OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVALProfiles in Wireless / Theatre
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival [OSF] has been delighting audiences since 1935. Their productions are wildly varied; one constant is the fact that when they need wireless dimming and DMX, they turn to products from RC4 Wireless. “I really am happy with our RC4 products. We’re not having drop out problems, and they handle power really well,” notes Michael K. Maag, Resident Lighting Designer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
For their current performances of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Hairspray, Maag and his crew, led by Mac Vaughey are using 8 RC4Magic 2.4GHz DMX2dim wireless dimmers. In As You Like It, “There are 8 lanterns; they’re a columnar lantern that are approximately 18” high by 6” in diameter, with a laser cut shade to match the scenic design,” says Maag. Inside each of the lanterns are three theatrical dimmable flicker candles. “We have a DMX2dim in each lantern; at the end of the show the actors move out into the house, surrounding the audience, and spin the lanterns in their yokes. At the final lines of the play, starting with ‘all the world’s a stage,’ the audience is surrounded by spinning lanterns throwing slowly fading firefly light, and it creates a great emotional moment,” he notes. As for the DMX2dims, Maag reports: “They’re working great; they have beautiful dimming curves and they’re very, very solid in terms of communication.”
For Hairspray, the properties and lighting department have created two 4’6” by 3‘ tall ‘sputnik’ chandeliers. Maag explains: “There is extremely limited space in which to fly the chandeliers, so we made them only 8” deep. Nina Ball, Scenic Designer, modeled angles on the spokes to give the illusion of three dimensionality even though they are essentially flat.” Other constraints made it more practical to power these fixtures with batteries. “We put individual RGB LEDs with 3d printed bulbs at the end of the spokes,” Maag reports.
For wireless control of the chandeliers, OSF is using the RC4 DMXpix, a pixel driver that can be used to control two separate pixel strings. “The DMXpix gives us control over each RGB LED in each bulb. We wanted to give our Lighting Designer Jason Lynch the flexibility to chase the chandeliers along with the beat in the Corny Collins sections of Hairspray.” In terms of fabrication, Maag says: “The chandeliers will make everyone laugh; they’re a rat’s nest of wires, all coming back to DMXpix. There’s a lot of wires… a lot of individual wires”
The DMXpix was first used at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year on a production of Snow in Midsummer. “Costume Designer Helen Huang asked us to create two giant 9’ tall demon puppets from Chinese mythology: Horse Face and Ox Head guide spirits to the underworld. There were about 160 RGBW pixels on each puppet. That’s beyond what we could control in one universe, but the DMXpix allowed us to control them without using another universe. The DMXpix is really convenient for mapping fewer DMX channels to control more pixels,” says Maag. “In fact, we used only 16 DMX Channels per puppet, giving us room for other wireless effects in that universe. Yet our Lighting Designer Jane Cox had all the flexibility she needed to create the creepy flicking demon light.”
Maag and his crew have been creating magic with RC4 products for the past ten years. “Having reliable gear from RC4 on stage makes production management happy and makes the directors happy. You don’t find yourself working for very long if you recommend cheap, unreliable gear. I know the products from RC4 are going to work and they solve so many problems in a live theatrical environment,” he says.
To program the RC4 gear, “I’m using the using the [RC4 Wireless] XStick [configuration dongle] with the RC4 Commander software and that makes setting all the parameters much more intuitive for me. For my mind, I like seeing it graphically laid out on the computer, using the Commander software rather than doing it from the console,” notes Maag.
In terms of technical support, Maag says: “RC4 has fantastic service. Whenever I call and I have a question they are patient and walk me through my mistakes in a gracious way. The guys are really great in terms of helping me understand where the problem is and how to fix it. Every time it’s something silly I’ve done.”
The RC4 Wireless customer service team is based in North Carolina, and all products are fabricated in that state as well. “I don’t have to call outside the US; I don’t speak other languages, so my ability to get quality customer support from China, for example, is non-existent. I also consciously support companies that are in the US that share my values. In the end, customer service is the main reason to use RC4,” Maag remarks.
Wireless dimming—and RC4 Wireless—is also part of the future at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “On MacBeth, we’re going to use some DMX4dim500s. There are these 12’ tall light towers, at the base of which will be a bunch of 12-volt LED tape for up lighting through the Plexi base. At the top will be a 36-volt SORAA LED light engine that produces a 4000k 10-degree bright beam; the DMX4dim allows us to easily use multiple voltages in one dimmer module. We can have both 12-volt LED tape and the 36-volt light engine on the same RC4 product, which makes my life easier,” Maag concludes.