Panto is finally over!

January 12th, 2012 No comments

This is ever so slightly overdue, but here it is anyway.

For the latter part of last year, it seemed that every spare minute I had was spent on various projects in preparation for Nairn Drama Club’s 2011 Christmas panto, i.e. fitting 32A sockets, relocating panel heaters, fixing 21 emergency lights, relocating audio amplifiers, PAT testing, designing and hiring/buying the lighting, planning and buying pyrotechnics, designing the sound effects, planning and buying video equipment, amongst other things… All of this wouldn’t have been too bad if I hadn’t managed to get a full time job in the middle of this! Anyway, it all worked out and the show went on.

Every year we try to improve on the last panto and this year for ‘Snow White’ we had two extra elements – video and pyrotechnics. The pyro was needed for a couple of magic spells, and the video was needed for the magic mirror.

This was the first time I’d used pyro in the theatre, as there are two key things against us – smoke detectors and low stage height. We did some testing very early on to see if we could use theatrical flashes for some magical effects, and to our surprise we found we could safely use the medium sized ones within the space we had available, as long as we isolated a couple of smoke detectors. Additionally for added effect during the walkdown, a Chinese Confetti Airburst was added.

The design of the magic mirror caused a degree of hassle, but eventually it was agreed to simply use a flat screen tv rather than to try and use front or rear projection, as the director originally wanted. All this then took was the purchase of a long HDMI cable and it was largely sorted.

The run of shows went well, and everybody said it was the best one yet! Will I do the panto again this year – who knows – I always say never again, but somehow end up doing it none the less!

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Life under the treads

August 1st, 2011 No comments

I managed to land a couple of weeks work at Eden Court Theatre, on the stage crew of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The work was fairly straight forward. On day one we had to unload three lorry trailers and assemble the complete set. For the next twelve days we did the actual shows. This involved sweeping, hoovering, and mopping the entire set before each show. In the first act I’d make sure the stage-left sheep ‘coffin’ rolled on and off stage without crashing into anything, then collecting a couple of camel heads. In the interval there’s the mad rush to get all of the confetti hoovered up, the gold chariot moved to the stage-left wing, the lamp-post prepared and the tread truck tested. Finally in act two I was one of the two people that lived under the blue steps (tread truck) that you see in the photo above, pushing it on and off stage as required. This simple task can get a tad surreal when the two smoke machines and four strobe surrounding us start going full blast! Another thing we had to do was get the previously mentioned lamp-post off the stage in a very, very short blackout. After the last performance there was then the mad rush to get everything disassembled and put back in the lorry trailers, ready for the whole process to begin again the following day at the Theatre Royal Windsor.

Overall it wasn’t a bad experience, although after 20 performances the songs do start to get to you! I’d certainly do it again if given the chance.

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The addictiveness of OpenStreetMap

June 26th, 2011 No comments

I must have some map geek tendencies, since in the past month I’ve probably spent around 100 hours updating the Nairn and Forres areas on OpenStreetMap. It’s just surprisingly addictive. You go into correct one place name, then you notice a road is not aligned correctly, then draw in a missing building… 18 hours later (no joke) you find that you’ve tweaked most of Nairnshire, and missed a number of meals!

So over the past month around Nairn and Forres, I’ve added almost all of the land-use boundaries, unclassified roads, the 33KV distribution network, hundreds of buildings, and realigned most roads to match the latest aerial photography. There’s still loads do, but I’m only spending maybe an hour each day on a small area each time. You can see a history of all my edits at http://www.openstreetmap.org/user/BryceDRM/edits.

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An app from my past

June 25th, 2011 No comments

I came across some screenshots today of an application I developed almost a decade ago, when I worked for Ad Rem. It was called ‘Factor GIS’ and was a rural estate management database that tied into ESRI ArcView GIS.

The main application was developed using Delphi, and consisted of a main executable and numerious DLLs – one for each optional module.

The GIS extensions were are combination of ArcView’s Avenue scripting language and more DLLs which provided more attractive dialogues.

The whole thing used a MS Access database, which although was less than ideal, still worked. The main application accessed the database using BDE, and ArcView used ODBC. Inter-application communication was by means of DDE.

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Projects on the back burner

June 22nd, 2011 No comments

For the last month I haven’t had a chance to tackle any of the projects I talked about previously. Between doing numerous repair jobs on the farm, and some casual work at Eden Court Theatre, I’ve been somewhat distracted. With that all now out of the way, plus a mountain of other little tasks now dealt with, I think I can now hopefully get back to what I said I was going to do. We’ll see soon enough…

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Future projects

May 26th, 2011 No comments

Write a sound cue application

This has been on my to-do list for aeons. Up until now I’ve used a couple of applications (free and paid) for playing back sound cues during theatre shows, but they’ve all had their problems. The paid app has actually been more problematic, but it does have very useful features.

Now I can live with the problems, but I’d quite like to roll my own app largely as an excuse to learn C# and .net. I was initially hesitant about how well .net could handle playing back multiple audio streams in real-time, but the tests that I’ve done so far indicate that it should be fine.

Install new overhead mics

Microphone over stage area

The Little Theatre has a single overhead mic located above the stage area, that feeds the show relay and induction loop system. It serves its purpose as it is, but it’s far from ideal. It picks up a lot of unwanted background noise (the stage rigging mostly), and doesn’t have wide enough coverage to pick-up voices from anywhere but near the centre of the stage.

The plan is to purchase a couple of cheap mini shotgun mics (Pulse NPCD664) and hang these as low as possible a metre or so in front of the main curtain. These mics may not be a big name brand, but a lot of people use them for this purpose and find them perfectly acceptable. All I need now is to get the okay at the next committee meeting.

Redesign control box

Sound and lighting control box

Another project that needs done at The Little Theatre, is to completely redesign the layout of the control-box, since it is far from the most comfortable place to work in. The main problem is that the desk level and seating aren’t compatible, so I usually end up standing for most of the shows. Another problem is that the control box is also home to two noisy amplifiers, so there has to be a window isolating the box from the auditorium. This is far from ideal when trying to judge sound levels, or simply communicating with people on stage during a rehearsal.

So what I need to do is adjust the level of the existing worktop and floor riser, to allow people to sit comfortably. It sounds simple enough, but there are 13A sockets to move, racking to adjust, findind new locations for the DVD player, VHS player and the intercom PSU. Move the amplifiers to the cupboard underneath the control box, and extend all the cables to fit. So there’s lots of little things to do, but firstly I just need to draw up a new layout, and figure out where I can place everything in this small space.

Installing backstage ‘blues’ lighting

May 16th, 2011 No comments

A project that I recently completed, was to install ‘blues’ around the stage area at The Little Theatre in Nairn. In case you don’t know, ‘blues’ is simply the name given to the low level working lights for the cast and crew working in the wings. Typically these are just low wattage lights with a dark blue filter on them, hence then name.

So The Little Theatre up until now got blues lighting from whatever stage lanterns I had spare, which was a struggle at times since we haven’t a massive stock of lanterns. It also relied on there being a dimmer channel spare, which is sometimes also a struggle. I decided after last year’s panto that we should consider putting in a permanent set of lights, and after pricing it I found that it could be done for about £150.

After getting the okay from the committee, I ordered up the various parts, which was basically some birdies (PAR16‘s), bulbs, conduit, cable, and miscellaneous other bits and pieces to join it altogether. I think it took about 5 afternoons in total to get everything installed. The biggest challenge was drilling about 50 holes in the concrete block wall, as it just seemed to eat drill bits!

The end result of all this work is three independent sets of lights controlled from a triple gang switch in the prompt corner. There are 3 lights in the stage-left wing, 3 upstage on the back wall, and 2 in the stage-right wing, all with 35w bulbs and a dark blue filter. After a quick test it looks like I may need to need to reduce the wattage of some of the bulbs, because there is a bit of light spilling onto the stage, but I have some 20w bulbs spare anyway. In the future I plan to swap the tungsten bulbs for the blue LED equivalent.

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Welcome!

May 2nd, 2011 No comments

Welcome! Somehow you’ve stumbled onto my personal website. There’s not much here at the moment, but give me some time, and I’ll add more content.

For now, please check out my about me page.

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