May 5, 2010

The Space Pen: A Stage Manager’s Best Friend

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:42 am

If you’re a stage manager, maybe something like this has happened to you:
You’re out at dinner with your cast or crew, and at the end of the meal everybody is paying with credit cards and the waiter drops off the receipts and doesn’t have, or forgets to leave, a pen. Then everybody looks at you — and this is one of those evenings, you’ve dropped all your stuff at the hotel or whatever and are enjoying the rare opportunity to just go somewhere without lugging all your crap — and you don’t have a pen. And then everyone else at the table is like, “What? A stage manager without a pen?”

You may mutter something about not being at work, but then secretly you spend the rest of the outing suspecting that you may be a failure as a human being because you are at once a stage manager, and not within reach of a pen 24 hours a day.

This exact event has happened to me a lot in life, but as a kid who used to wear a pocket protector in my Catholic school uniform shirt (simultaneously with a fanny pack, while lugging an overstuffed backpack as big as me), I have fought hard to convince myself that it’s OK not to carry the kitchen sink on my person at all times.

Recently the above situation happened several times in one week, and aside from the embarrassment, the actual inconvenience of not having a pen started to get to me, and I decided that it’s time for me to suck it up and carry a pen everywhere I go. I already knew which pen it would be, one that I already purchased for this purpose years ago, but didn’t adopt steady use of.

Ever since I forced myself to start carrying it all the time, I have been surprised how many times it’s come in handy. Sometimes I forget I’m carrying it, and it’s been very exciting to discover, “wait, I do have a pen!”

I don’t want to recommend a specific pen too strongly, any compact pen would be better than none, but this one is a very good choice. It’s very small and smooth so it fits comfortably in the corner of my front pants pocket, it has a clip so it won’t fall out, and it’s a matte black so you can always be wearing it, even in show blacks. It’s very small when the cap is on, but very well constructed so that it is full sized and well balanced when you are writing with it.

Being a space pen, it can write for long periods against walls and at other odd angles you sometimes end up needing to write on backstage, as well as on wet paper (such as drawing on a cocktail napkin when having a debate with your crew), in extreme temperatures, and, if your show should be going on a really expensive, really long-distance tour, in space.

March 17, 2010

Flashlight Adventures: Novatac 120T

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:28 pm

Getting a new flashlight has been something of an obsession of mine since we were in Pittsfield, MA, where the light board, SM desk and sound console were all in a row behind the back row of the theatre. At intermission, Devon, Matt and I all stayed at our spots and geeked out over flashlights, mostly Matt’s, and passed them back and forth.

Matt had the Surefire Aviator, which is very cool, mostly because of the intuitive way it works: push a little for a green (or red or blue if you prefer) LED, push a lot for bright white. Twisting the cap works the same way. However, it’s very expensive, even as expensive flashlights go ($239). It’s also just as big as the current Surefire flashlights I have (the 6P and the G2), which I don’t like because I can’t reach the tailcap while also shielding the light with my hand (which is rarely that important — the only situation in the entire theatrical universe I’m aware of where you need that much control over a light is when decking The Phantom of the Opera, but unfortunately if I’m going to drop that kind of money on another flashlight, that’s what it needs to be able to do.) While I greatly admire the Aviator, it’s just not for me at that price.

The other light he has is from a brand I was unfamiliar with: Novatac. They don’t make as many different models as Surefire, but they also provide tactical flashlights for law enforcement and folks like that.

The one Matt has, that I ordered, is the 120T — which is really small, only takes one 123A battery, and provides 120 lumens at its maximum brightness, but also has two other brightness levels of .3 and 10 lumens. It also has a “disorienting strobe” feature, which is great if you want to stun a perp so you can take him down, or if you’re doing a production of Gypsy in your living room.

Novatac also sells a highly customizable programmable version, which is controlled with a single button. I read the whole user manual, which is fascinating, but decided against it when they said “if your flashlight does x you may need to perform a soft reset.” I’m sorry, I’m a computer person, but my flashlight is one thing that should not ever need to be soft reset. The programmable one is also more expensive and harder to find discounted on Amazon. The 120T retails for $149, but is frequently offered for less on Amazon through third-party sellers, and now by Amazon themselves: NovaTac 120T Tactical LED Flashlight. When I finally purchased it, it was $100, which is the lowest I’ve seen it. I had planned to use my Amazon credit card gift certificates to pay for the whole thing, but they have been stuck in the mail for a month, and I gave up waiting.

To make myself feel better about this unnecessary delay, I took advantage of the quick shipping time predicted and had it sent to our hotel in West Palm Beach, where it arrived today, rather than having to wait until we’re on vacation.

Of course as this is our day off, I haven’t had any time to actually use it in a real-world setting, any more than I already have by trying out Matt’s. But I’m very excited to begin. Once I’ve had some time with it, I’ll add it to the tool reviews on the site.


While the flashlight is definitely bright and easily portable, one thing I’ve learned is that it requires good batteries to get the most out of it. 123A batteries are very expensive (about $7 each if you buy them in a drug store or something), and I have purchased mine at bulk rates of about $1.50 each for years without thinking anything of it. One day months ago, Matt ran out of juice and I gave him one of my batteries. He immediately noticed how cheap my batteries were. I can’t say it’s ever bothered me when using a Surefire or other high-end flashlight. I’m sure they don’t last as long, or shine quite as bright, but the Novatac really suffers and flickers with the lower-quality battery, and I noticed it right away the first time I had to change the batteries. Thankfully it only requires one battery.

April 4, 2008

Flashlight Discoveries

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:01 pm

This is a recap of some stuff I discovered, mainly while working on Frankenstein.
Being a stage manager, I’m naturally somewhat obsessed with flashlights, and at some point earlier in my career when searching for new toys, stumbled on the site photonlight.com. I had purchased a Photon Microlight II much earlier, at Eastern Mountain Sports or one of those places, and wore it on a chain around my neck as an all-purpose last-resort flashlight that would always be on my person. I considered it a step up from a bite light, as it had a pushbutton for momentary use, and a tiny switch so it could be left on. Thus, you could hold it in your teeth or in your hand, but without the need to actually bite on it or squeeze it to make it work. This was all well and good until I discovered the rich variety of small LED lights they sell online.

Specifically, the Photon Freedom Micro. It’s insane. It does all sorts of complicated things with only one button, I don’t even remember how to use them all.

The ones that I use:
1. Press the button, the light comes on. Press again to turn it off. Simple enough.

2. If you’re like me, and reading Howard McGillin’s crossword puzzle while stuck for 10 minutes on a bridge over the stage of the Majestic Theatre, you might not want to turn the light on to its full power, even when using a colored LED. If the light is off, simply hold down the button. This will slowly increase the brightness from nothing, and when you let go it stops at that level. So if you want only a teeny-tiny amount of light, let go as soon as it starts to light up. It’s awesome. It also works in reverse, if the light is on and you hold down the button, it dims until you let go. Once you turn it off it will return to full brightness next time you press the button.

3. It can also do crazy things like flash at different rates, or even automatically flash SOS over and over.

Next comes the ability to customize your light. For the housing there are obvious colors like black and various camo shades, but you can also get it in more funky colors. The one I use for the stage is the black covert housing, which has a little plastic hood that covers the sides of the LED, so you can only see the light when it’s pointed right at you, and the beam doesn’t spill all over the place. I have a second light with a white LED, which I keep on my keychain for general illumination, and that’s in the “fashion blue” color, just because it looks cool.

Then you get to choose the color of the LED, which offers a wide variety of choices. It should be noted that not all the colors are available with all body styles. You may have to get black or camo to get the color LED you want. The full list of colors are: white, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, purple, and for a few dollars more, you can even get IR or UV light. I went with turquoise for mine, because it has night vision properties, but it’s not as dark as blue, so it gives more natural illumination. I am completely opposed to using red-gelled flashlights onstage. Unless perhaps you’re doing Sweeney Todd, if the red spills anywhere that the audience can see it, it will stick out like a sore thumb, whereas shades of blue will probably blend in with your lighting better. So I’ve been really happy with the turquoise color.

Finally, you get some accessories in the box. I didn’t think much of these, since I was accustomed to using the small keychain ring on the old one to wear it on a chain around my neck. The Freedom comes with two clip accessories that the light can pop into. The first has a simple loop on it to be used on a lanyard or anywhere else you might want to tie a string through it. I still use this through the chain around my neck, but now with the advantage that I can pop it off at a moment’s notice to point it at something far away from my neck, or (gasp!) let someone else borrow it. And despite my initial fears, I have never had it pop out of the clip unexpectedly.

The other accessory is this amazing device that has an alligator clip with a magnetic base, so you can either clip it or magnetically attach it to something, and the light is held on a swivel so you can aim it wherever you want. As you can see the guy in the picture is wearing it on his hat. This summer I didn’t have a bedside lamp at the apartment I was staying at, so I stuck mine to the metal bedpost and used it as a reading light. But the moment that changed my life was when we started tech for Frankenstein and I attempted to clip it to my headset, on the side of the not-covered ear. I had one of the really lightweight Clearcom headsets, and the clip jiggled around on the thin metal band. I rolled a thin strip of gaff tape around the band until it was just thick enough for the clip to hold firmly, and there it remained until the show closed. Words cannot express how helpful that clip was. I was wearing way too many hats on that show, and the ability to turn on the light with one press and then be able to work handsfree was amazing. Thanks to the ability to turn the light at any angle, I could give it a quick twist and have it point exactly where I was looking, or at a different angle, so my head could be looking down at the cue light while the light was aimed up at the tape marks on the ropes I was pulling. The other cool thing was that because of the clip-in holders, at the end of the show I was able to easily pop the light out of the holder on my headset and place it back in the holder around my neck, so I didn’t have to leave it at the theatre.


Because I’m obsessed with flashlights, I often use two during a performance — one for when a small amount of light is needed, and one for when I need a lot of light. My light of choice for the “a lot of light” category has always been the Surefire 6P. It’s reeeeeaaaalllly bright. With a Xenon bulb the battery life is pretty terrible (something like 1 hour), and the camera batteries it takes can be expensive, even when purchased in bulk. I noticed on Frankenstein that my batteries for both flashlights were running out too quickly for my tastes. I was getting less than two weeks out of the Surefire, and this distressed me, especially since I wasn’t even using it for the vast majority of my cues. I was bitching about it one night on headset, when our electrician mentioned that she had an LED Surefire, and it got much better battery life. I wasn’t even aware that Surefire had made an LED equivalent of the 6P, and I doubted it could come anywhere near the brightness of the Xenon bulb. She assured me that it was at least bright enough to see into a grid, and offered to let me play with it. A few days later I stood on the stage with my 6P and hers (which is called the G2), and shone both of them around the theatre — up to the balcony, into dark corners, etc. What I found when comparing them against a spot in the back of the balcony was that the G2 exhibits that weird murky gray-blue quality that all white LEDs have, and that the 6P was more naturally picking up the vibrant colors of the walls and doors, etc. But while the 6P was more pleasing to the eyes, the G2 was illuminating the same area well enough, and the tradeoff for better battery life seemed worth it. I ordered a G2 the next day.

The other fun thing about having a Surefire is that we had a little bit of a shadow play at one point in the show, and during understudy rehearsals I would stand behind our “Creature” and hold the Surefire next to the instrument that would be illuminating him, and the beam was strong enough even under worklight to allow him, the PSM and dance captain sitting in the house to see the shadows and work on his performance of them. You can’t do that with a maglite.

I should also mention that I also have the flip-off blue filter for the Surefire. Mine is the older style, from my 6P, but I found with some elbow grease it fit on the G2 as well. Most of the time when I use the flashlight during performance, it’s with the filter on.

Since all my batteries had been sucked up by the show, I placed a bulk battery order at the same time as I ordered the G2. When my Photon light would die, it was a tragedy. Radio shack charged something like $6 for each watch battery, of which I needed two. Twelve dollars in batteries for that tiny little light, it was almost as expensive as buying the batteries for the Surefire at retail. So I ordered a bunch of the lithium batteries for the Surefire, and also found that I could get the same watch batteries for the Photon that I bought for $6 at Radio Shack, for 51 cents!!! Needless to say I ordered a ton of them. I found the G2, and the batteries at Brightguy.com.

I hope you’ll find these products as useful as I did. I was so excited the day the order from Brightguy arrived at the theatre, I stabbed myself with my Leatherman while trying to pry off the battery door on the Photon light. I recommend the small screwdriver tip for that now, not the point of the huge freakin’ razor-sharp blade.

And finally, frequent readers will know I hate posting pictures of myself, but I feel this really requires an illustration of the headset mounting trick for the Photon light, and it so happens the only pictures of it I have include my head within the headset, so here you go: