Help Light Up the Sky

Early in my career, I was handed a design that I wasn’t ready for.  It was designing Charlotte’s Web in a 3000 seat union venue.  I had not worked many of the venues, projects and designs that one would expect beforehand and no one was more aware of that than me.  There are two difficult effects that are called for in Charlotte’s web, the big one being the baby spiders flying away and the second one being fireworks in the sky.  I figured that I wasn’t going to be good enough on the design, but if I could create a great effect for those moments, maybe there would be another gig after this one.  

After a great deal of anxiety-infused thinking, I came up  with my two effects (and the rest of the design).  The fireworks were a LOT of gobos, three sets of each in progressively larger degree fixtures pointed at the cyc in red white and blue colors.  The baby spiders was two six foot disco balls hung from the outer edges of the orchestra reflector, and then pairs of five degrees that started on the stage and progressed in a chase through the house ending in the spot booth.  (BTW- steal this idea if you want.  It’s still one of my favorite effects.)

Load in was abbreviated for a young designer.  Four days from beginning of load in to opening.  I was sweating bullets, certain that the crew was going to eat me alive.  Somehow I got through it, and everything got done…except the fireworks effect.

When I finally got to that moment, I knew I didn’t have enough time to create the effect I wanted.  At the time, I was a novice programmer as well as designer and the technology was a struggle for me as these were the Obsession days.  I was prepared to do something that would serve the need but would embarrass me when my programmer-a person I was fairly certain thought I was an idiot-told me that while I had been doing touch up focus, he had written a chase for the fireworks on his own.  He ran it, and it was great.  I was floored and humbled.  The two effects worked better than I anticipated.  Frequently the show stopped during those two moments because 3000 children wouldn’t stop applauding.  It was a great feeling of accomplishment.

To me, the star of this story is John Clatworthy, Local 28 member and the programmer for that show.  He had anticipated a need and had created an effect he hoped would serve the moment.  This simple action is a lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career.  We are a service industry.  Programming is never just doing what you are told, it’s anticipating needs and offering solutions to programming, creative, and time problems.  If they don’t use your idea- no big deal.  But maybe your idea will be the thing to make some novice designer feel supported and result in 3000 children’s delight.

(Happy one year of this writing series.  Thanks for reading!)

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