Rocking the house

“Finally, something worth talking about!”

And by that I mean, “Finally! Something I have time to talk about!”

Last January, during the terrific run of Out of Sterno, Linda Bower approached me about a show she was slated to direct during the coming season.  Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grill was a very intriguing show with some interesting technical challenges ranging from set construction and props to lighting and sound.

Well, here we are almost 10 months later and as Ravenscroft draws nearer and nearer to open, Rainbow is starting to spin up for its opening at the end of January.  Linda, Mitch and company have been scavenging for all of the bits and pieces necessary to turn our stage into the bar at the end of the world.  Upon arriving at the theatre last night to work on lighting for Ravenscroft I was pleasantly surprised to find Linda and Tim unloading a key part of the bar set.

Meet the newest member of FCT: a 1971/72 Seeburg USC2 Firestar Bandshell.  Or in plain English, our new jukebox.

As we rolled the juke off the trailer and into the theatre lobby, it was apparent the machine was cosmetically in great shape for a 40-year-old.  This beautiful beast was no TouchTunes*; it was a living, breathing, electromechanical monster.  Or at least it once was.  Now, no one was even sure if it even powered up.  The previous owners said it was working at some point in the not-too-distant past but only time and technical expertise would tell.  I’ve had a fair bit of experience repairing pinball machines–I guess you can consider them a cousin of the jukebox–so I held my breath and opened up the cabinet.

Opening a machine like this is a bit like opening a treasure chest.  You might find a spotless gem, or you might find a mess of dirty, broken, or worn parts.  The result is most often somewhere in between.  There were some good signs immediately: no animals living inside, no obvious structural or mechanical damage, and a fair number of 45’s left in the rack.  The jukebox was indeed not too far removed from its musical career.  There were some bad signs: a fair amount of debris around cables and a thick covering of grime over everything, but no deal breakers.

Fortunately, Linda’s only requirement for the machine is that it lights up.  We plan on providing sound in another manner, probably via a monitor speaker placed inside the cabinet.  The fluorescent lamps inside the machine were worn out or missing, and they were 3-foot lamps (2 and 4-footers are far more common).  Fortunately, it was early and the store had not one but two different lamp color temperatures to choose from:  2600K “reveal” and 6500K “daylight”.  Color temp essentially means how “warm” or “cool” a light source looks: a flame is around 1800K, incandescent “soft white” light bulbs 2700K, stage lighting 3000-3200K, most fluorescents from 5000-6500K (did i mention that on this scale higher = cooler?).  I chose the 2600K since I don’t want them to differ from the stage lights too dramatically–the jukebox should stand out, not irritate your eyes.  If you’ve ever put a “daylight” and a “warm white” bulb side-by-side you’ve seen what I mean.

After a little mechanical wrangling and straightening the mounting brackets, I managed to get the new lamps in.  Flipping the machine on, I waited eagerly as…nothing happened.  Then, a flicker.  Like an old car starting after sitting all winter, the ignitors began to slowly bring the lights back to life.  After a few moments, all three lit up and stayed up.  Primary mission = accomplished!

Going forward, I would like to see if I can make the rest of the machine boom to life (more on that later).  Perhaps it is the tinkerer in me, perhaps it is the desire to deliver that “wow” effect to the audience.  Despite the best special effects, sound machines, or other ways theatre has to make things look/feel/sound real, there is still something special about an effect being real.  I’m sure some day theatres will be doing The Wizard of Oz with a lifelike, animatronic Toto, but I think it will still be better with a real dog.

*TouchTunes is a registered trademark of the TouchTunes Music Corporation.