tamsin Carroll
Ensemble : Madeline Charlemagne
Ensemble : Ebony Clarke
Fairy : Rosalie Craig
Ensemble : Sonya Cullingford
Ensemble : Hanna Dimtsu
Ensemble : Tamsin Dowsett
Bert : Michael Elcock
Ensemble : Joe Foster
Ensemble : Ben Goffe
Prince : Eleanor Kane
Queen Regina : Daisy Maywood
Ensemble : Kody Mortimer
Ensemble : Joseph Prouse
Rose : Kat Ronney
King/Prince : Shaq Taylor
Smith : Sargon Yelda
‘The Tender Land’, with music by Aaron Copland and libretto by Horace Everett, is a story about how one night can change the life of a single person. Set on a farm during the depression, it was the choice for an outdoor performance – at a farmhouse – by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theater (UFOMT). “The idea is that you can find love in one night, but surprisingly, the pair doesn’t end up getting together; the girl ends up leaving on her own, and moves on from the farm and her family,” notes Lighting Designer and Head Electrician Jordyn Cozart. “It was a very interesting project; I had never done outdoor theater as a designer before, so it was challenging,” she adds.
The opera was performed on the front porch, and Cozart’s console was in the backyard of the residence located in Millville, Utah. “People were entering and exiting from the house, which is where the RC4 gear comes in,” Cozart notes. “At the end of graduation party, as they’re going inside, the director wanted to be able to make it look like, the lights of the house turn off like they’re going to bed.” After that, she adds, “There is a moment where the main character is up in the window of her bedroom, and the love interest is throwing a rock at the window. She wanted to have a light on in the window so we could see that moment happening inside the house as well. I did not want to rely on actors to turn on and off lights, plus the color temperature of this very modern house would not be the same as it would have been in the 1930s during the depression ”
Cozart fabricated two custom lanterns as a solution. She explains, “I put six volt LED tape in lanterns that I found in the prop shop and then used the RC4 equipment to control it from out in the lawn where the board was. There were two lanterns; there was one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom window.”
Because of the location, she chose to use the RC4Magic-900SX series of products, which uses the 900MHz bandwidth, ensuring superior wireless signal strength. “Each of the lanterns was controlled by an RC4Magic-900SX DMX4dim. The transmitter I used was the 900MHz because I knew that it would be able to go through the walls of the house, and that was my biggest concern since I was operating this from an Ion console literally in the back of the yard behind a porch swing,” notes Cozart.
There was another challenge involved as well. Cozart continues: “The lanterns were a last-minute add, and having the RC4 equipment and knowing I could rely on it and knowing it would work was very nice. It could have been a stressful addition to the production, but it ended up being something I did in 20 minutes: I just soldered a connector on the end of the LED tape, and it was ready to go.”
Cozart, a grad student, spent the summer at the Eccles Theater, the home of UFOMT. “I was the head electrician for the whole season, and this is my first time working with RC4 equipment. ‘The Tender Land’ was our last show to open, so I had been working with it for two months before I used it on that show. By that time, I was familiar with Commander [RC4’s proprietary software], which was nice. If you have basic wiring knowledge, all you have to do is plug it in and it works. That’s simplifying a bit, but it is super reliable,” she says.
For those unfamiliar with RC4, Cozart notes: “I think the concept of wireless DMX seems very daunting at first. When I first got here and realized that all the practicals I was using were wirelessly operated, I was very nervous about it. But honestly, RC4 has made it very easy; it isn’t as scary as you think it is going to be, and it does make doing practicals much easier.”
Cozart is moving onto the theater department at UNLV; she’s not sure of their current wireless DMX situation. “I have full intention of continuing to do more with wireless dmx, and working with RC4. They make wireless so much less scary,” she concludes.
Volksoper Wien (Vienna People’s Opera) is a historic opera house built in 1898 and is home to a variety of operas, operettas, ballets and musicals. Earlier this year, they performed the Kurt Weill classic Lady in the Dark. The musical tells the story of Liza Elliott, the editor of Allure magazine and her psychological issue with indecision. She is torn – not between two lovers, but three – all of which want to marry her. For a solution, Liza starts treatment with Dr. Brooks, a psychoanalyst, and they work through her issues by analyzing her dreams. “The set design relied on four wagons equipped with rotating L-shaped walls; they were up to 6 meters high; they created, widened and modulated the space,” notes lighting and networking engineer Christian Allabauer of Volksoper Wien GmbH. Lady in the Dark opened there in late 2021; the lighting design for Lady in the Dark was done by Michael Grundner.
Liz’s dreams take center stage during the performance; one dream takes place in a glamour setting, another is during a wedding, and the third takes place at a circus that includes a trial. “The transition along the glamour, wedding and circus dreams were pronounced by color-tunable LED tubes, fitted along the edges of the walls. Six wheeled archways were equipped with blue LED tubes, opening the world to the ‘blue dream,’ and supporting its choreography,” Allabauer adds.
Due to the nature of the scenic wagons, Volksoper required a wireless solution for the LED tubes. “To achieve the required flexibility, wireless control was a must-have,” he admits. “The compact design required metal framework; there was a lot of traffic on stage, and little space to fit electronics made us consider the locations of receivers very carefully.”
To control the LED tubes, Volksoper Wien turned to RC4 Wireless. “’Lady in the Dark’ was our first production running RC4; we appreciate the small form factor combined with a high-power rating,” he notes.
The RC4 Wireless W-DIM4 four-channel wireless high-power dimmer was Volksoper’s choice for Lady in the Dark. “The W-DIM4 became one of our most frequently used tools, as wireless stage lighting elements are requested again and again by leading teams. Fifteen amps per channel in such a small housing is amazing!” says the lighting and network engineer.
In terms of programming the W-DIM4, he says, “It’s very easy and intuitive! Dimming curves and the capability to dim tungsten lamps as well are quite helpful.” For RC4 Wireless users in Europe, he adds, “You need to get a special tool to crimp the connectors; Anderson connectors are not easy to find in Europe. Order some additional connectors to use the units for several productions.”
RC4 Wireless also provides customer service via phone and email which Allabauer utilized during the production. “We really appreciated the great and instant service,” he says.
Lady in the Dark concluded its run in early 2022. Their 2022/2023 season includes La Cage aux Folles, Into the Woods, and the ballet Begegnungen; Volksoper is using the W-DIM4 in the second act of the ballet. RC4 Wireless technology is also part of Death in Venice, a co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Allabauer concludes, “The RC4 W-DIM4s just worked reliably and were an important factor in getting the job done.”