Italian Lighting designer Valerio Tiberi of K5600 Design specified a zactrack SMART real time tracking system for a new production by LETSGO of popular musical Charlie y La Fàbrica De Chocolate (Charlie and The Chocolate Factory), now playing at the Espacio Delicias Teatro in Madrid until February 2023.
This is one of the first European musicals – following successful shows in the UK, the Disney parks in France and a production of Starlight Express in Germany – to utilize this powerful technology, and therefore "very energising" explained Valerio, to whom the system was initially demonstrated by zactrack's Italian distributor, RM Multimedia.
He believes zactrack is a creative tool that "truly unlocks the mind in achieving so many new and different possibilities" with lighting.
The idea of harnessing the flexibility and creativity of zactrack to control selected lighting fixtures occurred to Valerio during the production's design phase. He knew that some lighting positions would be limited and inaccessible in the tented Espacio Delicias Teatro structure and saw real time tracking as a vehicle that could assist with the dramaturgy of the lighting.
Thirty zactrack Trackers on 15 cast members are controlling 60 moving lights all supplied by leading Spanish rental company Fluge. Using the technology, Valerio was able to replace 'classic' follow spot positions with far more flexible and aesthetically pleasing options, and to light multiple actors simultaneously.
The system comprises 30 x Trackers, 8 x Anchors (antennas) and two zactrack SMART servers, with two Trackers allocated to each actor, located on their shoulders beneath their stage clothes. This gives optimal stability, as the Anchors can always see at least one Tracker wherever the performer in positioned onstage. Valerio has been able to light the big 'production dance' number cues consistently using zactrack to accurately follow the movements of many artists simultaneously.
At one point in the show, an aerial performer is followed moving at lightning speed via zactrack, with the creation of incredible lighting movements as they jump and turn, all of which are replicated exactly for each show. This zactrack configuration – with shoulder positioning of the Trackers – also facilitates performers being accurately followed with extremely tight and narrow light beams, sometimes illuminating only the face as there is a perfect centring of the beam on the character's face. In the case of understudies having to step into a role for any performance, the Tracker positioning can be swiftly and simply recalibrated to work for that actor.
A major challenge was asking the actors to wear additional hardware on top of their radio mics, but being able to control the tracking system directly from the lighting console "opened up multiple scenarios that previously have been almost impossible", noted Valerio. This included following characters with multiple fixtures, not just with accurate lighting, but enabling a whole range of "specials" involving dynamics like colour changing, reshaping and other effects to be applied.
The eight Anchors are positioned out of the audience's view, with two on the FOH truss, two just behind the stage, two on the upstage truss and two on the first (most downstage) booms in the room to cover the entire stage area, plus selected other parts of the room that are used to help tell the story.
Finding the exact positions for these was a challenge as several scenic elements could potentially interfere with the configuration explained Emanuele Agliata, Valerio's assistant LD and main programmer.
The two zactrack servers communicate directly with the show's grandMA3 lighting console and the 60 lighting fixtures are a mix of Robe BMFL, Ayrton Eurus and Cameo Opus SP5 spots, and Martin Aura XB washes, which are among the 'base' luminaires of the show.
The grandMA3 at FOH is connected to a laptop close by used as the main zactrack server, and this close proximity is useful both during programming and for running the show, as all the ZT functions can be quickly verified, from the active Trackers to the various masks and scenes that have been created using them.
On stage, Tracker tech Maria Elena Alejandre has a tablet to rapidly identify any anomalies reported during the show by the console operator.
Zactrack Spanish distributor Earpro&EES with zactrack's direct support helped source local technicians in Madrid, including Himar Santana Sarais to co-ordinate and assist with the installation in Madrid.
Earpro&EES lighting & rigging product manager, Asier Suso, was also integrally involved in this entire process, giving technical support to Fluge – alongside zactrack – during the setup and directly assisting Himar to ensure everything went smoothly.
zactrack's quick and intuitive interface allowed the rapid tweaking of settings as needed during rehearsals and the 'dry tech' period.
During the programming and testing process we had great support from Earpro&EES and Asier, as well as from zactrack directly, a level of service that is highly valued by programmers, designers and directors. Being involved on-the-ground in this way is crucial, and we believe that this kind of backup was key to the success of the system being incorporated so seamlessly into this production, commented Alejo Arce, manager of Fluge's lighting department.
Using the various 'Scenes' in the zactrack software, automated lighting cue elements like fade in/outs, iris in/out, etc., were created in one morning, with the Pucks (another zactrack System multi-use component) positioned on the set, and the lighting team on stage moving them around to detect different zones within the general coverage area. These Scenes are then recalled and executed via the grandMA3 during playback.
As it was their first time using zactrack, Valerio and his team are very impressed and had to think out-of-the-box to seize all the new possibilities that came with implementing the system, but this has been an "exciting and enjoyable" process allowing them to learn more about how this brilliant technology can enhance their creativity and "evolve the art of lighting design", concluded Valerio.
Working closely with Valerio for the set up and technical period were associate LD and programmer Emanuele Agliati and assistant lighting designer Manuel Garzetta. Running the show day-to-day is lighting operator Susana Romero.
Valerio's main challenge and goal was to create that magical aura of "hope" in the visual storytelling, trying to move the audience both inside and outside of the factory and metaphorically in and out of the elusive dream for a better future.
He did this by applying intensely conflicting visual treatments that contrasted the scenes of real life – poor, cold but full of hope –and the magical, colourful, apparently wonderful – but also deceptive – atmosphere of the factory.
This involved a lot of thought and lighting master-craft, some cool technologies like zactrack and a host of "professional visual secrets" that Valerio says, with a cheeky wink, will remain just that!