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Seeing Meany in a New Light

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Most audience members attending a performance in Meany Hall are unaware of the technical work that takes place behind the scenes. 

Before and during performances, Meany’s technical staff ensures that the sound, lighting, and other technical aspects of a production are running smoothly. For the lighting technicians, the job just got a whole lot easier, thanks to a $2.9 million renovation of Meany’s lighting system. 

Ryan Hendricks, lead electrician for Meany Hall, sits at the light console for the new lighting system.

Ryan Hendricks, lead electrician for Meany Hall, sits at the light console for the new lighting system. Media credit: Mary Levin

The system was first installed in the 1970s, when the building was completed. By the mid-1990s it was clear that an entirely new system was needed: technology had changed drastically, there were safety concerns with the existing system, and repairs were becoming a challenge since many parts were no longer manufactured.

A theatre consultant worked with Meany staff to design a new system. The College of Arts and Sciences and the Provost’s Office provided the funds to purchase and install it last summer.

An important aspect of the new lighting system is the greater flexibility it provides—a big plus since lighting needs vary for each production at Meany, with up to seven different productions scheduled in a given week. “Now we can work more efficiently,” says Tom Burke, Meany’s technical director. “We’re in the twenty-first century of lighting technology.”

There’s also the issue of quantity. The new system has the capacity of up to 700 dimmers, or individual lighting controls. The previous system had just over 100 dimmers. “In the past, we would have to rent additional dimmers for many shows,” says Burke. “That would cost us $1,000 or more for a week.”

All of these improvements translate to a much calmer work environment. 

“The Meany staff used to have an electrician on stage during bigger shows, just to solve problems,” says Marty Howlett, project manager with the Capital Projects Office. “When something didn’t work, everyone would turn to him and he would trace down the problem. This was invisible to the audience, of course, but there was just mad scrambling backstage. The Meany staff no longer has those problems. Now the electrician can focus on running the light board rather than solving problems.”

Is there any downside to the new lighting system? Burke admits there may be one.

“Now the house lights are brighter,” he says. “The first time we turned them on, we all looked at the aging floor and carpet and said, ‘Eek! Did it always look like that?