(Photography: Joan Marcus)
In 2016, the wildly successful musical “Hamilton” became the most-nominated production in Tony Award history, with 16 nominations and 11 wins, including “Best Lighting Design of a Musical.” Six months after first opening the show at The Public Theater, the lighting team began looking for quiet, reliable lighting fixtures for its Broadway engagement and national tour. In order to meet production demands and provide audiences with an intimate and engaging experience, Lighting Designer Howell Binkley and Lighting Programmer David Arch selected Martin MAC Viper Performance fixtures for their performance, versatility and quiet operation.
“After we did ‘Hamilton’ at the Public Theater, we knew that one of our top priorities would be to keep the lighting rig quiet,” said Arch. “When we moved the show to Broadway, the lighting trim heights became much higher. So, we looked for fixtures that would give us outstanding performance and be quiet at the same time. We had worked with MAC Viper Performance fixtures before and had great success with them. They’ve become very popular on Broadway because of their reliability, feature set and quiet operation. I like that Martin has great customer service, and their R&D team keeps developing and pushing the envelope. The MAC Viper fixtures were the right choice for us.”
“Hamilton” is the sixth collaboration between Arch and Binkley, who have worked together on a number of highly acclaimed productions, including “Memphis,” “In the Heights,” “West Side Story,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” The lighting is an important element of “Hamilton,” which features an innovative and unique design that perfectly complements the unconventional production. Working within the Tony Award-nominated set design by David Korins, the lighting was called upon to set the mood, location and time of day for many different scenes. Another unique aspect of the show’s design involves the lighting rig itself. Most shows on Broadway go to great lengths to hide the lighting from the audience, but in “Hamilton,” the lights are exposed and clearly visible. This design choice helps convey the hip-hop aspect of the show.
“In most productions, we go to a lot of trouble to mask the source of light, because we don’t want it to distract from the storytelling,” said Arch. “In this show, you walk in and the overhead rig is clearly visible. During the show, the set and costumes stylistically reflect the period and setting, but with the light rig exposed, it feels more like you’re at a concert. There’s a disjointedness between all of these elements, which was a conscious design choice. The approach to the lighting and the show’s design help take you into a different space. It’s definitely more in your face than most Broadway shows.”
With up to eight performances every week, reliability was also a key concern. The production team only has one hour each day before the show opens to inspect the lighting rig, so it was important to deploy fixtures that could withstand the demanding production schedule and deliver reliable performance.
“Reliability is key to us on Broadway, where we’re doing up to eight shows a week,” Arch said. “We’ve only replaced one Martin fixture in a year, which is pretty amazing. This reliability helps keep the integrity of the design.”
Many thanks to David Arch for sharing his “Hamilton” insights with us. Are you a theater lighting designer who has had issues with noisy lights? If so, share your experience in the comments.