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Illuminating Worship: Lighting for Portable Churches, Part 2

Apr 28, 2011 11:57 AM, with Bennett Liles

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And the light itself from the lighting gear is always a consideration but those lighting instruments also put out a lot of heat.
Yes, yes they do and that’s one thing…I’ve been in places and they’ve gone, “Boy it was really nice when we walked in and now it’s really hot.” Its like, “Yeah can you get the air conditioner turned on?” “Gee we never thought about figuring out where the air conditioner controls are.” So that’s one thing just for our comfort level and then you also have to use common sense. You don’t want to take the lighting fixtures and you don’t want to have them pushed up tight against the wall, especially if the wall has any type of fabric or anything like that on it. You don’t want to push them into curtains—they will catch things on fire if you’re not careful. And that’s one nice benefit of LEDs—LEDs limit that a lot because they use a lot less power and put out a lot less heat but incandescent fixtures they’ll get hot enough to set things on fire if you’re not careful so you always have to keep that in mind. [Timestamp: 10: 19]

Some of the more high-end lighting gear, particularly the motorized stuff, has fans built into the lights and when you have a lot of these instruments all going at the same time that can result in a significant noise factor.
Unfortunately, I get asked all the time, “Hey I want to do this and this and this,”—especially with moving lights. “I want to do four moving lights and oh yeah, I don’t want to hear the fans run.” Well so do you not want to hear the fans run or do you not want moving lights? There’s not really…anything you can do, you have to take one with the other and so sometimes noise becomes an issue. But it also depends on where you hang the fixtures… [Timestamp: 10:59]

Yeah and the acoustics of the place.
Acoustics, yeah, the noise floor. One of my church clients that I do a live show for every Christmas they built a brand-new room. It has great acoustics and whenever I turn the moving lights on they hear all the fans and all the whining and they’re like—the audio guys are like, “Oh my gosh, listen to all that noise.” But yet once you fill the place full of…with 2,000 people that are rustling the programs and coughing and you’ve got the air conditioning on and a full choir, an orchestra and all of that the fan noise all goes away. It just drops into the background with everything else. [Timestamp: 11:41]

So when you’re hauling lighting gear around it takes a lot of wear and tear and it has to have a good control system, so what do you consider in selecting a control system? With portable churches I would think that it would have to be something that’s easy to operate.
Yes, especially with churches you have…a lot of times it’s volunteers, it’s not professional people and so you definitely want it to be easy to operate and very volunteer-friendly and so you have to do a little bit of research or work with a professional that knows what the choices are out there that can guide you to something that’s easy to use. At the same time you also, because you are bouncing it down the road every week, you also want to make sure it’s something that isn’t going to fall apart being bounced around because there are some things that are really great control systems but they’re a little fragile. They’re real sensitive to being moved around. Some things that are really, really made for the theater industry and then there’s some things that you can drop them off the back of the truck and they’ll bounce and you can plug it in and they’ll continue to work. Stuff like that that’s made for the touring industry. So that’s another consideration in that as well. [Timestamp: 12:5]

Are there any really handy widgets or tricks to making the lighting set up quick and simple with a volunteer crew?
Mark it up, mark it up, mark it up. Make sure that everything’s marked. One of my jokes when I was out touring is whenever I would get a stage hand I’d ask them first of all, “You’re not color blind are you?” and they would say, “No.” And I’m like “OK and you know you’re ABC’s and your 123’s?” And they say “Yeah”…and I’m a great—“You’re perfect for me.” Because I use extensive color coding so if you have a cable that’s red and a cable that’s purple they’re not going to go together. Red colors go to red colors and then usually I do a number or a letter or a letter and a number. It depends on what all you’re trying to put together. But the more that you mark things and mark it clearly in a logical manner the easier it is for somebody that’s not you to put it together. [Timestamp: 13:42]

Right and you can test that. I suppose the best way to do it is to have some people come in with no experience and just have them come in and see if they can hook it up right.
That’s correct. People need to be shown a little bit. If you don’t know that the red lift goes on the left and the blue lift goes on the right and the red fixtures go on the red stand and so on and so forth you’re not going to get it in the right place and the cables may not reach but if you have a basic drawing that shows how it all is supposed to go together…most of the time people can come in and learn it and be able to put it together really quickly. Hopefully they can shadow you for a week and see how it all goes together and where things go and hopefully it makes sense to them. But what I find is electrical tape, Sharpies, and spray paint are your friends. [Timestamp: 14:29]

Right, and in doing that I guess you have a good chance to assess the capabilities of the church crew.
Yes, one thing…going back to the whole marketing thing is don’t forget your cases too because a lot of times I see people they do a really great job of marketing all of their gear but they have these rows and rows and rows of black cases that all look exactly the same and you’re like, “OK so how are you supposed to know what case different things go in?” and they’re like, “Well we just go through and keep opening them up and looking until we find the case that’s marked inside as to what’s it’s supposed to be.” And I’m like, “Yeah, well if you would go through and take a can of yellow spray paint and a template and stripe or put a circle or a triangle or whatever on every one of your lighting cases you could find them really quick from across the room. And with the capabilities of a church crew you don’t ever want to over design so far beyond the capabilities of the people but I’ve never really worked with a person that couldn’t learn the system if they really wanted to if it was logical and it made sense. [Timestamp: 15:36]

And most of the time I’ve found that they tend to make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in experience so you find them ready and willing to do the job. Exactly. They just really need someone to lead them and to guide them along. Most of the guys that are out there they love to do it. It’s a hobby for them and they love to do it. They love to serve and they want to do a really good job and they want to do it to the best of their capability but as a professional I think that the thing that you always have to keep in mind is that when you go in and you work with these people they’re not professionals. I know some guys who are just incredible production people but they’re not good teachers because when they go in and they teach they’re trying to teach on a professional level and they’re trying to teach these guys to be professionals and that’s just not who they are. They may be IT guys during the week or computer programmers or cabinet makers—all different people from all different walks of life that come and be church production people on the weekend and you have to remember…always keep that in mind that, “Hey this is not their full time job and they’re never going to be professional level people,” but that doesn’t mean they can’t do what they do in their sphere well. [Timestamp: 16:51]

All right, lighting for portable churches and it’s always a challenge but that’s what keeps things interesting and I appreciate your giving us some pointers for lighting for portable church. It’s Greg Persinger with Vivid Illumination in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks for being here Greg.

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