December 21, 2010
Remember that time when I haven’t worked a theatrical lighting call in a year? Well, I got a taste of those late-night hours again on Sunday night/Monday morning at my first architectural lighting focus call with Focus Lighting, where we aimed, accessorized, and reprogrammed almost all of the over 150 lighting fixtures at a new bar/restaurant on the Lower East Side between the hours of midnight and 8AM. You know, no big deal.
Despite the odd hours I was thankful for the experience because it was a huge opportunity to observe and learn first-hand how architectural lighting differs from theatrical lighting. Plus, it really was a ton of fun!
The story was that Focus had been briefly consulted (read: called at the last minute) on the lighting design for this space, and the purpose of this work call was to follow up to ensure the space looked its best with the equipment that was installed. The restaurant had already opened during the first week of December without having any of their massive number of adjustable accent lights aimed or accessorized by a lighting designer, so, since we couldn’t work during business hours (or during daylight, for that matter, due to the large skylight in the main dining room), we had to start at midnight.
We started to work just as the last few guests were leaving for the night, pulling all of the recessed accent lights out of the ceiling and adding diffusion, color, and louvers to them before replacing them and properly focusing them in their intended locations. As we found out, almost all of the over 100 of these fixtures were mis-aimed, making the space feel unbalanced and underlit. We fixed that problem quickly. Other tasks on our list included refocusing all of the track fixtures in the main dining room, adding color to the effects niches in the same dining room, adding color to the lighted liquor stands behind the bars, and properly readjusting all of the lighting levels with the new colors and accessories in place. It may seem like a short list, but when you have to maneuver a tall ladder around tables, sofas, and liquor bottles, it takes a bit of time. We ended up finishing the focus portion of the evening at around 6AM, leaving just enough time before sunrise to reprogram all of the light levels in the restaurant. One of the Focus staff trained me on the lighting controls and by the end of the night I was setting light levels like a pro! We ended up leaving the restaurant at 8AM, just as the sun was lighting up the sky in the dining room skylight.
It certainly was a long night, but I learned a ton from the experience, including that architectural lighting focus calls aren’t that much different from their theatrical counterparts. Aside from the fact that we aren’t responsible for hanging or circuiting the lights, we go in, add color and accessories, aim the lights, and set their dimmer levels — the same types of activities you’d find at a theatre lighting focus call. They happen in very different venues, obviously, but are otherwise very similar. The change of scenery, for me, was fun though. It was fun to know that the changes we were making would be seen by people every day in a venue that wasn’t a theatre. And look at the pictures — who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours working in a space as nice as that?
Many thanks to Focus designers Josh and Victoria for bringing me along and teaching me throughout the night! It was great to finally get a hands-on experience that I would never find at school. Like I’ve told a few people, you need to observe and experience light in a real space to have the knowledge to design with it — theories and principles are great for school, but they won’t develop your eye for design nearly as effectively as will manipulating light firsthand. I hope I can continue to tag along and assist more in the future!