Grant Dubbels and Kayley Dahle (Photo by A.D. Drumm Images)
A good magician may not reveal his secrets...but, from time to time, we might!
Rochester Civic Theatre's last production, Almost, Maine, was one of those wonderful moments of serendipity where everything came together perfectly to transport the audience to the "mythical town of Almost, Maine." The show's script consist of several short scenes involving a variety of characters, all united by time and place--all of the scenes take place in different locations in the town of Almost, on the same night, at the same time. And, as each of the characters in the show experiences their own special moment, they do so under the beautiful and haunting glow of the Northern Lights, right there on our stage....
But wait--making the Northern Lights appear inside a building? And the lights waved and rolled, moving like the actual Northern Lights? How'd they do THAT???
Rochester Civic Theatre's Technical Director, Janet Roeder, shed some "light" on the issue:
"It takes many 'layers' to make this Northern Lights effect," she explains. "This effect uses many of the basic qualities of stage lighting (including color, intensity, texture/pattern, direction/angle of light, and movement) in combination. That’s why it looks so cool!"
She says that the first part of the Northern Lights special effect was a lighting machine. "Basically, the machine is a projector which shines it’s light through two glass patterns rotating in opposite directions. The patterns on the glass have color and texture, which is what makes the image we see projected on the scrim. Since both patterns can rotate, the image appears to move."
In order to create the effect, though, the light must be projected onto a special screen called a "scrim." Janet explains, "The scrim is a large piece of fabric with no seams. It has a loose weave, like cheese cloth. When lit from the front, a scrim is opaque. When lit from behind, a scrim becomes translucent. Rochester Civic Theatre's white scrim is about 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall [the size of the area at the back of the stage]. It is tied to a batten (pipe) over the stage and stretched at the bottom to help keep it flat and smooth. Flat and smooth (and no seams) help give it the 'sky-like' quality needed for the effect."
But there's one more subtle element to this lighting design that made it even more realistic--the twinkling stars that also shined in our night sky. Although they might look like they are attached to the scrim, the stars were another "layer" used to achieve the overall effect. "Behind the scrim is a star drop. The 'stars' show through because of the scrim’s loose weave/translucent properties. The intensity of the light in the star drop is about 20%. This low intensity from behind the scrim lets us see the stars shining through, without seeing the scrim itself."
It's all about expertly layering the lighting effects and techniques, as Janet explains: "The dark blue strip lights on the scrim. The star drop behind the scrim. The Northern Lights projected from the front of the scrim. Mix it together and you have a theatrical interpretation of the Northern Lights in Maine!"
And now--you know the answer to this edition of "How'd they do THAT?!"