The poet’s heritage: Royal Shakespeare Company invests in grandMA2

The Royal Shakespeare Company - among the UK's most prestigious theatre producing houses - has invested in six new grandMA2 light control consoles, together with 2 x MA NPU (Network Processing Unit) and 10 x MA 2Port Nodes as part of a complete update of their lighting control systems at the newly refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) and Swan Theatres, both in Stratford-on-Avon.

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MA Lighting was chosen after a comprehensive two year evaluation period, which included extensive 'field trials' and involved the RSC's Head of Lighting Vince Herbert plus his entire departmental team of 18, including programming specialists, operators and technicians.The decision to go with grandMA2 was almost unanimous.

Three of the new consoles are deployed in the RST and The Swan. In both venues, the first one is the active desk, the second is for backup and media server programming, and the third is located in the stalls, used for focussing and tech sessions plus for offline work during non-technical periods.

Programmer Matt Peel was one of those initially advocating MA Lighting, and there were many reasons for taking the grandMA2 route, explains Herbert. One of the principal ones was that they wanted a future-proof lighting control solution with plenty of headroom for upgradability to incorporate powerful new features and functionality yet to be developed in the fast evolving world of stage and live performance technologies.

With video integration and control specifically much in mind, they were particularly impressed with the grandMA2 platform's ability to seamlessly integrate video sources of all types into the visual equation, and making these straightforward to program.They also - obviously - wanted a stable and reliable option with excellent networking capabilities. Good ergonomic design and build quality were also pre-requisites, as well as the potential to be able to run smaller shows on the same platform - either in a studio theatre or on tour.

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Another vital factor was it was identified some years ago that 3D visualisation would become increasingly important in programming and particularly in transferring shows. That the MA Lighting system comes complete with excellent 3D visualisation capabilities onboard was also a big plus point in their decision to buy into grandMA2.

Touring and transferring shows were other major considerations. With many of the RSC's productions moving around the globe, they needed an easy and straightforward method to swap lighting show files between different venues. Using grandMA2 consoles and having MA's unparalleled support network available worldwide, they were again confident that wherever the shows will travel, they will be able to have the very best lighting playback system available to faithfully reproduce the work. Then there was the fact that their important existing shows, which are still running strong, could also be easily migrated to the new grandMA2 platform.

Apart from all the sophisticated functionality and future capacities offered by grandMA2, before the final decision was reached, the console underwent one last "Freshers" test, which involved a novice or inexperienced technician being able to go up to it and put 'Channel 24 @ full'. Needless to say, it passed this one with flying colours as well! Mission accomplished!

At the RST, the grandMA2 light will be controlling approximately 70 moving lights and about 300 generics - primarily Source Four profiles and Source Four PARs - most with scrollers. Together with media servers, this represents a serious amount of intelligence needing intuitive programming and playing back. The number of moving lights is expected to increase to around the 100 mark in the near future. In the Swan Theatre there are currently about 20 moving lights and another large generic rig - also with most instruments fitted with scrollers.

Working closely with MA UK and Germany, a full training programme was instigated for all the relevant RSC staff on the new consoles and how the MA system works. House style is an extremely important element of the RSC's programming philosophy, and they have a pool of programming specialists who follow the same modus operandi, which ensures continuity and a knowledge and understanding of how each show's lighting is constructed. This is invaluable in many circumstances, e.g. if an operator is off sick, or when working internationally on a transferred show, etc.

The first production to use the new grandMA2 system at the RST is King Lear directed by David Farr, designed by John Bausor with a lighting design by Jon Clark.

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