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Behind the Scenes at Austin City Limits, Part 1

Aug 17, 2011 4:01 PM, with Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

The longest running music show on television is the PBS hit Austin City Limits and Curtis Kasefang is here to give us a look behind the scenes on how the show is lit and taped in the show's new venue Austin’s Moody Theater. Coming right up on the SVC podcast.
Hello Curtis and thanks for being with me here on the SVC podcast.

It’s my pleasure.

OK we’re talking about lighting here on Austin City Limits, the long running PBS program, but first a little about Theatre Consultants Collaborative.
That is correct.

So exactly what is that outfit and what do you do there?
Well, Theatre Consultants Collaborative is, as its sounds, a full-service theater consultancy. We do everything in terms of specialty consulting except acoustics. We’re a virtual corporation founded eight years ago, and there are 12 of us in seven cities and we look at everything from programming of a building, how to cut space sizes and where they go in the room, seating site lines, lighting, sound rigging, and we also work rather closely with mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural engineers to make sure they’ve got what they need to make things work correctly for the end user. [Timestamp: 1:45]

And that can be a fast six-handed game sometimes trying to coordinate a lot of stuff that involves hoisting heavy gear, running, cable and fastening things securely. So when you first heard about the new Moody Theater, also known as ACL Live, the new home of Austin City Limits, where along the line did you actually get into the place and get your first good look at it and start working on this?
Well, we were fortunate enough to get in pretty early in the process. We helped them decide on their space program, room sizes—things like that. So we were there actually at the very beginning when the architect even first hopped into the picture so that was a very…very useful and helpful thing for everybody because we had a pretty good round prospective on what we were getting ourselves into and how we could get them what they needed. [Timestamp: 2:34]

And this is really big venue. I don’t think it’s actually bigger in area than what they had before at the PBS affiliate KLRU, but I read somewhere that you built up.
In essence, what we did is we made sure…the KLRU is single floor with technical levels above that in their studio 6A. What we did in this new space is we kept the first floor of this venue the same size as the KLRU venue 6A, but then we added a mezzanine level and then a balcony level to the room so that we could keep it feeling exactly like Austin City Limits in terms of the first floor but when they wanted to do a larger venue for live performance…or a larger taping we could increase the seating capacity by taking advantage of the additional levels, the physical levels. [Timestamp: 3:22]

And that was a big increase in seating capacity. I think you went from something like 300 seats up to a maximum of something like 2,700?
Yeah, if they’re packed to the gills—they can get 2,700 in there and in that configuration the first floor is basically a big mosh pit with a bunch of bars around the parameter and then on both upper levels open. Yes, it’s…more typically around 2,300 seats when it’s in its larger configuration. [Timestamp: 3:5]

And one of the big challenges, of course, they came from doing it in a TV studio, is to have it set up right as a live venue but also having a good layout for TV which can sometimes get in the way of each other. So you had to set up lighting for this widely varying seating capacity and light for both live audience and TV cameras which don’t see lighting exactly the same way as good ol' people eyes do. So what was the biggest challenge you had on this?
Well, the biggest challenge was the non-technical one. How do we keep the look of this show while increasing the seating capacity? We had another complicating factor in here which is the stage height needed to vary between…about a foot off the ground to about 5ft. off the ground depending on how it was used. You will notice at Austin City Limits, the TV show, the camera is very much your point of view as an audience member and you’re often looking directly at the performer and that’s because the stage is about a foot off the floor in the taping configuration so, as you said we really needed to look at maintaining the audience sightlines obviously but we also needed to get the television lighting angles in there, have a workable trim for the electrics, have a follow spot position that could work at all seating capacities and accommodate the cameras and where they needed to be within the room. [Timestamp: 5:1]

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