Sunday, July 9, 2017

Abel Sepulveda - Lighting Supervisor

I am not sure which was my first play or  how old I was.   I remember being frightened by Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in Peter Pan on Broadway, sitting at the top of the house with my mother and grandmother at The City Center to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, “Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.  All that exposure early on gave me a love of theatre.  Now I am on the board of the City Center equivalent in Santa Fe, the Lensic Performing Arts Center.  I have been taking full advantage of the opportunity and am able to ask questions and get behind the scenes that I have never been able to do before.


A few days ago we met up with Abel Sepuldeva, the young man (28) who is the Lighting Supervisor for the Lensic Theatre.  Abel comes from El Paso where he was already interested in Theatre and decided that he wanted a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He had two choices, the University of Florida or the College of Santa Fe.  The latter offered him the best package and, like so many mothers, his did not want her son too far from home so there he went.  He lucked out in having good teachers, one of whom was George Johnson, the first tech director at the Lensic!  I always tell young people who are looking for a certain name college that who will be teaching them should be the primary criteria for their choice.  One of the requirements for Abel’s degree was to have a professional internship. A summer internship at the Lensic led to becoming an over-hire, part of a team of available techies who can fill in when extra trained hands are needed in the theatre.  In 2011 he was hired full time as Master Electrician and in 2015 he became the Lighting Supervisor … the guy who makes the decisions.  If you want to have a spot light on you, be nice to Abel!


Seriously, he is in charge of the lighting for all the groups that come in to use the theatre.  If he has worked for them before he usually knows what they want and expect, but a year or two ago the well known comedian, Dave Chappelle, showed up for 2 shows.  He wanted only red lights, not only on stage, but also in his dressing room and the corridor between, so red gels had to be placed over those lights.  His DJ, however, had to have blue light. 

As an aside there was an incident and an audience member threw a banana peel at Chapelle, a story that went viral.  The perpetrator then ran out of the theatre and Abel, being in that glassed in booth at the back of the house, jumped out and collared him until security arrived! 

Such excitement is not the norm, and Abel’s is a very tough job.  He works with some very heavy equipment and the electricians who mount the lights on the bars above the stage, known in the jargon as “line sets” and once they have the lights on them “electrics” on which the lights are placed.  There are the old fashioned par lights weighing about 20 pounds each and they use those large bulbs like you might have seen in any older art space.  At my father’s gallery in the 1950’s we had a smaller hand held one, which I used to focus on players in our school performance.

In more recent years digital lamps came in and Abel was authorized to purchase a few of those for the house.  The Metropolitan Opera uses the same, in still more sophisticated versions.  What astounded me was the price tag.  The lamps bought a year or two ago cost $12,000 each and have dropped in price slightly.  No wonder theatres are always looking for funds. The Lensic has a capacity of 400 dimmers (lights) and has 360 in house.  The Mag Vipers, the digital lamps with fans require a DMX board.  They can be rotated digitally and have “Gobo’s” which are cut out disks so they can project anything onto a set, such as trees, ocean waves or even “The Yellow Brick Road”.  The Mag Vipers can be controlled digitally, while the par lamps have to be put in by hand.  For digital lamps, for instance, the more you pay the more built in gobos you get.


Behind the last row of seats of most theatres is a person at a board, which controls the sound.  He needs to hear what the audience hears.  Behind that there is a windowed booth with the board from which all lighting for the stage and house is controlled.  The board is set up in a certain way and Abel, alone in the booth, knows what lights should be on when for a particular show.  I asked what happens when a show from elsewhere come in such as a Rock ‘n Roll show and they have their own special effects that they want.  Not a problem,-- with the new digital boards they can just plug in their own flash drive and have much control over the lighting, which Abel would still supervise.


Every time I write a missive, it is educational but often leaves me with more questions than I had before.  Maybe sometime I will have a chance to learn even more about what goes on backstage at the theatre!  In fact I looked up some of the theatrical lighting language and found THIS ...

A bit more than one could digest in my morning visit with Abel!

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