It’s early Friday evening and I’m sitting at the back of a large dimly lit hall. Across the hall a colorfully painted stage is packed with people frantically running back and forth as lightning flashes and thunder claps, all carefully synchronized to an intensely dynamic soundtrack.
It’s rehearsal night for our church pageant, and I have been asked to manage music, audio effects and lighting. Laid-out on the folding table before me is my laptop, a Logitech joystick, and a Behringer DMX controller that I’m actually using as a MIDI slider console. My right hand carefully grips the joystick while I gently push it to the right to keep our follow spot trained on the principle performer as she stumbles through her lines. My left hand is making small movements to the sliders on the Behringer console as I make minor adjustments to balance the music and sound effects levels. Another slider adjusts the intensity of the lightning.
At the directors signal, I press a cue button on the console and the chaos stops. As the house slowly lights fade up, the director walks back to speak with me.
“Can we make those last lightning flashes happen about two seconds earlier?” she asks.
I quick jiggle of my mouse and the star field screen saver on my laptop is replaced with a multi-track timeline representing the audio and lighting cues of this particular scene. I select four clips on the timeline and drag them to a new location in their respective tracks. Then I move the timeline cursor to back about 10 seconds and hit play. The stage immediately jumps to life. The two lightning flashes trigger right on cue followed by a precisely timed thunder crash. The director nods her approval and heads back up toward the stage. The whole exchange takes about twenty seconds.
“Let’s take it at the top of page sixteen, she shouts.”
I’m on it. I right click at the top of the timeline, choose the marker I want—Page 16—and hit play. The show goes on.
You might be tempted to think that it was quite a feat getting the audio system, DMX lighting control, slider console and joystick to work together the way we did. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. In fact, it was all handled through one easy to use software package called VenueMagic.
The key to VenueMagic’s effectiveness at stage lighting for theater, concerts and other live performances is the ease at which you can change things on the fly. This includes minor (or even major) changes to audio and lighting during rehearsals as well as on-the-fly adjustments of light and audio levels. VenueMagic’s graphical timeline editor lets you put together precisely synchronized audio and lighting. You can cue any number of timelines simultaneously in the background, or in up to ten levels of foreground.
When I design a scene, I generally start with one timeline for ambient background sound effects and simple lighting. If a scene calls for a slow transition between night and day, this is where I’ll put it. VenueMagic has a library of special built-in lamp effects (a.k.a. “macros”) that simplify commonly needed effects. Of these effects, called “Sunrise”, will automatically control an RGB lamp fixture through all of the color hues of a sunrise. All I need to do is drag it into the timeline where I want it.
If a scene has one or more musical numbers, I give them each their own timeline so that I can cue them manually. These timelines will include the music and all of the synchronized stage lighting effects associated with it.
Hard effects like lightning & thunder, explosions, door knocks, phone rings, etc… are each placed in their own foreground timelines so that I can cue them manually as well.
VenueMagic timelines are divided into multiple audio and lighting effect tracks (there are also event tracks, but that’s a topic for another time). Building a timeline is simply a matter of dragging audio and lamp effect clips and putting them into the proper tracks. Audio tracks are mixed together during playback as are lighting effect tracks. Each track also has its own slider that lets me control audio and lamp levels on-the-fly for each individual track.
Even though VenueMagic gives me a virtual console of sliders and cue buttons, I actually prefer the feel of a real console—in this case, my Behringer Eurolight LC2412. VenueMagic will let you control cues and audio/lamp levels for timelines using any MIDI or DMX console. It will also let you plug in up to 15 joysticks (like the kind used in video games). I used my Logitech cordless stick to control the follow spot.
VenueMagic’s price is low compared to most DMX software used for theater lighting, and verylow compared to those that do audio as well, and yet it includes powerful features that are not found in any other. At $547 (add $50 for the optional DMX interface box) VenueMagic is ideal for community theaters, colleges, schools, churches—any venue where quality performances are expected, but budget is an issue. Theater lighting design and control does not have to be complicated or expensive.
The opening night of our church play is just a few weeks away. As is always the case, there will be a lot of adjustments made to dialog, props, costumes, choreography and of course, sound and lighting. For my part, I know that sound and lighting changes will not be a problem. I also have confidence that, on opening night, my little part of this production will be dynamic, spectacular, and will come off without a hitch. I’m using VenueMagic.