USITT 2011 Recap: Reflections from the Light Lab

It is hard to believe how quickly time flies.  Two months ago many folks were returning and recuperating from another successful USITT conference in North Carolina.  Every other year the Lighting Commission hosts a “light lab” and the 2011 lab was certainly a highlight; as six of the commissions sessions were held there in Ballroom A/B.

What is the light lab?  It is many things: a space where sessions are presented; a place for students, educators and professionals to mingle and network; and a neutral ground for anyone who wishes to learn about equipment they do not know about or perhaps to share their experiences, tips and tricks to those who are curious about the lab and its components.

This year, there were many great sessions presented in the lighting lab, beginning with “troubleshooting the lighting rig.”  After a full day of loading in, patching, and troubleshooting to get the rig working, presenters “broke” portions of the system for volunteers to put into practice the topics and steps discussed. “LED’s in the Light Lab” introduced a number of the latest fixtures to a packed house: over 300 attendees!  Examples of various color temperatures of “white” light, color mixing, color saturation, and remote focus-ability were highlights of this session.  Day 2 brought “Lighting Projects for the Classroom” which focused on activities within a light lab, while also acting as a “call for submissions” for the forthcoming update to the 1992 USITT publication “Practical Projects for Teaching Lighting Design – A Compendium.”  Submissions are being collected at this time, and a juried selection is slated to take place later this year.  (Questions regarding submitting a project can be directed through the USITT Lighting Commission Page later this summer.)  Rounding out day 2’s activities in the lab was “Lighting Make-up, Costumes & Multi-Ethnic Casts” giving lovely visual examples of how lighting enhances, or deters from, the form.  The last day in the light lab began with a cross-commission session, “Health & Safety: Rigging Safety for Ground Support Truss” which utilized the structure of the rig to its full extent and was a good reminder to all of the safety checks and practices to be performed when working with ground supported truss.  Closing the light lab sessions was the “Using Color in Lighting” presentation by Mr. Mark Stanley; a great refresher for the experienced and valuable information and questions for the novices.

Light Lab demystified:

One of the things I hear most often in the light lab is: this is great!  Why is there not a light lab next year?  The light lab takes a lot of planning, time, money, energy, and volunteers to put together.  Sessions are proposed and chosen during the conference a year, or sometimes two or more, in advance.  Members of the light lab committee and national committee are charged with various tasks from: chairing the lab in its entirety, sourcing and securing equipment, sourcing and securing a site and style of lab (flown truss, ground support truss, theatrical venue, etc), drafting the lab plot, serving as master electrician for the lab, coordinating student volunteers (those volunteers who are current students and who work the conference for their registration), coordinating adult volunteers (the rest of the volunteers), coordinating sound and video needs, coordinating and consulting on rigging, coordinating signage, consulting on technology, on-site coordinating, and a venue liaison, among many other roles that must take place to generate the lab.

Tips for getting involved:

Every year, whether it is a light lab year or a non-lab year, the commission holds meetings where the commissioners and light lab committee members are present.  Talking to one of them directly at any time during the conference and expressing interest is a great way to start; if individual interest becomes peaked after the conference is over however, a direct email contact can be made through the USITT contact sheet or generally through the vice commissioner of communication, who will pass along the information to the appropriate coordinator or commissioner.

The light lab is organic from year to year, some years require more from volunteers than others yet those who give graciously gain much in the end, if they choose to partake of it.  This year many were able to see (some for the first time) a self-climbing truss system graciously loaned to the lab by Thomas Truss.  For those in education, or in places with limited budgets, having the opportunity to have some hands-on time with four separate consoles all actively on the network at once was something to remember.   Having the opportunity to learn from, or just observe master programmers such as Bobby Harrell at the Strand VL 16 desk or Hideaki Tsutsui at the GrandMA, or listening in as ETC’s Tracy Fitch discussed the intricacies of having all four consoles online at once via streaming ACN was a particularly nice treat.

If you missed it this year, consider it for USITT 2013.  It is a great place to learn, to grow and to give back.


Images from the 2011 USITT Lighting Lab:


Some of the donors and their equipment seen in the 2011 USITT Lighting Lab:

AC Lighting

  • Chroma Q Scrollers
  • Strand VL 16 Console
  • Chroma Q Color Force
  • DMX & Scroller Power

ACT Lighting

  • Grand MA 2 Lite
  • Clay Packy Alpha Spot 700’s

Phillips Entertainment & Vincent Lighting

  • VL 2500 Spots


  • Smart Color Pro Scrollers
  • Smart Move Gobo Rotators
  • Scroller and DMX Cable
  • Gel Package

West Virginia University

  • Tool Box
  • Cable
  • Fleenor Splitter
  • Booms
  • 18” Side Arm
  • Gel Cutter


  • Fresnels
  • 3-Cel Far Cycs

Syracuse Scenery & Stage Lighting

  • Custom made Cyc


  • Connectors


  • Gel Package for Mark Stanley

Catawba College

  • Pipe for Cyc

SUNY Fredonia

  • Truss Protectors


  • Dimmer Rack
  • Fixtures
  • EOS Console
  • Element Console
  • LED Fixtures
  • Cable

Thomas Truss

  • Custom Built Rig