Lighting the Dalai Lama with ETC gear

Date Posted: 2/16/2012

Lighting the Dalai Lama

One doesn't have the opportunity to light a world spiritual figure often. Aaron Brown, Lighting Designer/Director at TES Productions in Tulsa, Oklahoma, recently had that rare honor - lighting two lectures at the University of Arkansas by the Tibetan Buddhist leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Revered by many worldwide and referred to by his followers as "His Holiness," the Dalai Lama is no conventional 'talent,' and this was no ordinary lecture hall - but a basketball arena.

In keeping with the Dalai Lama's espoused philosophy of simplicity and moderation, and despite the size of the venue, Brown envisioned the production as minimalist but still lit to inspire, with clarity and warmth. "My design was fairly simple. We needed an even front- and backstage wash for a panel discussion, and front- and backlight specials for a podium. The set lighting was a little trickier. I wanted a conventional look with the ability to change the color of the set." Brown employed a hybrid lighting rig to get the feel he wanted. He used 12 Source Four® PARs with narrow lenses on the mid-stage trusses focused down the curtains, and LED fixtures on the floor focused up the curtains. Brown and crew also worked with 28 ETC Source Four PARNels ("The PARNels give an even stage wash every time") and seven Source Four 19° ellipsoidal spotlights. For lighting control, Brown used an ETC Ion® console and two 48-channel SmartPack® touring racks ("They're awesome and user friendly," says Brown; "ETC has top-quality road-worthy equipment").

The Ion console proved to be an excellent choice for the magnitude of the venue lighting. "We graduated from the ETC SmartFade® ML console about six months ago, and the Ion has been great. The Ion gave us greater control of our LED fixtures, so we could get the best color temperature. We have two 2x10 Ion Fader Wings, which make it very handy to control dimming channels on one wing on one side of the console, and intelligent lights for set design on the other wing on the other side. I also hate using board tape, so being able to label the faders in the LCD screen was wonderful."

"The Ion console helped me dial the LEDs to a nice 3200k white to match the Source Four PARs. And I used 20 LED fixtures across the proscenium truss focused down to change the color of the main curtain. Our set designer, Megan Stevens, basically created a proscenium stage with the set. This type of a show is really pretty straight forward - without a lot of the cue writing and sequences that would be in theater applications. The big difference though, was that this show was created from the ground up in a basketball arena, so a lot of additional work went into it that would not be necessary in a more contained theater situation." The basketball floor, for instance, required the laying of a double-plywood road through everywhere that the lift had to drive, which was particularly labor intensive and time consuming. There were also few places to rig where the stage had to be, so stage manager Don Worley and producer Scott Turner designed a sub grid with heavy-duty super truss, which provided rigging points wherever needed. They used four Barco R22 projectors, double stacked on two 20x36 custom-made rear-projection Da-Lite screens.

Once setup issues had been resolved, Brown had only one bout of lighting-design doubt: "When the Dalai Lama came on stage for the panel discussion - the first of two shows that day - he sat down and almost immediately took out a small hat that matched his robe and put it on. I instantly questioned my stage-wash intensity, concerned that it might be too bright for him. But he didn't wear the hat on the second show, so I breathed easier. It was still worrying me though that night back at the hotel, so I went to the Dalai Lama web site to look at other photos of other events he has appeared at, and it turns out he always wears a hat when on stage but doesn't appear to when he gives a speech from the podium. I was quite relieved."