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Focus People:  Your Friends When Pre-Cueing Your Lighting Design

by Brian Bjorklund

    Focus people are quiet, patient and can maintain a consistent location on stage for hours on end.  They don’t start conversation with their peers or check email or text.  (Well, for that matter, they don’t even have phones.)  They take up a similar amount of space as a performer and let you know if they are appropriately lit and if they are nicely textured or dimensioned. FocusPeopleLav  While they don’t have the depth of a real human, they provide valuable information about the stage pictures you are creating - visual focus & composition, visibility, and plasticity in the performance space you are lighting.  I have ten focus people and want to introduce them to you!  They live in a plastic storage tub and a 50” long x  4” diameter piece of PVC pipe, so they travel easily in the back of most cars and store away in tight places.
    The pre-cueing process in lighting is an activity where the lighting designer and a few staff create cues or looks for major parts of the performance. The performers are not usually present and the goal is to create some cues that are close to what is desired for each major scene or alternatively, to create some really useful images that can be employed to build cues efficiently during full cueing rehearsals.  Being able to see how the lighting will look on performers during this part of the cueing process is really helpful and when performers or stand-ins were not available, I have used many different kinds of inanimate objects, including music stands, stools, or ladders.  The idea to create focus people grew out of these attempts to represent performers with all different kinds of objects that were found around the theater space.
    When the idea for focus people was first considered, I tried to plan the design criteria carefully.  1) These should be the size of people.  2) They should be light weight and easily transportable and there needs to be enough focus people to fill a stage space adequately.  3) They should be neutral in color and value to display intensity and color fairly well. 
     Details about the final result that was produced and has been in use for a number of years in our performance spaces are located below.  The supplies are readily available and the construction process is quite easy.

Focus People Parts:

1.  Wood base that folds for storage and has a pipe floor flange attached to receive a fiberglass support rod.


2. Fiber glass chimney cleaning rods to act as the “spine” for the focus person. .  The rods I used had 3/8” NPT threads which screw into the threaded pipe floor flanges.
BasePole chimneyRods

3. Plastic hanger and lightweight gray polyester fabric with spring clip to attach the hanger & fabric to the fiberglass “spine”. The fabric should be wrinkle-free.

4. Plastic storage tub for bases and fabric/ hanger pieces.

5.PVC pipe for storing the fiberglass rods.

Construction details:

1.  The wood base is made from an 18” long piece of 1x4, and a 16” long piece of 1x3 pine.  The two pieces are joined at their center points with a ¼”  x  2” carriage bolt, washer and lock nut. 
BaseOnly       Baseupside down
base                                                      folded base- viewed from bottom
As seen in the illustration, the pieces are sized to inset and the top piece has ¾ x ¾ “feet” added to provide a level base when it is opened into an X shape.  The nut is tightened to provide enough friction to keep the boards in the desired alignment. 

2.  The pipe floor flange is screwed into the top 1x4 and located over the ¼” bolt. The floor flange I used was for ½” pipe and I added a ½” to 3/8” adapter to match the fiberglass rod threads and provide some additional height above the ¼” bolt.BaseFlangeoff
3.  The fiberglass rods can be purchased at home improvement/ lumber stores.  They are designed for cleaning chimneys and come in 48” sections with a male thread on one end and a female thread on the other.  I used a full 48” rod and cut another rod to 2’6” and screwed these together making a 6’6” rod that screws into the pipe flange on each base.  (I purchased at Menards- a Google search will produce other options.)

4.  I cut the fabric to  1’10” wide by 5’6” long. Next,  I cut an opening at the top center large enough to slide over the hanger hook. Finally, I folded the top corners of the fabric over a plastic clothes hanger and fastened the fabric with Velcro squares.  Glue would also work here.

5.  Bulldog or Binder Clips found in stationary stores work well to attach the plastic hanger to the fiberglass rod.

Ten bases and fabric/ hanger pieces fit easily in a plastic storage bin like the one shown. The 48” fiberglass rods are stored in a 4” diameter length of lightweight PVC pipe with endcaps. Setup time is quick and they are easy to move around the performing space.  [ ]

Brian Bjorklund is a teacher, artist, designer, creative problem solver, student of materials and technologies, skill-seeker, interpreter, organizer, collaborator, engineer, Inventor and faculty member in the Theater Department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. His research interests include art, design and technology;  scene painting history, tradition & technique and theatre & performing arts architecture.