Illuminating Worship: Lighting for Portable Churches, Part 2

Greg Persinger of lighting firm Vivid Illumination covers the details of planning power for lighting and mapping the breakers and outlets of a venue used by a portable church. 4/28/2011 7:57 AM Eastern

Illuminating Worship: Lighting for Portable Churches, Part 2

Apr 28, 2011 11:57 AM, with Bennett Liles

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Of all of the production elements that churches, especially portable churches, have to deal with lighting has always been one of the most challenging. Greg Persinger of Vivid Illumination is back to wrap up his talk with some pointers on power for lighting and dealing heat with issues for safety. That’s coming up next on the SVC podcast.
Greg, thanks for being back with me for Part 2 of Lighting for Portable Churches and Vivid Illumination in Nashville, Tennessee is your outfit. So for portable churches last time we were talking about LED lighting and some of the more common mistakes that churches make when it comes to planning their lighting. Now what’s the most important consideration when it comes to power for lighting?

Wow that’s huge because…lighting guys, we’re power hungry so the more power the better typically but I think whenever you are looking for a location I think one of the things that you have to do is you have to give consideration to how much power is available and not only for lighting because typically you’re going to have band instruments, audio and video that you’re going to power as well and so you really need to have a pretty good understanding of what you would like your service to look like and a little bit of what that’s going to take, so that whenever you go in and you do that sight survey and you’re looking at different venues to rent that you can check out the power. Because it may be one of those things that you have to negotiate in your rental would be the ability to have an electrician come in and add additional power in the room that you’re going to use. [Timestamp: 2:09]

Yeah just have enough power is the first thing to check out, but you have to have some idea of how much lighting is going to be enough for what you want to do and of course audio happens at the same time and the two don’t always get along. How do you handle power problems between audio and lighting gear?
You’re trying to get me into trouble with my audio friends aren’t you? That’s a great question. Unfortunately there is the possibility that you do have a conflict. A lot of times with portable churches you’re not using the most high-quality dimming out there available because you’re not doing an install. You’re throwing it in a road case and bouncing it down the road and a lot of times its little truss mount dimmers and they tend to bleed a little bit of RF and that can get into the audio. It goes back again to that whole power question you try to get as much separate power as possible. I want to make sure that all the grounds are good on both the audio and the lighting gear and then I want to make sure that the audio equipment is wired correctly because a lot of times when you have these issues if really go back and start checking through all of the audio cabling you find that you’ve got a shield that’s broken or you find a bad direct box or guitar pick-ups, can be really bad about picking up that RF and sometimes the audio guys just have to work to solve that problem. On the lighting side we, like I said, we want to make sure that everything is grounded because the case ground will mitigate that RF to ground but we want to make sure that all the grounds are in place—nobody’s broken off the ground pins. That’s just a safety concern as well as a noise concern. [Timestamp: 4:03]

Yeah, the XLR’s get banged around and how often do all the mic cables get checked on most of these portable set ups. And it can make a difference on the guitar lines using transformers and going low impedance a balanced mic cables on those. On the dimmers if you’re just blasting light out there at full level it’s one thing, but as soon as you start dimming that’s usually when you hear trouble.
Right, whenever you start to dim that’s whenever you start getting the dimmer switch to put off more RF and that’s whenever you hear it. Another thing that I work really hard not to do and that’s to never run the lighting data and the audio snake…I know a lot of people do that because it’s easy but first of all there’s a ability to get that cross talk between the digital data signal of the lighting console and the analog audio running down the snake and then second of all the mic cable in the audio snake is not the correct type of cable to run data over you can have issues with your data so that’s one thing and then grounding them together that’s another thing—you want to try to keep your grounds separate between your audio system and your lighting system. [Timestamp: 5:21]

And it can be a big problem just trying to get in there a head of time and finding out where all the breakers are and which one controls what outlets.
You can tell people all the time, “You have to go in and work with the venue that you’re going into,” sometimes you want to make friends with the maintenance people because a lot of times they can tell you instantly, “Yeah that’s this, this, this, and this,” and they can tell you how many circuits you have in the room and exactly what breaker panel they’re in and all of that. Sometimes they can’t and in those situations you really need to take a tester, if nothing else just a little desk lamp. Plug the desk in and then turn breakers off until you find what breaker that’s on and then go around the room and check and see what other outlets are off and then turn that breaker back on and then verify that the outlets that were off came back on so you know, “OK well these outlets are all on the same breaker” and then be sure to mark them so know or draw a little map if they don’t want you to actually take a “P” touch and actually mark the outlet then at least draw a drawing of the room and mark which outlets are what on a map and go around the room and find it all. Because I’ve had people that have said, “Oh yeah they tell us that we have ten different circuits in this room,” only to find out that they only had three circuits in the room. [Timestamp: 6:46]

And I guess it’s a good idea to have all your gear set up and turn everything on and just let it cook for a while because obviously it’s a lot better to trip breakers in a pre-service test than after everybody’s in there and you’re doing it for real.
Absolutely, I tell people that are doing portable church, I tell them, “If you can do two weeks prior to a public opening.” So typically a church will have a core group of people that are going to open and start the church and I tell them, “What you need to do is set aside two weeks, the first two weeks that you’re moving into the building to come in and set everything up exactly like you’re having church and exactly like you would when you are inviting the public in but just have church together as a core group and run everything and run everything hard and test things and test your systems and make sure you can actually get it loaded in.” If you say, “OK we’re going to start at 6 o’clock or we’re going to have church at 8 o’clock, does that two hours really give me enough time to get it all loaded in? You may find that you really need three hours and so you have to come at 5 if you’re going to have church at 8—that sort of thing. Aside from the technical things you find that running the coffee pots…are you going to trip breakers running the coffee pots? Are the coffee pots on the same breakers that you’re trying to run the lighting off of. So if you have a couple of run through’s it gives you some practice and you can work out all of the bugs and all the issues before you invite the general public in because you really only get one chance to make a really good impression for people that are coming for the first time and so you want to make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row before you get there. I think…just in making a comment towards the touring industry, one thing that people don’t see is they’ll go to a concert and they’ll walk in and they’ll think, “Man that was awesome. What a great concert.” But they don’t realize that before that concert ever went out on tour there might have been two or three months of just building technical systems and technical rehearsals and then rehearsals with the band and artists before it ever leaves and goes out on the road. And a lot of times people think, “Well now I’ve got all the stuff together, we’ve got everything purchased, we’re ready let’s go for it.” And they don’t do their due diligence. They don’t spend the time working out the bugs figuring out how they’re going to pack things…all the little mundane stuff maybe but all the stuff that makes you successful. [Timestamp: 9:19]

Illuminating Worship: Lighting for Portable Churches, Part 2

Apr 28, 2011 11:57 AM, with Bennett Liles

And the light itself from the lighting gear is always a consideration but those lighting instruments also put out a lot of heat.
Yes, yes they do and that’s one thing…I’ve been in places and they’ve gone, “Boy it was really nice when we walked in and now it’s really hot.” Its like, “Yeah can you get the air conditioner turned on?” “Gee we never thought about figuring out where the air conditioner controls are.” So that’s one thing just for our comfort level and then you also have to use common sense. You don’t want to take the lighting fixtures and you don’t want to have them pushed up tight against the wall, especially if the wall has any type of fabric or anything like that on it. You don’t want to push them into curtains—they will catch things on fire if you’re not careful. And that’s one nice benefit of LEDs—LEDs limit that a lot because they use a lot less power and put out a lot less heat but incandescent fixtures they’ll get hot enough to set things on fire if you’re not careful so you always have to keep that in mind. [Timestamp: 10: 19]

Some of the more high-end lighting gear, particularly the motorized stuff, has fans built into the lights and when you have a lot of these instruments all going at the same time that can result in a significant noise factor.
Unfortunately, I get asked all the time, “Hey I want to do this and this and this,”—especially with moving lights. “I want to do four moving lights and oh yeah, I don’t want to hear the fans run.” Well so do you not want to hear the fans run or do you not want moving lights? There’s not really…anything you can do, you have to take one with the other and so sometimes noise becomes an issue. But it also depends on where you hang the fixtures… [Timestamp: 10:59]

Yeah and the acoustics of the place.
Acoustics, yeah, the noise floor. One of my church clients that I do a live show for every Christmas they built a brand-new room. It has great acoustics and whenever I turn the moving lights on they hear all the fans and all the whining and they’re like—the audio guys are like, “Oh my gosh, listen to all that noise.” But yet once you fill the place full of…with 2,000 people that are rustling the programs and coughing and you’ve got the air conditioning on and a full choir, an orchestra and all of that the fan noise all goes away. It just drops into the background with everything else. [Timestamp: 11:41]

So when you’re hauling lighting gear around it takes a lot of wear and tear and it has to have a good control system, so what do you consider in selecting a control system? With portable churches I would think that it would have to be something that’s easy to operate.
Yes, especially with churches you have…a lot of times it’s volunteers, it’s not professional people and so you definitely want it to be easy to operate and very volunteer-friendly and so you have to do a little bit of research or work with a professional that knows what the choices are out there that can guide you to something that’s easy to use. At the same time you also, because you are bouncing it down the road every week, you also want to make sure it’s something that isn’t going to fall apart being bounced around because there are some things that are really great control systems but they’re a little fragile. They’re real sensitive to being moved around. Some things that are really, really made for the theater industry and then there’s some things that you can drop them off the back of the truck and they’ll bounce and you can plug it in and they’ll continue to work. Stuff like that that’s made for the touring industry. So that’s another consideration in that as well. [Timestamp: 12:5]

Are there any really handy widgets or tricks to making the lighting set up quick and simple with a volunteer crew?
Mark it up, mark it up, mark it up. Make sure that everything’s marked. One of my jokes when I was out touring is whenever I would get a stage hand I’d ask them first of all, “You’re not color blind are you?” and they would say, “No.” And I’m like “OK and you know you’re ABC’s and your 123’s?” And they say “Yeah”…and I’m a great—“You’re perfect for me.” Because I use extensive color coding so if you have a cable that’s red and a cable that’s purple they’re not going to go together. Red colors go to red colors and then usually I do a number or a letter or a letter and a number. It depends on what all you’re trying to put together. But the more that you mark things and mark it clearly in a logical manner the easier it is for somebody that’s not you to put it together. [Timestamp: 13:42]

Right and you can test that. I suppose the best way to do it is to have some people come in with no experience and just have them come in and see if they can hook it up right.
That’s correct. People need to be shown a little bit. If you don’t know that the red lift goes on the left and the blue lift goes on the right and the red fixtures go on the red stand and so on and so forth you’re not going to get it in the right place and the cables may not reach but if you have a basic drawing that shows how it all is supposed to go together…most of the time people can come in and learn it and be able to put it together really quickly. Hopefully they can shadow you for a week and see how it all goes together and where things go and hopefully it makes sense to them. But what I find is electrical tape, Sharpies, and spray paint are your friends. [Timestamp: 14:29]

Right, and in doing that I guess you have a good chance to assess the capabilities of the church crew.
Yes, one thing…going back to the whole marketing thing is don’t forget your cases too because a lot of times I see people they do a really great job of marketing all of their gear but they have these rows and rows and rows of black cases that all look exactly the same and you’re like, “OK so how are you supposed to know what case different things go in?” and they’re like, “Well we just go through and keep opening them up and looking until we find the case that’s marked inside as to what’s it’s supposed to be.” And I’m like, “Yeah, well if you would go through and take a can of yellow spray paint and a template and stripe or put a circle or a triangle or whatever on every one of your lighting cases you could find them really quick from across the room. And with the capabilities of a church crew you don’t ever want to over design so far beyond the capabilities of the people but I’ve never really worked with a person that couldn’t learn the system if they really wanted to if it was logical and it made sense. [Timestamp: 15:36]

And most of the time I’ve found that they tend to make up in enthusiasm for what they lack in experience so you find them ready and willing to do the job. Exactly. They just really need someone to lead them and to guide them along. Most of the guys that are out there they love to do it. It’s a hobby for them and they love to do it. They love to serve and they want to do a really good job and they want to do it to the best of their capability but as a professional I think that the thing that you always have to keep in mind is that when you go in and you work with these people they’re not professionals. I know some guys who are just incredible production people but they’re not good teachers because when they go in and they teach they’re trying to teach on a professional level and they’re trying to teach these guys to be professionals and that’s just not who they are. They may be IT guys during the week or computer programmers or cabinet makers—all different people from all different walks of life that come and be church production people on the weekend and you have to remember…always keep that in mind that, “Hey this is not their full time job and they’re never going to be professional level people,” but that doesn’t mean they can’t do what they do in their sphere well. [Timestamp: 16:51]

All right, lighting for portable churches and it’s always a challenge but that’s what keeps things interesting and I appreciate your giving us some pointers for lighting for portable church. It’s Greg Persinger with Vivid Illumination in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks for being here Greg.

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