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Story: LED Lights for UTEP Theater

This project comprised a press release, photos, and video interview.

I served as writer and video segment producer. 

Theater Students Learn to Light With LEDs

EL PASO, Texas. – Twenty-six CHAUVET® fixtures were used in one of the first all-LED theatrical productions held in the Wise Family Theater at University of Texas at El Paso. Hideaki Tsutsui, lighting designer and assistant professor for University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), realized his year-long “green project” by mounting the recent production of The Three Musketeers. Twelve COLORado™ 2 wash lights were used as front lights, six Q-Spot™ 260-LED moving heads were employed for moving light and gobos upstage, while eight COLORpalette™ wash lights uplit the backdrop and were mounted at the foot of the stage.


Tsutsui’s project was inspired in part by an energy bill, to take effect in 2012, which phases out incandescent light bulbs by 2014. He began thinking how this applied to his work in the theater and the techniques taught to his students using traditional, incandescent lighting. This thought, coupled with the advancement of LED fixtures, became the foundation of his project.


“In our industry LED technology is something that we can’t ignore anymore,” Tsutsui said. “Looking at the future, and thinking about how I can develop myself, and the students, for this new technology, I thought we should do a show with 100 percent LED [lights].”


Tsutsui began by measuring the power used during his final production of the 2010 school season, which used 100 percent incandescent lighting. The process of measuring this consumption proved to be quite an undertaking, which spawned another idea. For this, Tsutsui sought the advice from UTEP’s engineering department, which led to a senior project for three engineering students to create a wireless device to measure power consumption.


“One of the benefits of LED is it takes less energy,” Tsutsui said. “I knew going into this project that I wanted to compare a show [using] 100 percent incandescent lamp and how much electricity we used for [it]. Then a year later do a show, in the same time slot, that was 100 percent LED and measure the power consumption to see how much we save in electricity.”


Fast forward one year, stopping just one month before the final show for the 2011 season, The Three Musketeers, we find Tsutsui—face-to-face with his deadline. His project loomed before him and he was uncertain. He had some LED fixtures on loan, some on the way, and the daunting feeling he would not meet his goal. After reaching out to CHAUVET®, he secured the last group of LED fixtures he needed to finalize his production.


“This is probably one of the largest sets we had,” Tsutsui said, “and I thought to be able to light this, I’m going to need a lot of LED.”


The next step was to program the show. This proved an arduous lesson not only for Tsutsui, but his students as well. An all-LED production was not what they were used to, what they had learned, what they memorized gel colors for—it was all new. Kind of like driving someone else’s car for the first time.


“I was skeptical if I could actually light a theatrical show with LEDs, thinking about all the areas, lighting the set. I was pleasantly surprised [to learn] how the technology today can really deliver.”


Two days before the show opened Tsutsui, about to see his year-long dream become a reality, was ready. As the last details of the set were painted, the stage swept, and the sound tested, Tsutsui was able to look up at the lighting rig with confidence. His project complete.


Opening night, the show met a full audience waiting to be swash buckled, not realizing they were also about to see one of the first, all-LED theatrical performances unfold before their eyes.

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