by Michael Bowen & r & During the Cheetah Company's performances of The Lion King at Portland's Keller Auditorium, the head electrician was sitting in a concrete office, a couple of flights of stairs above the stage, staring at four computer monitors.
Keno Garcia, who's wearing a Houston Astros cap ("only when they're in the playoffs"), explains that his console "controls the conventional lighting -- all the fixed-focus lights, the smoke, the haze, the strobes." He also controls all "20 or so" of the "drops," the various curtains and props that can be flown down from above the stage.
One of those four monitors is the computer processor that runs the whole show. Another functions as a surveillance camera: "That's our front-of-house, so I can watch the show," Garcia says.
A third monitor "has the cue sheet. This show has 318 cues." As a comparison, says Garcia, "a straight [non-musical] play with about 10 scenes would have less than a hundred cues."
Three times as many cues doesn't sound all that complex, given The Lion King's reputation as a giant show. But then Garcia explains the final monitor. "That's the channel page. There's a hundred to a page." Each "channel" contains the computerized instructions for one movement or change by one lighting "instrument." "I have 4,600 channels on this board," says Garcia.
In one of the jungle scenes late in the show, there's a cool cross-fade effect as a predominately green lighting palette slowly blends into a warm yellow -- and that's only one of several moments when The Lion King's lighting alone is so beautiful that you just want pause the show so you can stare at it for a while.
"At a guess, I'd say probably on the order of 200 conventional lights are involved" in the green-to-yellow jungle cross-fade, says Garcia, "and a handful of VariLights -- maybe 10 to 20."
Mishaps do occur: "Occasionally one of the moving lights will lose its brain and start disco-ing all over the audience. If it's a good light, we can just douse it. But sometimes they literally lose their computer brains, and we have to tell somebody backstage that it needs to be unplugged."
But simply locating the proper plug could be a problem: Keno Garcia oversees "about 600 conventional lights and about 70 moving lights."