When John Whapham came to Herndon High School last year as the new drama director he took stock of what equipment the department had and decided it was in need of some upgrades. So over the past two years, the drama department has been getting new lights, improving the sound system and generally going high tech.
"The booster club has been very supportive and has been raising funds for some time," said Whapham. "This is not my first time teaching and not my first assignment as a drama director, so when I got here I knew where to start looking [for needed upgrades]. The school is supportive of the theatre arts and was willing to invest."
THAT INVESTMENT has resulted in 35 new lighting instruments; an upgraded console to run the lighting and sound system; eight new wireless microphones; a cyclorama, on which a background curtain used to project color for effect; a genie lift so a single student can make lighting adjustments without the need for a 16-foot ladder; and two new "intelligent" lights, which can be programmed to move around, zoom in and out, change color and project patterns during the course of a show. The intelligent lights and new console were set to arrive sometime this week. The rest of the upgraded equipment is already in use.
"I know of two high schools that have light fixtures of this class," Whapham said.
Prior to the intelligent light technology, techs would have to hang stationary lights from rigs above the stage. If color was needed for a scene, the light would be outfitted with a colored, thin sheet called a gel. Dramatic effect during a show was created by a tech controlling which lights came on, when and how bright. Light direction and colors could not be changed during a show. Separate spotlights would be used to follow actors around the stage.
"It means better productions," said junior Amy Radebaugh, the stage manager. "In general, the shows are going to be much better. The lights themselves can do so much stuff with just the push of a button."
"IT'S LIKE CHRISTMAS for techs," said senior Andrea Canterbury.
The new system will mean extra training for the techs that will work the system, but after all the lighting cues for a production are programmed into the console, it will mean less manpower during an actual show.
"One student will actually run the board. It's just a matter of pushing the go button," Whapham said. "It's a matter of timing and the stage manager calling the cues. Last year, the opening number of both plays, musicals, each had 25 to 30 lighting cues."
The intelligent lights can be programmed to hit the lighting cues without someone pushing the "go" button on the console, which tells the system to activate the preprogrammed lighting sequence. But Whapham said it is doubtful the human touch will be replaced.
"It needs to have a person to hit the cues because the timing is different every time," Whapham said. "Unless the show is precisely timed and is the same every performance, you need someone hitting the cues."
The new lights will be installed and possibly used in a limited capacity for the school's production of "Rumors," Nov. 6 and 8. Whapham expects them to be fully operational for "Plaza Suite," on Nov. 20 and 22.
"It is really an enhanced lighting system," Andrea said.