Oh Yes They Did! – HSL Supplies 21 Pantos!

Blackburn based lighting and visuals rental company HSL supplied lighting plus all necessary trussing and rigging for no less than 21 pantomimes across the UK during the 2014/15 festive season for premier panto producer, Qdos.

Panto done well is a fantastically perennial English performance institution, and all the Qdos shows combine lively narratives with slick, fast-paced, quick-witted interpretations of time-worn classics, loaded with heaps of slapstick and innuendo … to produce some superlative, very funny family entertainment. Fundamental to the Qdos success is their investment in excellent production values.

Project Managed for HSL by Lee Farrell, this year’s clutch of productions saw HSL working with a host of talented theatre lighting designers, including Nick Richings, Ben Cracknell, Matt Clutterham and others.

Some intense logistics included dispatching 23 trucks from HSL containing approximately 1013 moving lights, 838 generics, 74 standard strobes and over a thousand egg strobes fitted into festoon.

This year HSL purchased 1051 new moving light gobos and 234 new generic gobos to supplement the already massive Qdos gobo stock managed by the company. Over all the 21 shows, HSL fitted in excess of 2000 gobos into moving lights and dispatched over 800 generic gobos both for their own stock and for venue in house fixtures.

In addition to the lights, HSL provided 704 lengths of Socapex cable, 2223 lengths of TRS, 3010 data cables and 704 x 15A to 16A adaptors. With a large number of motors, trussing and rigging equipment, 615 derig arms were provided, together with 117 assorted scaffolding bars … plus a load more kit … to the 21 destinations the length and breadth of the country.

The various productions played between 3 – 8 weeks each. The largest ones included “Cinderella” at the 3,000 seater Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow starring John Barrowman in another amazing performance with The Krankies and lighting designed by Nick Richings; and the colourful and beautifully detailed “Aladdin” at Edinburgh Kings Theatre, with lighting designed by Ben Cracknell. Other notables included Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, starring Billy Pearce and Joe McElderry in another show-stopper with lighting designed by Matt Clutterham.

Cinderella, Glasgow Clyde Auditorium

Panto is one of the most galvanizing and also the most fun genres of performance to light, and Cinderalla at the Clyde Auditorium was the largest in terms of production on the Qdos list this year. The stage at Glasgow’s famous “armadillo” is completely bare, so HSL supplied a full trussing and rigging system and the first task saw the rigging crew led by Paddy Neilly install a substantial mother grid flown off the building’s structural steelwork, and a Kinesys automation system which was used to fly all the scenic pieces, Foyes personnel-flying track and a plethora of cloths.

The riggers and the Qdos LX crew then installed five LX trusses, two pros trusses, an advance truss and six ladders – three in each wing, all of which provided lighting positions.

The mother grid was constructed from 52cm heavy duty Tomcat trussing, measured 12 metres wide by 11 deep and was designed by Paddy and HSL’s Rupert Reynolds. It was all about maximizing height, and in the 25 metre high space to the building’s roof they were able to gain 19 metres of travel for the Kinesys elements.

The Kinesys system offered 16 axes of automation via 36 x Liftket half-tonne motors fitted with Kinesys Elevation 1+ vari-speed controllers (32 active) – out of a total of 81 active motors supplied for the project. These moved five sets of set portals, five LX trusses, the dual Foyes track for the flying gags and various drapes trusses. All the moving elements were secured via the mother grid and the Foyes track was also integrated.

The rigging went all the way to the back wall above stage, and the whole grid was incredibly tight, with 20 – 30 mm between bars, trusses and scenic pieces.

“Snug” as Paddy described it!

An intricate and complex spreader system to distribute the weight around the building’s roof was calculated in advance to ensure that any additional inertia created by the movement was safely absorbed.

The six hour get-in was extremely expedient, however the fact that the HSL team had worked on the show for the last four years helped enormously in terms of streamlining the process and familiarity with the venue as well as the demands of the production. They worked closely with locally based Pinnacle Rigging, who also know the venue intimately, and assisted with the initial set up.

Kinesys’ Vector control was used, loaded with around 50 movement cues for the show – some visible and some not. The Vector system was worked to the max, more in rock ‘n’ roll than theatre style, and as they discovered, there’s virtually nothing that it can’t do over and above any manual flying system!

Around 200 lighting fixtures were supplied to fulfil Nick Richings’ vibrant design, and as is the oeuvre of panto lighting, everything is colourful, near-psychedelic, slightly off-the-wall and extremely pacey! Great for the imagination to run riot!

The side-ladders were rigged with 22 x Martin MAC 700 Profile moving lights, there were six MAC 3s on the front of the circle and nine MAC 2K Washes, two each on the left and right pros / side trusses and the rest on the advanced truss.

Twelve Robe Pointes were divided into four on each pros truss and four on the advance bar, and these were used for various bits of eye-candy and doubled as audience illumination.

24 x Robe LEDWashes were dotted around the LX bars and used for general washing duties.

Specials included two MAC 3s fitted with Quadray lenses upstage, which came into play for a couple of large magical effects and two Novalight Nova Flowers located in the pit, activated for big powerful break-up effects in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.

No panto would be complete – rock ‘n’ roll style – without a few strobes and these came in the form of Philips Nitro 510s, nine of which were spread out on the advance truss and overhead in the LX trusses where they looked very punchy and cool.

Fifteen Robe CitySkape 48 LED floods fitted with barn doors made powerful and versatile footlights and also for set dressing. Also along the front of the stage were some Philips SL10 LED battens. Twenty-three i-Pix Satellite LED bricks highlighted the portal headers and a couple of i-Pix BB4 LED blinders were positioned for pros and portal up-lighting.

The various cloths were washed with 20 x PixelLine 1044 LED battens located on LX bars 2 and 5.

In addition to all these moving and LED sources, a wide selection of generics including ETC Source Four profiles and PARs were rigged across all the overheads and ladders.

A custom portal starcloth was supplied as commissioned by Qdos and atmospherics included two Gem Glaciators, two K1 hazers in the auditorium together with a Mini-Mist and a ZR33 for smoke effects.

The lighting picture was completed with two Robert Juliat Cyrano follow-spots.

The show was programmed by Nick Richings and Nick Beagley onto a grandMA 2 full size console – running with two NPUs onstage – and the daily show operation was taken over at the dress rehearsal stage by Jamie Chaloner who saw it through to the final show-stopping performance.

Jamie comments that working with HSL was “Brilliant again! (he also worked on the Glasgow production last year). Nothing was too much trouble and all the kit was so well prepped that once the get-in was finished, we didn’t need to be in touch!”

HSL also supplied a large quantity of custom gobos for the various moving lights – and across the whole range of pantos, co-ordinating the production and supply of the custom gobos was one of the biggest brain-teasers for Lee Farrell and his team back at base.

Aladdin, Edinburgh Kings Theatre

Fifty miles eastwards on the flying carpet in Edinburgh, the Kings Theatre was the venue for their annual Qdos production in the city, which this year was a sumptuous full Technicolor version of “Aladdin” starring panto legends Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott.

Lighting was designed by the prolific Ben Cracknell, bringing a flourish of the colour and vibe of the orient to the wintry Scottish days.

Ben’s own Production LX Nick Mumford and Programmer Nathan Raynard collaborated with Kings Theatre Head of Lighting Stewart McGill on the set-up for this production, where all the lighting – a mix of HSL supplied kit and the theatre’s own ‘in-house’ stock – was hung on the house counterweight system comprising 44 bars plus advanced positions and a front truss for the audio.

Rigged at FOH on the front of the dress circle were two Vari*Lite VCL3000s and two V*L3500s, with two more on the dress circle, used for full-stage washes.

Overhead were 10 x Robe 60E spots and 16 x Robe LEDWash 600s for general specials, beam effects and stage washing and these were the core fixtures of the rig. As with Cinderella, the moving lights did a large part of the work, illustrating that a reasonable amount of fixtures appropriately programmed can work perfectly in this context.

PixelLines in a groundrow formation were deployed to up-light the cloths at the back, and a row of Chroma-Q ColorBlock db4s lined the front of the stage, doubling as footlights and audience blinders. Six Atomic strobes were dotted around to add to the magic moments and several strings of egg strobes framed the pros arch.

Three DMX controlled starcloths – up, mid and downstage – flew in and out to add to the many exotic locations visited during the narrative, and three sets of star-legs masked the portals during the flying carpet scenes.

The generic lighting from HSL included 48 x Source Four profiles, 36 x PARs and three sets of Coda battens, the latter rigged overhead to wash down the cloths, plus additional PARs and fresnels overhead to down-light the set.

The Kings Theatre’s own FOH lighting kit used in the show comprised 50 x Strand SL profiles and two Source Fours with scrollers.

The show was programmed on to the house ETC Geo, run day-to-day by Stewart McGill and HSL supplied the two Robert Juliat followspots. This was the longest running of this year’s pantos, and another great success commercially as well as for production values.

Summing up, Lee Farrell comments, “With THAT much kit coming and going, staggered over about a week at each end of the period for the get in-and get outs … the logistics were somewhat mind-boggling and the organisation and co-ordination had to be spot-on! It was a huge challenge, but thanks to all my colleagues here, our fantastic hard-working team in operations, accounts and admin – and this project is one where everybody in the company was involved in some way – some excellent teamwork achieved great results”.

He adds that as his first year managing this project, he was at first very confident that – on paper at least – it was a relatively straightforward – if full-on – matter of 21 shows going out over 4 weeks …and then returning!

“Nothing could have prepared me for this task!” he declared afterwards, “Everything looks so much simpler on paper, add the real world and the day-to-day workings of a busy rental company, the equipment logistics, lighting designers, lighting crew, project managers, venue techs, etc. and all of a sudden you realize the immensity of the communication and diplomacy required.

“The management of the gobos with so many fixtures requiring so many different levels of customization with very short lead times due to stock sometimes returning just a few days beforehand was the most galvanizing element of all!

“I must thank everybody who really helped me … from the team here at HSL, to suppliers Rosco, Projected Image, Goboland and Apollo Designs … and a huge THANK YOU to the very understanding and patient lighting designers and their crews for all their support!”

Photos: Louise Stickland

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