My other role, apart from building the set, in the show is operating the follow spots. The follow spot is a usually narrow beam of light used to specifically follow or highlight a performer on stage. It is mounted so that it is movable and thus is live-operated for each show, unlike the other light fixtures which are pre-programmed by the designer. The follow spots have its roots in Scotland where the ‘limelight’, a very intens
e light source, was developed in 1826. Later on, lenses were fitted on these lights and they became the first modern theatre lighting spotlights. Traditionally, follow spots are used as hard edged spots to single out focus towards a character. In musicals, follow spots are usually only utilized in songs to give the singer a boost and isolate them from the other characters on stage. Designing for a musical with access to follow spots is much easier than without follow spots. They allow a designer a peace of mind in that their singers during a music number will be lit regardless of where they stand or walk and the designer can then repurpose other static light fixtures.
The two follow spots used are ‘Lekolites’ (Lekos) or Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlights (ERS), which are the same fixtures for the static spot lights from the front of house and overhead, just rigged up so that operators can freely pan and tilt them. This allows the spots to be controlled and dimmed by the light-board, rather than having the spots as separate entities. It also means that the quality of light coming from the spots will be the same as the other front light in the show and will be able to blend into the look of the scene. The Lekos have an iris inserted to allow control like a regular follow spot and the focus can be altered by the barrel. Frost gels were placed in order to diffuse the light and create a soft focus. This helps to blend the spots into the look and at the same time fool the audience in case of any blind targeting mistakes. As there are no sights for us as operators to target with, therefore most of the time we are guessing where the beam of light will appear onstage and hope it hits our target actor. The soft edges for the spots also fall in line with the artistic vision of the show, where it is a representation of a historical time period, and is based in realism and not a chorus-line showcase type musical. That being said, there are two scenes I would perhaps change for a hard focus spots: Crime of the Century and Atlantic City, where they are both representations of the Vaudeville show industry of the time.
In addition to the follow spots, the design for Ragtime also uses moving lights to fill in dark spots and to create motional effects in the scenes. A lighting designer despises a set that has many cross structures, like the arches and the two distinct deep-set levels of the set and it is the fear of a designer that someone will line up in a dark spot on stage. The arches and columns in the front of the set eliminate the range of angles that the designer can use as the lights will cast shadows on the actors. The area under the platform ends up the most restricted as no top light or front light will reach the actors under there—only side lights are accessible in this case. But the area under the platforms is only used for dancing, therefore side lights were enough. Feasible options on the top level end up being direct front light, top light along the length of the strip and back light. This reduces the types of lighting that can be used and the array of architecture that can be created on the bodies. The structures on the set also end up creating dark spots that stage lighting cannot reach and these become evident during technical and dress rehearsals when actors start to fill the space. Thus, moving lights were brought in to fill spot these areas. The moving lights were also used to create motion effects for specific scenes. Gobo rotators were also used in conjunction to create the image of snow falling and the fires burning: these looked absolutely stunning and add to the realism Ragtime plays upon.