When a show takes place at the Theatre, lighting effects contribute greatly to the overall experience of the show. Whether dark and sombre or bright and colourful, the lighting must be ‘programmed’ by deciding which lights come on when, and also how bright they are at any time.
The lights themselves are very obvious, hanging high up below the ceiling, attached to a wall or even the balcony front. A control panel at the back of the Theatre stalls send commands to electrical dimmers located backstage, which in turn provide the correct amount of power to each light for the required brightness.
Shanklin Theatre’s dimmers were originally installed at Sandown Pavilion and subsequently transferred to Shanklin when the Pavilion Theatre closed in 1998. Recent hot weather has seen the dimmers show their age (they are rated to 35 degrees C), with failures becoming increasingly frequent. They are also controlled by an older analogue system rather than the current digital system. With the dimmers not far from their 30th birthday, it was time to replace them with more efficient digitally controlled dimmers. Not a trivial task, especially with a limited timescale of only a few days to strip out the old equipment (including the mains voltage switchgear) and install the new dimmers together with the many wires needed to control the lights – 96 lights in total!
Chris Gardner, the Theatre’s Sound and Lighting Engineer, originally purchased the dimmers all those years ago for Sandown Pavilion and re-installed them in Shanklin Theatre when the Pavilion closed. Once again he was required to carry out the replacement with Electrical, Sound and Lighting specialist Michael Steege who has installed and repaired much of the Theatre’s infrastructure over the last few years. Following a show on a Saturday evening, removal of the old dimmers started on Sunday, with Chris and Michael working every available hour to ensure the new equipment was installed and tested ready for a show on Wednesday!
As always, there were unexpected things to deal with – a few crossed wires were inevitable! Thankfully, and especially for Chris and Michael, most of the dimmers were operational by Wednesday and the show went ahead as planned without a hiccup. Final connections were completed on Thursday in time for a packed full house watching ‘Beyond The West End’. Little did the audience know of the racks of gleaming new equipment powering the stage lights. Even the house lights can now be controlled from Chris’s station at the rear of the stalls!
The new dimmers, as well as being more efficient with power, take up less space, leaving more space for storage of lights and other equipment. A great job by the team and a great job by everyone raising the £10k to pay for this hidden Theatre upgrade. Keep dropping those coins in the bucket on the way out after a show – the Theatre needs it!