It’s holiday programming season right now, which for me means pulling every weird little lighting effect I have out of the bag. One of my favorite little tricks came from an early (embarrassing) programming error I made.
It was my first big show – a Christmas show performed by people whose faith is important to them. There were custom angel gobos in some of my front of house movers to frame moments in the Nativity. I had written all the cues, but hadn’t really tested them in context by the time it was our first preview. (The production is on a punishing schedule and I wasn’t yet good enough to avoid what are now obvious mistakes.) It comes time in the power ballad for angels to appear around the auditorium, so I roll the cue. Three angels appear as they should, EXCEPT THAT ONE angel. It lamped up and spun incredibly fast before settling into place- upside down. (The House Rail Head still laughs about this moment.) It definitely did not look angelic, and possibly looked demonic. I was terribly embarrassed. I had somehow marked the gobo in Index mode, but had accidentally switched gobo to Rotation mode. If you don’t already know, there is a VERY dramatic reaction from a gobo when you change between Index and Rotation on Martin fixtures.
I have never forgotten this moment, at first because it was embarrassing, but later because it was useful. In holiday shows (as stated above) there is no maximum to the number of tricks you will need. So now, one of my favorite tricks for a piece that has a loud or manic intro that settles right before the vocal is to have a bunch of gobos (NOT angels) switch from Index to Rotation. In the right context, almost anything can look good.
To this day, I still look for happy accidents that lead to good things (or just more embarrassment). Sometimes the mistake is better than the thing you intended to do, and sometimes it will be useful in a different context. What are your favorite programming errors? Hit me in the comments.