Vari-Lite University Outreach Program delivers VL2600 uplift for Houston

Vari-Lite VL2600s prove key to punching through the colour and providing clarity and definition to actors’ faces during The University of Houston's stage rendition of The Learned Ladies. Photo: Pim Lin

The University of Houston recently took advantage of the University Outreach Program from Vari-Lite, which enables emerging lighting design students to elevate their production looks and facilitates hands-on professional fixture experience. The latest collaborative project saw Andrew Archer, who is undertaking a BFA in Technical Theatre Production, create an inspired design for the play The Learned Ladies using VL2600 SPOT luminaires.

Archer took delivery of six VL2600 SPOT fixtures as part of the Program, working with Bobby Harrell, Vari-Lite Sales and Applications Specialist at Signify, who spearheads the initiative. Archer says he was impressed by the powerful features and capabilities of these luminaires and harnessed their power to design the lighting for the production of The Learned Ladies, adapted from the Molière original.

“We updated our production so that it was staged as a sitcom set in 1990s New Orleans,” explained Archer. “The lighting design centered around that classic sitcom feel while incorporating the vibrancy and magic of live theatre to evoke the dynamic palettes of that era. My main creative and practical objectives centered around colour and texture.”

The Vari-Lite University Outreach Program is an ongoing project allowing talented students to use Vari-Lite luminaires in a real-world environment, with training and support from Bobby Harrell. “The Program allows educational design programs to connect with Vari-Lite technology and staff to explore design solutions that are often only available to professionals,” said Harrell.

Archer rigged the VL2600 SPOT luminaires in the Front of House box boom positions, on a three-left and three-right formation to allow for a typical ‘near, mid, far’ system. The overall look of the show was warm and vibrant, with Archer choosing to highlight the actors with pink and purple tones, while neutral warm and lavender cools filled in their features. The New Orleans two-story house set, which featured soaring 20ft walls, was framed with a range of colours and broken up with clever placements of light.

“The VL2600s were key to punching through the colour and providing clarity and definition to the actors’ faces,” Archer continued. “The variable frost was a very helpful feature of the instrument in allowing the light to better blend in on a scene-by-scene basis, as well as the tight zoom range which allowed for great flexibility and great specificity. The ‘90s were a very vibrant and colourful period and I wanted to beam rich colours to mirror the life and energy of the family living within the home. Creatively, it was about designing an interesting piece of art across the whole medium. Objectively, it was about sculpting the action and blending it into the massive scale of the space.”

Archer also notes that he was very impressed by the programming responsiveness of the VL2600 SPOT: “There wasn’t a delay when programming pan/tilt, zoom and other features, which I have experienced with other fixtures in the past. I was also very impressed by the output of the fixture. The VL2600’s LED engine provides a great comparative statistic to arc-sources, but the comparison is even greater in practicality.”

Harrell added: “We love engaging with universities for these opportunities as it not only allows us to put the latest technology into the hands of the next generation of professional designers, but it also fosters the relationship between the lighting designer and Vari-Lite. It’s a great program for everyone involved.”

“The interaction with Vari-Lite was great!” Archer concluded. “I really appreciated the opportunity to use these fixtures beyond a demonstrative environment. Bobby Harrell was key in arranging this specific agreement with the UH School of Theatre and Dance, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his hand in the process.”