The original production of the hit musical Billy Elliot, still running at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre almost a decade after making its debut there, has moved the show’s lighting to a new control system based around ETC’s popular Ion® control console.
The new desk has replaced a Strand desk that ran the show since it opened, continuing the trend of long-running shows updating their control systems to ETC products to ensure continued trouble-free performance night after night. “Our previous desk served us well,” comments the show’s lighting designer, Rick Fisher, who won a Tony® Award for his work on the show on Broadway and a Helpmann Award for the production in Australia, “but with the show continuing to enjoy success in London, and with new productions planned elsewhere, it seemed to make sense to move the show onto a newer platform that was receiving ongoing support from its manufacturer. We knew the Ion was more than capable of running the show, since it had already been used on our American tours, and we knew our supplier, White Light, had Ions available, so it just became the obvious choice.”
The challenge of the changeover was that the Billy Elliot show’s busy rehearsal schedule meant there would be little stage time and no lighting-specific dress rehearsal for the new system. After careful checking and a few proving sessions on an empty stage, its first full performance would be in front of a paying audience. The task of transferring Associate Lighting Designer/Programmer Vic Smerdon’s work to the new system was therefore handed to programmer Rob Halliday, who combined his familiarity with both control platforms to ensure the changeover went smoothly and that each moment of the show’s precise lighting was accurately recreated.
The show now runs from an ETC Ion console plus a fader wing and a touchscreen, with an RPU (Remote Processor Unit) rack-mounted as backup. Two ETC Net3 Gateways convert the Streaming ACN data back to DMX for distribution to the show’s rig of Source Four® fixtures, Source Four Revolution® automated fixtures, generic par cans and colour scrollers, among others. The show crew now has an iPod touch running ETC’s iRFR software – supporting the Light Relief lighting charity – to allow them to control the rig from on stage. ETC assisted with the handover by providing an Eos Ti control desk for use at the production desk during the proving sessions.
New functions and facilities
“We’re very excited to have the Ion in place,” says the show’s head of lighting, James Nowell. “It immediately feels more responsive than our previous desk. Having successfully moved the show over, we’re now starting to take advantage of the new facilities the Ion offers us, such as the scroller-calibration function and the on-screen Magic Sheets, and are looking forward to discovering still more ways it can help us!”
Directed by Stephen Daldry and choreographed by Peter Darling, both reprising their roles from the film the musical was adapted from, Billy Elliot was written by the film’s author, Lee Hall, with the music composed by Elton John; the show was designed by Ian MacNeil with costumes designed by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting by Rick Fisher, sound by Paul Arditti, musical supervision and orchestrations by Martin Koch, and associate direction by Julian Webber. The London production opened in May 2005; the show has subsequently been seen in Australia, New York, Canada, on tour around the US and in Brazil; rehearsals have just started for the next production, due to open in Holland later this year.
The show now joins many other West End productions running on Eos® family control systems, including The Bodyguard: The Musical, The Book of Mormon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Les Misérables, Once, The Woman in Black, Spamalot and War Horse, plus the repertoires of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.
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