London-based lighting designer Dan Saggars had the opportunity to put Elation’s new Artiste Picasso LED profile to the test on the new drama, Distance, at the Park Theatre in London in September and found the theatrical-grade moving head an effective multi-purpose lighting tool.

Saggars required a flexible light that could both wash wide to cover the stage and isolate for dramatic specials and placed the units in overhead and side positions to achieve the desired result. “I was able to get massive coverage with the overhead units,” the designer states, “and then extremely specific specials from the sidelights that were able to isolate areas, people, even body parts perfectly.”

Distance, which played September 5–29 in the theatre’s intimate Park 90 space, is a powerful examination of the trials and tribulations of mental illness. Male suicide provides the context for the play, an intense dramatic experience played out on an express train and through a series of flashbacks.

With a snug setting and an audience in close proximity to the emotion being played out on stage, an important criterion was a muted lighting fixture. With the low sidelight units placed only about a meter in front of the audience, fan noise was a concern. “I sat as close as I could to a sidelight Picasso unit for one of the performances and was extremely impressed with how silent it was,” Saggars comments. “I was very pleased to be able to watch the sound designer put her ear right up against the unit in search of the source of loud fan noise, only to find it coming from the sole projector up in the rig.”

Projecting texture onto the stage and set for greater contrast and depth of look was important and the designer found an array of useful graphics at his disposal. “The variance in different breakups was great and allowed me to really differ looks,” he says. “The glass gobos installed allow projection-like clarity and the image engine as a whole had really useful applications, especially when overlaying the first and second gobo wheels.”

When laying down colour, Saggars says he was able to easily shift from the naturalistic tones of a train carriage to the murky, abstract colours that reflect the inside of the protagonist’s mind. He comments: “I loved all of the pastels I was able to create – something I really struggle to find with other units. Using the colour and the gobos together produced some gorgeous results with the colour sometimes being split over the gobo, creating a two-tone look. I found it quite useful.”

With precision of illumination key to a clean look as well as elimination of excess backlight, the Picasso’s 4-blade framing shutter system allowed the designer to refine both beam shape and angle while creating some realistic effects. “The ‘two thrust motors per shutter’ system in the Picasso makes it so much easier to deal with difficult angles particularly,” he says, “but also the shutters as a whole. I made use of just how narrow the shutters were able to go to make some powerful images. I was also able to swipe the light out using the full blackout functions of the shutters – something that was really useful when dealing with a moving train.”

A smooth dimming curve is essential in theatre, and Saggars says the Picasso did not disappoint. “The super smooth dimming meant I was able to easily work in the really low-intensity range without worrying about snapping out or jumpy fades. There are whole sections where I didn’t stray above 10/20%, and the light looked just as gorgeous as it did at 100%.”

Ultimately the flexibility of the Artiste Picasso meant that Saggars was able to deal with any situation that arose. He concludes, “They seemed to excel in every situation I threw at them which is exactly what I needed in this production and will need again in many other productions. I didn’t feel like I had to succumb to what the unit was capable of doing over what I wanted it to look like. This is a huge deal for me as I feel I’m constantly adapting my vision to what a moving light unit is physically able to do – it was very freeing to not have to worry about that.”