Termination: Light, Rain, Action
Light, Rain, Action.
Text:/ Graeme Hague
I don’t touch lighting as a rule. Not anymore. Back when I was a fledgling theatre technician, I did lots of LX stuff (even though I was a sound guy) to learn as much as I could about everything. Then, later in my career — if one can be so bold as to call it a ‘career’ — I discovered that if you admit to any knowledge of the… ah, dark art of lighting, then so-called lighting ‘designers’ will send you to the very top of perilous ladders and demand you tweak rusting focus knobs and fiddle with barn doors to infinitesimal degrees, even though the rigging bar rope drops 300mm every time someone opened the Green Room fridge door… well, many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. It was even worse if the production was arts funded. No bastard had bought a ticket and we might as well have run it under work-site lights and saved a lot of money.
In particular, I don’t touch any lighting in the rain. That might sound silly, but we’ve all done concerts when Mother Nature has been cantankerous. It’s why I’ve witnessed — but thankfully never suffered — the ubiquitous dodgy Par 64 booting a lighting technician off the ladder and onto the wet stage. It needs several tall, cold pints of Guinness afterwards to recover from the shock. Seriously, the drum riser doesn’t need lighting that much.
So I’m always intrigued by the Vivid Festival in Sydney being held in winter when… okay, it’s always raining, right? It’s primarily an outdoor event featuring lighting, which needs electricity, and when you add water it’s the same combination used to dispatch serial killers in Alabama. It doesn’t seem sensible.
On the other hand, if the festival was held in the middle of summer and daylight saving, we’d all be tucked up in bed with the fading curtains closed long before it was dark enough to impress any punters with your giant pixel-mapped urban canvasses. So I guess we need to consider attracting a decent audience (unless it’s arts funded), over the threat of electrocution.
Anyway, rigging lights in inclement weather has prompted me to reminisce about the worst rain-related technical snafu I’ve known. This may ring some bells with long-time Termination readers (if there is such a thing), but also since we’re about to begin a silly season of athletics where the best drug-administering program should prevail on the podium, this story is doubly appropriate.
GAMES OF THE SOGGY OLYMPIAD
It was years ago; a kind of regional ‘games’ event with thin, brightly-attired people expected to run in circles, jump into sandpits and throw hammers (no, hang on… that was the audio dude working on the radio mics. It was the ’90s). Except things hadn’t progressed that far. We were in the final throes of setting up an opening concert rig on an elevated stage in the centre of an oval. A zillion repeater speakers — passive 15-inch wedges back then — were scattered at regular intervals around the perimeter. It was a big setup with lots of long signal lines and powered speaker cable runs. Really, it was the sort of ambitious rig that many of us didn’t really expect to work properly — not at first, anyway.
Especially when it started to rain. Not a cold front or forecast storm, just a big, black cloud that wandered in with nothing better to do. Yes, this was Queensland, and it began to rain a lot. Right as the opening ceremony was supposed to begin.
Those of you who’ve ever been to the footy know that playing ovals are ever-so-slightly concave to drain water from the centre to the outfield — right where the 15-inch wedges were located. Within minutes those speakers were sitting in 100mm of water and everybody was madly turning everything off, but still trying to keep the main PA functioning for the MC to make announcements in the downpour. One result was the loudest ground-loop hum in the history of amplified sound.
ALWAYS LICKED, NEVER BEATEN
Me, I was doing the same as everyone else: unplugging gear in an attempt to clean up the signal, but because everyone was trying to do the same thing it was a co-ordinated exercise in chaos. A too-many-cooks shamozzle.
Then I found my friend underneath the stage licking the scaffolding, before smashing it with a sledge hammer. Poor bastard, the pressure must have got to him.
Actually, he was thinking outside the box. His theory was the scaffolding was too rusty and wasn’t earthing properly. So he was licking the metal (like testing a 9V battery, except this was still 240V) and if he got a zap, he’d whack the offending clamp until it went away. That’s seriously above-and-beyond the call of duty in my book.
Obviously, nothing like this will happen at a Vivid Festival. Honest. But if you do get stuck in a downpour and see someone holding a sledgehammer, licking a pylon of the Harbour Bridge, don’t assume it’s a drugs or alcohol problem.
It’s a technical thing.
Graeme Hague is a writer based in the bucolic idyll of south west WA. A very long way from Vivid.