KnowHOW: Lighting rigs for temporary venues
KnowHOW: Lighting rigs for temporary venues
John Black explores simple solutions to create a worship environment in a temporary space
Though I haven’t personally been a part of a mobile house of worship or one that rents facilities for weekly services, I know that many of these organisations exist. Particularly for smaller or new congregations, the cost of purchasing or building a dedicated facility in which to hold services can be prohibitive. These organisations may use one or several facilities, requiring that anything related to services be brought in, set up and then removed on a weekly basis. Chairs, staging, PA and lighting may be rented or owned by the organisation, in which case this equipment needs to be stored during the week between services.
Thankfully, lighting equipment and technology has become very mobile-friendly. With the proliferation of energy-efficient, LED-source lighting fixtures and PC-based lighting controllers available on the market at nearly every price point, the ability to transform temporary venues into inviting, worshipful spaces through the use of lighting has never been easier. In this article, I’m going to dig into venue considerations, portable equipment and techniques that you can use if you find yourself needing to build and use a lighting rig in a temporary venue.
Why is lighting important?
When holding services in a temporary venue that hasn’t been purposefully designed with worship in mind, the venue itself may not lend itself to providing a meaningful experience to congregants. I have heard of HOWs that meet in movie theatres, abandoned malls, school cafeterias or even old warehouses. Each of these venues was initially designed and constructed with a specific purpose in mind, but they may not necessarily meet the needs of a worship service.
For an organisation loading in and out of a temporary venue each week, time is a critical factor and, while there are decorative items that can be set up and used to change the physical appearance of a venue, lighting can be an efficient and effective way of enhancing a space. If you recall from previous articles in which I discussed the functions and controllable qualities of lighting, remember that the use of colour, texture, direction, movement and intensity can be used to create mood, visibility, focus and modelling. Therefore, through thoughtful and intentional lighting choices, the mood and appearance of an environment can completely change.
Before planning any lighting for a temporary venue, I would recommend getting as much information as you can about the venue itself and work closely with others involved in the planning of the service. Find out where power is available around the venue, how power is circuited, what the handling capacity of each circuit is, how tall the ceiling is, what lighting currently exists and could be used for a similar purpose, where the stage/presentation area will be, what obstructions, if any, exist, if there is any infrastructure available that could be used for lighting purposes such as ceiling hardware from which lights could hang, and what other technical elements, such as a PA system, will be needed.
In addition to asking questions such as these, it would be helpful if you were able to visit and see the space in person – especially if you are considering moving into an unfamiliar, new venue. This will allow you to more fully understand the limitations (and possibilities) of the venue with regards to the lighting needs for your service.
LED all the way
For temporary lighting rigs, I would highly recommend sticking with LED-source fixtures for a number of reasons. First, these fixtures are energy efficient – if a venue doesn’t have a dedicated power distribution system for event equipment, LED fixtures can simply be plugged into standard wall outlets and many of them allow you to daisy-chain power to multiple fixtures. It is important to know the handling capacity of the circuit to know how many fixtures you can daisy-chain onto a single circuit. But you may not need to consider alternative power sources (generators) or complicated power distribution systems if the rig comprises these low-consumption fixtures.
Second, LED-source fixtures are often equipped with coloured LEDs (such as RGB, RGBW or RGBWA) and you can create a number of different moods and looks using the same fixture. Ultimately, this means you need fewer total fixtures in your rig. In my experience, PAR cans used to be workhorses in temporary lighting situations because they were rugged, lightweight and inexpensive. However, if you wanted a coloured beam of light, they needed to be coloured using colour media (a gel). If you wanted three colours to be used in a single event, that would require three fixtures, each with a different colour media installed. In contrast, colour-mixing LED fixtures can provide an infinite number of colours using a single fixture.
Third, just as in the case of daisy-chaining power, most LED lighting fixtures also allow you to daisy-chain the control signal from fixture to fixture. This also simplifies cabling needs between the control console (whether a dedicated hardware control or a PC controller) and the fixtures because individual control cables are not needed. This, along with the ability to daisy-chain power, greatly reduces the total length (think storage volume and weight) of cabling needed.
Finally, when considering the type of fixture for a temporary venue, I would recommend sticking with a wash-type fixture, especially if you are moving between different venues. Wash fixtures will allow you to achieve even spreads of light over large areas, particularly if the venue ceiling is short or, due to the limitations of the venue, the available lighting throw distance is short. You will have much more flexibility with a wash-type fixture than a spot-type fixture.
Who needs a console?
Depending on the scale of your rig and the programming needed for services, it may be worth a look at a PC-based lighting control solution. Many of the top-end console manufacturers (ETC, High End Systems, MA Lighting, among others) provide personal computer versions of their control systems, as well as control wings if tactile control is needed. These solutions function similarly, if not identically, to their full console versions, though at a greatly reduced price point (not to mention smaller footprint in the venue and for storage).
PC-based lighting control software isn’t new. It came about primarily as a means of creating and editing show files in an offline mode (not outputting control data). I personally have been using offline editors for years to amend show files in-between rehearsals or performances from the comfort of my home instead of added time in the venue with the console and rig. Eventually these systems allowed for ‘virtual’ control data to be sent to visualisers so that remote programming of complicated show files could be done more easily with visual representations of what was happening in the rig. Visualisers I have used include Cast Software’s wysiwyg and ESP Vision software products, which are valuable tools when programming shows without having the actual rig set up.
The next natural step was to allow these systems to output real control data to lighting rigs for use either as backup systems in installations or as primary controllers. Methods of outputting data are typically scalable with options for you to customise a PC-based control system according to the size and needs of your rig. And, if something should happen to your computer, just swap it out and download the console software from the manufacturer again and you’re ready to go. This can be an invaluable way to train lighting volunteers as well, as they can access the offline software for free from most manufacturers.
No lighting pipes?
When considering the placement of lighting fixtures, I would recommend looking back at some of my previous articles such as Setting up a basic lighting grid (Worship AVL, March–April 2019). For basic lighting in temporary venues, the principles are the same as when lighting a purpose-built facility, though the positions and equipment used to place fixtures may not be ideal due to the nature of being in a temporary venue. For example, you may need to use temporary lighting trees to raise fixtures over the heads of congregants and prevent shadows. These can be used in front-light positions as well as at the back of a stage to provide some back lighting.
A fast and effective solution is also to place fixtures on the floor. An effective method to enhance the mood in a room is to place fixtures on the floor along walls to provide some up-lighting on the surfaces. In combination with adjusting the colouring, this can be an effective way of establishing and enforcing a particular mood.
When lighting the stage, take care to bear in mind the principles of lighting direction for modelling, especially if you video record or stream your services. You will want to make sure that you realistically light the speaker, especially incorporating backlight so that they appear three-dimensional rather than flat on camera.
I hope that these have provided you with some basic thoughts and tips for approaching lighting in a mobile, temporary situation. What I didn’t mention is chances are likely that storage capabilities will factor heavily into all decisions. The advantage of LED-source fixtures and PC-based lighting controllers is that they provide a lot of benefits when dealing with limited storage. My final recommendation would be to not only consider equipment cases for their storage purposes, but also for how they can be used during services so that you don’t need additional equipment or furniture. For example, I often place lighting fixtures on equipment cases to add height and get them off the ground. I have also covered cases in material and used them as tables for programmes and other literature. Perhaps that is the most exciting aspect of being involved in a mobile organisation – being creative with less.
John Black serves as the theatre manager for Seoul Foreign School in South Korea. He especially enjoys sharing his passion for entertainment technology with high-school students each year through his student production team, Crusader Live!