The Lighting Control Innovation Award was created in 2011 as part of the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Illumination Awards program, which recognizes professionalism, ingenuity and originality in lighting design. LCA is proud to sponsor the Lighting Control Innovation Award, which recognizes projects that exemplify the effective use of lighting controls in nonresidential applications.
This month, we will explore an innovative installation of lighting controls at The Speakeasy, an immersive theater installation on Broderick Street in San Francisco. Design by Minuscule Lighting Design. Photography by Peter M. Liu. Lighting controls by ETC.
This immersive theater experience imagines a sprawling prohibition-era speakeasy, with multiple bars, a cabaret presenting live acts, a casino, all fronted by fake street-level businesses concealing entrances. An audience of 250 are mixed in with cast of 50 dispersed through multiple concurrent playing spaces. Guests can follow any actor from space to space and explore dozens of hidden easter eggs. This presented a unique challenge for lighting controls: multiple timelines must run concurrently and asynchronously, in concert with pre-recorded sound and live bands, but be centrally cued by a stage management team via closed-circuit video.
An initial nine-month run of the show revealed a host of other needs: a flexible and extensible controls system that supports continuous development and reprogramming of the show, improved safety lighting overrides and the ability to recover from localized failures gracefully, maintenance of show quality through long-life sources, and taming an electric bill that ran to hundreds of dollars per month due to the lack of centralized lighting controls and all-day usage of stage lighting as worklight.
Further stylistic constraints were the owner’s request to conceal all modern-day lighting and controls from guest view, and a budget stretched thin by the need to purchase facility lighting, plus a medium-sized theater controls system, plus period character themed lighting.
Minuscule Lighting Design addressed these concerns with a network-based control backbone capable of integrating control of the facility lighting with show lighting and delivering DMX-512 input/output cheaply and reliably over Cat 5 cable. LED-based lighting vastly reduced energy and cooling loads over incandescent fixtures used in the initial run. Occupancy sensing combined with timed sweeps after hours reduced the tendency for lights to be left on. Contact closure integration allowed us to have period-appropriate push button houselight switches in guest view, but selectively lock them out during shows.
Control riser. The control backbone is free-topology, allowing the owner to easily add devices to the nearest node point without homerunning back to the processor.
The process started with extensive period research. 1920’s era Sears Catalogs available via microfilm were an invaluable resource.
Proposed concept for concealing modern building systems behind scrim panels in the plenum above the lay-in ceiling, which was patterned with period-style pressed tin tiles.
View of theatrical accent lighting overlaid on period themed lighting. In this early rehearsal, the concealing mesh panel inserts are not yet installed.
Cabaret lighting included period touches such as footlights, a proscenium with bare lamp marquee and Austrian-style main drape.
Birds-eye view of the cabaret. Each of the table lights is an individually controllable RGB LED module.
Control diagram of cabaret table lights. Guests can flip the service call switch to change the color of the LED and summon waitstaff.
This dressing room mirror is actually one-way glass, allowing guests to follow the cabaret dancers story “offstage.” Luminances were carefully managed to maintain the illusion.
At its best moments, it is possible to forget that you are watching a scripted show and live in the period.