Studio & Theatre
Howell Binkley lights The Full Monty
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Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre currently houses a rocking musical version of the 1997 Academy Award-nominated film sensation about male strippers in working class Britain who bare it all. Just like the movie, this show features six uptight, over-age, ungraceful, unemployed mill workers. Only they are now Americans in Buffalo, NY, who go to great lengths to raise cash. The Full Monty is currently playing to sold-out houses in an open-ended run on Broadway.
Yes, they take it off. They take it ALL off. Can you see everything? Well, no, thanks to the Full Monty sign spelled out in lights that blinds the audience from behind the actors. However, just before the moment of truth, the audience is treated - if that's the correct word - to the sight of the inexperienced strippers taking off their G-strings as they are side lit by Studio Color automated luminaires positioned on trees in the wings.
Lighting designer Howell Binkley first handled the task of dictating this delicate lighting cue and, indeed, the entire show, in just five days before the production opened at the Old Globe theatre in San Diego. "The whole design process of the Full Monty was a major collaboration," Binkley says. "Even before I went into tech, I had gone through the whole show with the director, Jack O'Brien, many times in the rehearsal hall. So I really felt equipped for the show going into it."
Automated lighting programmer Tim Rogers credits the production's lighting supplier for its pre-show assistance in helping everything run smoothly."Four Star Lighting did an excellent job getting us the gear because it was a regional theatre situation at the Old Globe it was all house gear," Rogers says. "It was the first time, to our knowledge, that they had ever used any kind of automated lighting in that space. That was kind of a challenge to begin with."
"We had very limited time to program there," he continues. "We basically programmed the show in five days before an audience. It was a fast cueing time, so we just slammed it in there. Then, whenever we could, we touched it up, but it actually looked very good from the beginning. The Wholehog II console  really helped us pull off some of the things we wanted to do as fast as we needed to. We also left it to a crew new to the Wholehog II giving them a little lesson on how to run the console. I'd get the calls from them about how this or that cue was acting weird, so Hog Edit really came in handy, because I could then just pull up the show,  find out where the problem was and tell them how to fix the problem over the phone. That was great. They'd call a cue and it wouldn't clear in time because the show had sped up a bit, or marks were being stepped on. I was able to see all of that from my computer at home and then talk them through it."
When the production moved from San Diego to New York City, Binkley added six Studio Colors to the front-of-house box booms for a total of 39 for the show. "They really helped us handle the chases for when they were in the club, so we could incorporate the audience into being in Giordano's," Binkley explains. "We had no FOH positions in San Diego at all, and Monty is about the text and the music. It's not a dark, shadowy type of show. It's bright and fun so the transitions had to be like film wipes. The sliding set panes wipe across and then, boom, you're in the next scene. So we really wanted to keep the complete transition process alive - keep it moving and not let it be fragmented. I feel we really met that challenge and made it work."
"Having FOH positions in New York helped immensely because it's a comedy and you really need to see the actors' faces," Rogers adds. The set also changed when the show came to New York. "The floor stayed the same but the portals changed completely," Binkley says. "The rig had to deal with all the corrugation in the scenery, because to make the scene transitions work, I really had to back light a lot of it. Then, when we would land into our scene for the show, we would come in with the front light and sculpt the corrugation from the front and the high and low sides. I used spotlights primarily to cover a lot of the tight area scenes, such as the dressing room or their separate houses, to really keep tight isolation on those scenes.
"Then, all around that, I would use the Studio Colors to wash and sidelight and sculpt the whole picture," he continues. "I love the softness of the Studio Colors -- especially on the scrim on The Full Monty -- and the color range on them is just great. They're very accurate units and we never had any problems with them. The beam-shaping capability makes it a really good sculpting tool for a wash light. Whether it's spotted or flooded, it has a good use for me. Mainly, I used a lot of the colors for transitional purposes and also to wash the scrim, cyc and stage."
Having worked on several Broadway productions and theatrical tours, Binkley and Rogers have developed a programming rapport, which made the time crunch easier for them to deal with. "I love working with Tim Rogers because he knows the Wholehog board so well and he knows how I work as a designer," Binkley says. "Although a lot changed between San Diego and New York because of the units that we had to add and the footprint had changed, we still used the same disk and went through the show piece by piece. We put all the new cues in and cleaned the board. Tim and I have developed a unique process working together."
"Since we changed a lot of the lights for New York, I had to transfer all the old data to the new data," Rogers adds. "Having the Wholehog was quite the advantage because the DMX channels on different lights obviously don't line up the same. I went to the High End Systems' New York office and Paul Sonnleitner helped me go through the show and take the data out and then clone it into the new fixtures. Then I had to go back and clean it up because I didn't have the rig in front of me. So that saved a lot of time."
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