Pivotal Moment

When “A Chorus Line” moved to Broadway, Tharon Musser, the lighting designer, had convinced the producers to specify the LS-8 computerized lighting desk and Scrimmer dimmer packs  from Electronics Diversified.

In the summer of 1975 I was working at Theatresound, the smallest of the three Broadway sound rental shops.  As part of Feller Scenery Studio’s move from the Bronx to Newburgh, NY, Theatresound had recently moved from a space in Feller to one in the Four Star Stage Lighting shop, just south of Yankee Stadium.

Four Star supplied the lighting equipment for almost every Broadway show.  At that time, the technology for lighting control on Broadway was the ‘piano board’, 12 to 14 resistance dimmers in a wooden case about the size of 1-1/2 upright pianos.  The cables to the lights were 2-wire, ungrounded, and some of the older stock was even insulated with varnished cotton.  It was not unusual to get shocked while focusing a show.

By contrast, at Theatresound, we were experienced in configuring electronic audio equipment for the rigors of Broadway and touring shows,  we built the complex cabling to connect all the various pieces, and we had the only shop space in Four Star that was air-conditioned.  For these reasons the ‘Chorus Line’ dimmers and computer were delivered to our care.  

The LS-8 console was set up in our air-conditioned space where Gordon Pearlman, the creator, could finish programming it.  The dimmer packs arrived “raw” – they were not ready for trucking to the Shubert theater, let alone ready for use on a show.  Fortunately they were designed to be installed in standard 19” audio racks.  We had enough heavy-duty touring audio racks to fit all the dimmer packs and we had the tools and training to prep the control and power cables for the system.

Within 6 months our biggest sound rental, “Candide”, had closed and we had designed and built our first set of custom dimmer racks for “Rockabye Hamlet”.  We had quickly changed from a sound shop to the electronic lighting control department of Four Star and I was transformed from a sound man into a lighting programmer.