A Day Trip to Blackburn / by Rob Halliday

Exchange, Blackburn, during set-up

Exchange, Blackburn, during set-up

Rob was delighted to be able to squeeze in a day trip to Blackburn to help an old friend, lighting designer and visual artist Jen Kagan, with her project to use light to bring new life to the Blackburn Cotton Exchange as part of the Blackburn Festival of Light.

Rob has known and worked with Jen since 1993’s production of Piaf starring Elaine Paige, and their work together has included both re-creating existing productions (including David Hersey’s designs for Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Oliver! and Oklahoma!) and creating new designs for show such as Pan in Australia and the 2004 tour of Miss Saigon.

Jen has gone on to a successful career creating events and experiences that use the techniques of lighting and stagecraft to create interactive installation work to tell unique stories.

The Blackburn project sought a light-based scheme to bring the Cotton Exchange building - long subdivided into cinemas, now stripped back to its ceiling and walls but in a rather run-down state - to life, both to remind people of its grandeur and to raise the possibility of it taking on a new life, possibly as a performing arts venue.

Jen’s scheme combined lighting and video projection playing through the dramatic windows that run the length of the building.

With the project supported by local supplier HSL, an assortment of efficient, reliable equipment is in use - an important consideration given that the scheme must run for three months with minimal running costs and maintenance requirements. Control is from an ETC Ion console, which receives MIDI triggers from a series of ‘doorbells’ positioned outside the venue, allowing passers-by to trigger different events within the building; the Ion, in turn, triggers the video playback system, and also starts and stops the lighting at the start and end of each evening using real-time events.

Rob spent a day in Blackburn helping to configure the Ion, setting up a user-friendly magic sheet interface, a cue structure, chases, MIDI triggers and more (as well as focussing a few lights!), and then provided telephone support as the project moved to its opening night.

The project is in action now, and runs through to February 2019.

Blackburn Cotton Exchange Light Project: [link]
Jen Kagan: [link]
HSL: [link]
Blackburn Festival of Light: [link]