MAMMA MIA! The Musical has been playing to packed houses around Australia for most of this year. It is currently playing in Melbourne until 30 September before travelling to Adelaide for six weeks only.

The show is a brand new production with new direction, choreography, scenery, costumes, lighting and sound.

The lighting design is by Gavan Swift who chose an all Martin Professional moving light rig and he was the first designer in the country to specify the Martin MAC Encore CLD.

“I have firmly embraced the move to LED technology in moving lights,” commented Gavan. “The increases in output, colour fidelity and consistency are quickly making the old arc-based moving lights obsolete. It was almost accidental that I chose Martin moving lights. I picked the best LED lights for the right application and they all happened to be Martin product.”

The LED moving lights are the MAC Encore Performance CLD, MAC Quantum Wash and the MAC 101 CT. Gavan says that the MAC Quantums were chosen for their output, the mini spill ring to minimise flare and their good white LED. The MAC 101 CTs are one of his favourite fixtures, all they do is a narrow, soft beam of light that can be cool white, warm white or somewhere in-between, but they do that very well.

“They don’t do colour and they are perfect as re-locatable specials and work well in large musicals as well as the smallest of plays,” added Gavan. “They are extremely quiet and fast, and with the optional top hat have no extraneous spill. I then specified MAC Viper Performance for the front of house positions. I needed a bit more control over the beam for some onstage wash sidelights so I specified the MAC Viper Wash DX because they have the internal beam masking as well.”

Gavan admits that he initially had some reservations about the brightness of the MAC Encores being such a new light, but his doubts turned out to be unfounded.

“I had already decided to use a mostly LED rig for Mamma Mia, but there wasn’t a LED moving profile that was bright enough for what I was trying to achieve,” he explained. “I had used the MAC Quantum on smaller shows but I knew it wouldn’t cut it on this show as I needed the animation wheel effects. I was looking at specifying the MAC Viper when I was shown a pre-production demo version of the MAC Encore Profile. It had practically the same feature set as the MAC Viper Performance but with an LED light source. The MAC Encore immediately impressed with its brightness and how quiet it was. It is perfect for skin tones! It was exactly the light I needed for Mamma Mia and so I put 54 on the bid list for the show.”

Gavan chose the daylight versions as they were brighter than the tungsten version and they had a variable CTO colour wheel so he could alter the colour temperature as needed. The high CRI meant the light wouldn’t mute any of the colour in the costumes or scenery or look grey on the casts’ faces.

Show Technology were able to secure one of the first batches of lights off the production line that were air-freighted to Australia to Chameleon Touring Systems and immediately prepared for the Mamma Mia tour. According to Gavan, the MAC Encores on Mamma Mia have been incredibly reliable with excellent colour consistency throughout the rig.

“The two features I like most about the MAC Encore are the frost and the LED source,” remarked Gavan. “The frost in the MAC Encore is the closest equivalent to R132 that I’ve seen in a moving light. The ability to sharply focus a gobo on a surface, then wheel in the frost to soften the edge whilst keeping the broken-up image is incredibly useful. This also works with the shutters as well.

“The LED source has one singularly clear advantage over the arc-sourced MAC Viper; the focus doesn’t shift when fading out the light. My least favourite feature of the MAC Viper (and a lot of other arc moving profiles) is as they use a mechanical douser, when fading out or changing the intensity of the moving profile the edge of the beam changes as the douser chops into the optical path. The MAC Encore doesn’t have this problem as the light source itself is physically fading out, like a conventional profile. Not having a mechanical douser in the optical path results in accurate fades and the beam edge remaining consistent throughout the fade. The other advantage of the LED source is that when it is not being used in a cue, it is off and not drawing power. Unlike arc-based moving lights where the lamp is struck at checks and then runs until the end of the show, drawing full(-ish) power the entire time, the LED moving lights only use as much power as is required to keep the electronics running when the light is off, saving a significant amount of power.”

Very early in the pre-production period for Mamma Mia the set designer presented her design and it featured a large white cyc behind the two-storey taverna set. Such a dominant scenic element was going to need some special treatment so Gavan started to experiment with ideas. An actual LED screen was out as the cost and weight couldn’t be justified, so he started experimenting with LC screens, LED striplights, LED PARs and the ShowPRO PixPads.

The resulting PixPad wall is the culmination of an idea Gavan has had for a while. With the prevalence of LED screens in all aspects of live production, he had an idea in the back of his mind to use screen technology as the light source for a theatrical cyclorama.

“Even though they are an older unit, the PixPads were the right choice,” said Gavan. “They were bright, diffuse and available in large numbers. With assistance from our Technical Director, Cass Jones, providing a large sample of the rear projection material, Production Electrician, Dale Mounsey, and I workshopped the idea on a small scale to work out the best combination of unit spacing and distance from the cyc to make my idea work. Once we were satisfied we’d arrived at a solution, Dale systemised the construction of the PixPad wall using custom-made touring and rigging frames to hold the 150 x PixPads required to backlight the cyc. The PixPad wall is controlled by a media server, pixel mapped to individual channels and programmed by Robert Cuddon.”

The PixPad wall enables Gavan to light the cyc using a wide variety of media sources, and achieve gradients and selective lighting not possible through traditional lighting techniques. From simple channel control right up to JPEGs and movie files, the cyc can change, highlight specific areas and assist the storytelling through mood and location changes like no other cyc before it.

“I have plotted complex sunrises using multiple layers of gradients and incorporating moving images of the sun rising, as well as being able to use shapes and masks to glow the outline of the Taverna and really focus the audience’s eye to the action onstage,” he added. “The rear projection material diffuses the PixPad wall so individual cells aren’t visible.”

For the final song of the finale, the cyc is flown out to reveal the PixPad wall in all its’ glory and it becomes a feature in itself, providing lots of energy and punctuation to the music and choreography.

Lighting Credits

Lighting Designer – Gavan Swift
Production Electrician – Dale Mounsey
Programmer – Robert Cuddon
Head Electrician – Kyle Morey
Dep. Head Electrician – Megan Todd
Transfer Electrician/Spot Caller – Vanessa Van Der Weyer

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