Sensor3 Exorcises Ghosts at The Geffen

Date Posted: 3/27/2024

Ask any theatre professional if they’ve got a good ghost story and they’ll likely jump at the opportunity to recall a supposed first-hand encounter with the paranormal.  Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, the world of theatre has always been a breeding ground for superstition and mythmaking. The Geffen Playhouse, one of Los Angeles’ premiere theatre companies, recently found themselves with a ghost story of their own—one that was put to rest with the help of ETC’s Sensor3 dimmer racks and Paradigm processors.

When Spencer Doughtie joined the Geffen as their Lighting and Projection Supervisor in 2022, he was quick to discover the theatre’s resident poltergeist. “Every now and again, we'd fire a cue and then three or four--or ten--lights would just bump on at full and then come off at random. It was essentially a ghost in the system--which became increasingly prevalent during our 2022-2023 season. It would look like somebody had accidentally bumped the submaster in the middle of some important dramatic scene!”

Doughtie quickly realized that the “ghost” was a result of the theatre’s Frankenstein-like dimmer system. “We had an Ion and a Nomad Puck as the control boards for our two theatre spaces,” he says. “Those output sACN, which talks directly to our Paradigm processor [which we use for architectural lighting control at the theatre]. We took a hardline DMX output from the Paradigm and patched it into another manufacturer’s retrofit processors, which translated it into AMX that our old dimmers could read. So we had about three control protocols happening in between the board and the dimmers.”

After ripping the entire system apart and replacing every component short of the dimmer racks themselves, Doughtie still had no luck banishing the ghost. It finally became clear: it was time to replace the theatre’s 25-year-old dimmer racks.

“It was about fixing the ghosting issue but also future-proofing the theaters, because as we know, conventional incandescent fixtures are becoming less and less used,” Doughtie says. “Especially since people want to use all kinds of fixtures that don’t even run on dimming power now. I wanted to set ourselves up for another 25 years of success with our lighting systems.”

Spencer tackled this upgrade with Kinetic Lighting, an award-winning lighting company based in Los Angeles that provides project management, design and specification, installation, programming, and commissioning services to a variety of venues across the United States. Working with Laura Green, Kinetic Lighting’s Director of System Sales & Installations, the two quickly decided that ETC’s Sensor3 power control system would be the theatre’s best solution.

The Geffen, like so many theatres today, is in a state of in-betweens: using some incandescent and some LED fixtures, they needed a power control system that was adaptable. Sensor3 was designed with transition in mind, built to embrace the needs of hybrid lighting systems that are increasingly the norm in theatres. From decades-old incandescent fixtures to new innovations in lighting that have yet to even be invented, Sensor3 can accommodate the past and the future of lighting indiscriminately.

While they were in this future-proofing mindset, the playhouse also introduced a second Paradigm processor to their network. They had been operating with a single Paradigm processor outputting DMX to the house lights of both the Gil Cates Theatre and the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, which, Doughtie says, "proved to be not the most efficient system, since there was the possibility for signal crossover. We wanted to truly isolate the two spaces and have them on their own unique networks.” With a new power control system and both houses operating on separate Paradigm systems, the theatre’s controls are streamlined and efficient, without caveats or quirks in need of workarounds or special considerations.

With the Geffen’s technical ghosts banished, Doughtie could finally rest easy knowing that Sensor3 would keep the theatre running smoothly for the foreseeable future: “I didn't even know it at the time, but I'm glad that I made the decision to switch to Sensor3 because now every circuit is a relay non-dim power and a dimmer at the flip of a switch.” And with the built-in support that comes with bringing any ETC product into a theatre, the Geffen is sure to keep its ghosts at bay for many years to come. “That support system that comes along with ETC’s products is why I chose ETC. Theatrical lighting is run by ETC. The Geffen is an ETC house and we love it, I wouldn't have it any other way.”