The Eos control system has proven itself as a favorite in Broadway theatres for its consistency and reliability, but what happens to the lighting design when a Broadway show is based primarily on improvised action?
Billed as a “freestyle, hip-hop, improvisational, never-before-seen comedy ride,” Freestyle Love Supreme features a rotating cast of MCs, beatboxers, and special guests and is unique every night, to every audience. That creates a unique challenge to the designers behind the scenes. A typical theatrical lighting performance runs on a cue stack that is carefully curated by a design team, and run consistently from night to night by the board operator. But the team on Freestyle Love Supreme wondered if a show so heavily improvised could be programmed on the Eos platform… or programmed at all. “When we started putting this together, a lot of people said this couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done on Eos,” remembers Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter. “But, based on past experience with the family of consoles, I knew it was absolutely possible.”
As the designer, Jeff wanted to have as much control as he could, but wasn’t sure how much of the show would demand a live lighting component. And he wouldn’t know until going into the first tech with his programmers, Sean Beach for the off-Broadway production and Zak Al-Alami for the Broadway show. They were pleasantly surprised. The cast would choose five or six out of ten predetermined songs to perform each night. “Each has a unique look; some are specifically cued and called by a stage manager, a few have busked sections that exist within parameters, and one is entirely made up and completely different every night. For the busked parts, once the song’s basic look is cued up, busking takes over to help with the improvised storyline. And it’s not just ‘set the lights and hack away’ — the storytelling aspect is important. Where are they, what time of day is it, what’s the mood/vibe of the scene, and how can the lighting help tell and enhance the story? Like a regular theatre show except it’s shorter and you don’t know until the words come out of their mouths (or if things are really clicking, right before),” jokes Jeff. With help and encouragement from Director Tommy Kail, the design team was then able to set some blocking. “Even though the words are different every night, at several key moments, we were able to have them stand in the same spot saying them. More often than I anticipated prior to tech.”
The essence of Freestyle Love Supreme is the improvisation, so Jeff knew he needed someone with the right experience to run the board and busk during the show. For that expertise, Jeff reached out to Andrew Garvis, who he had worked with previously on several shows. “I was surprised at how well Eos is organized for the setup of a show like this, and how well we’ve been able to integrate it into cueing, because it’s busking on top of a cue stack,” Andrew explains. Building off the magic sheets built by Sean and Zac, Andrew uses two Ion Xe consoles and three total touchscreens—two to access the magic sheets and one that holds the cue stack and manual channels—along with two fader wings in order to run the show quickly and easily. “It’s fun because the show is still growing and changing,” says Andrew, “and the cast and I talk about what lighting can do, which is great. I’ll notice things they repeat or they like to call out for – I made a DeLorean cue, for example, because they like Doc Brown and jumping back in time to help with their improv cues.”
Located in the house left box with the stage manager, as opposed to a booth in the back, Andrew is visually part of the show, not only to the cast with whom he interacts during the performance, but for the audience as well—adding even more of a unique live element for the audience. “The best part is when the audience member who gets called up on stage says something that I can react to with lighting—it really makes the show interactive and fun,” says Andrew.
In the end, the Eos platform proved a reliable and nimble system for the show and its night-to-night demands. “It was fascinating to work with an Eos in a way that I was not familiar,” Jeff remarks, “I am fiercely loyal to the brand, to the Eos. At the end of the day this is a theatre show—and I find that hard to do on other desks.”