If you have been tasked with the responsibility of buying a theatrical lighting system online, it is likely that you have some basic level of understanding of lighting components, systems and design. Let’s assume that you are as novice as they come since the basics of where and how to buy theatrical lighting systems online will apply to everyone from the novice to the fairly experienced lighting designer. The first and most obvious step is to have a pretty firm idea of what considerations you must make before even beginning to shop.
Since this is likely your first lighting system, it may be for a youth group, drama society, school or church hall. The first consideration is what is the focus of your space? Many non-professional groups have a wide range of lighting requirements, so you must first have a good handle on the stage space as well as the types of productions/events that will take place. Given theater dimensions and budget constraints, if you’re a practical person with pretty good discipline, you can project out to the first several years rather than just considering the first production/event so that you have some level of versatility.
Once you have projected out a little ways, bring it back to its basic components. The important thing to remember is that there are three major parts to a lighting system:
- Control Console
At this point you bring the budget into the equation to add a dose of reality to the endeavor with the following questions:
- How much can you afford to spend on a lighting system? The best answer is to spend as much as you can afford, which will pay off in the long run in a number of practical and financial ways.
- Who will operate the system and what level of experience do they have?
- How many areas or functional zones will you be lighting and do you need a channel or more for each area?
- How many different looks will you need for any given performance while leaving some room for expansion?
As the HEART and workhorse of your lighting system, you should choose a dimmer that has proven reliability. The dimmer needs will be informed by the needed fixtures, which in turn will inform the number and placement of electrical bars. Several of the more important questions based on these criteria are:
- Is the dimmer 100-percent Duty Cycle?
- What are the minimal amounts and positions of electrical bars: A back, a center, and an FOH bar
- What types and amount of instruments do you envision per bar
At this point, you may find yourself out of your depth in terms of narrowing decisions down to size and features of a console, number of dimmers and the specific number and type of fixtures you will need. This is where it becomes important as to where you buy the theatrical lighting system online.
If you are anyone other than a highly experienced lighting designer/system designer, the first consideration in where to buy is understanding the company’s breadth of experience in terms of clients and years that they have been in business. It’s a good idea to do your homework and see where other groups in a similar position and with similar types of needs in terms of productions and budgets have had success with companies online.
Another important consideration at this point is to look at online suppliers from the standpoint of asking “Do they only cater to professionals or do they also have a track record working with non-professionals?” Ideally you are looking for the company that runs the gamut so that they are capable of providing quality equipment for introductory systems from industry standard companies as well as the top-end gear from those same manufacturers.
The supplier should be more than a reseller; they should be a company that also has a design and installation team with a portfolio of projects and references to share. Even experienced lighting designers will want support in terms of design and installation support.
Ideally, you want to find a full service company that provides design and installation staff. It is imperative that the internal staff has a professional history in the industry as professional theatre technicians. This ensures that they are highly experienced professionals that are familiar with all types of equipment, installations and needs.
Once these considerations have been met, it is then a good idea to look for those companies that have an extensive online catalog as well as a hard copy catalog that can be easily ordered. Both should have high quality photos, intuitive product categories and pricing that allows comparison with other resellers. In addition, the company should provide live support either that you can call in order to ask questions and/or have an online chat feature.
Lastly, the company you choose should have a track record of longtime support for its clients. In other words, they should be a company that is there for their clients after the installation to answer any questions and make any reasonable adjustments. Over time, every theatre will need to make expansion or changes to a lighting system, and the goal is to find the right company that is geared to development of long-term client relationships in order to address those needs over time.