ETC SineWave dimmers allow silence to fall around Henry V

Date Posted: 12/19/2013

Noël Coward Theatre

ETC's SineWave dimmers have helped bring silence to the new production of Henry V at London's Noël Coward Theatre - stripping out the filament noise from the eight DHA Digital Light Curtains that formed a core part of Tony®- and Olivier-Award-winning lighting designer Neil Austin's rig for the show.

"I've been using the DHA Light Curtains for a long time," comments lighting programmer Rob Halliday, "and while we've always been aware of the noise they make - a combination of the filament ring from six Par56 lamps and the buzz of the transformer driving them - it's never really been an issue before, perhaps because we've often used them on loud musicals, or perhaps because they were hidden behind masking, which filtered the noise. But on this show, with an exposed rig, a hard, curved back wall that seemed to throw even the slightest sound straight out into the audience, and a director and lighting designer determined to have as little distraction from the performance as possible, it was very definitely an issue this time."

"A few years ago, on the play Red in New York, director Michael Grandage and I experienced the power of getting back to a completely silent lighting rig," Neil Austin explains. "You could just feel the audience leaning in, paying more attention to the show." Austin and Grandage both won Tony Awards for their work on that play, and have attempted to provide the same silent background to their shows since. "While it's not always possible or desirable to get rid of all of the technology available to lighting designers," Austin adds, "with the Digital Light Curtains, we always strive to ensure we're not taking anything away from the dynamic range available to the actors."

For Henry V , Austin and his team, including Halliday, production electrician Rich Mence and associate lighting designer Derek Anderson, had already taken considerable steps to ensure that the rig was as quiet as possible. Vari-Lite VL3500Qs had been cut. Six of ETC's low-noise Revolution® automated fixtures moved only during loud moments in the show. The Revolutions and other scrollers in the rig were even configured at the ETC Eos® control system to only run their fans when absolutely necessarily, further reducing the background noise. That just left the noise from the Digital Light Curtains even more exposed. If the DLCs were to remain in the show, a solution was desperately needed.

"I knew that a sine wave dimmer - whose method of dimming avoids shock to the filaments - was hypothetically the answer to our problem," says Halliday, "so I sent an email basically saying 'help!'" Less than four hours after that email, ETC Technical Service Manager Steve Wiltshire dropped a SineWave dimmer pack off at the stage door. The lighting team connected it to one of the Digital Light Curtains and ran some fades. The result was remarkable: the light faded up and down, but completely silently. "It was so quiet that at the start of the fade we weren't sure it was working!" explains Halliday.

"It sounds crazy to say that something fading silently was thrilling," Neil Austin comments, "but it just was. You don't realize how your subconscious takes for granted the audible 'ring' of a light like this until it isn't there anymore."

The experiment a triumph, ETC then supplied the production with two additional SineWave Power Bars, giving six more ways of dimming and silencing the fades of all of the Digital Light Curtains, allowing them to be featured freely in the show once again.

"Here, SineWave dimmers provided the only solution to the difficult problem everyone faced at Henry V ," comments ETC's Mark White. "I am passionate about silence of equipment during a performance, so we were delighted to be able to offer a solution that helped Neil, Rob and all involved with the show."

James Bierman, The Michael Grandage Company's producer, added: "Mark White and the team at ETC really stepped into the breach for us and helped deliver the show we wanted. Silence is such a simple thing to achieve in theory, but it took their technological genius and kindness for us to find it. ETC is a great friend and collaborator."

Photo credit: Johan-Persson