City Theatrical Interview with Lighting Designer Cheyenne Mendoza

 

Cheyenne Mendoza is a Lighting Designer based at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, which is uniquely located slopeside at one of the world's premier winter sports resorts, Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA. City Theatrical had the opportunity to talk with Cheyenne backstage during "Spring Skiing" season to find out more about his career, what it's like to be a professional lighting designer in the Rocky Mountains, his favorite performance at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, and why he prefers to use City Theatrical's GLP beam control accessories with his GLP X5 lighting fixtures.

 



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Cheyenne Mendoza, Lighting Designer


PROFESSIONAL PROFILE


Name:  Cheyenne Mendoza
   
Hometown: Gypsum, Colorado
   
Profession:  Lighting Designer
   
Years of Experience: 7+ years
   
Industry:  Live Entertainment
   
Location: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA
   
Theatre Website: https://vilarpac.org/
   

 


 

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A view of the lighting rig at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: City Theatrical.

THE INTERVIEW:

City Theatrical (CT): How long have you been lighting here at the Vilar Performing Arts Center?

Cheyenne Mendoza (CM): I started off as an Audio Guide before transitioning into the role as Tech Director. I came in as a stagehand in fall of 2017. All of my training up until that point was pretty much exclusively audio. My mentor was the Technical Director of the Bravo Vale Music Festival, and he's the one who, introduced me to Volaris. I've lived in and around the valley my whole life, I didn't even know that this place existed. He brought me in and I slowly worked my way up the chain, ended up in a position where I was kind of like head of audio for a while.

Then the pandemic hit and everything shut down for a while, but this place persisted in, presenting concerts and live stream format, which I was a part of. During that time, I was mostly doing work as a Video Director, Camera Op, roles like that. After that period of transition through COVID, operations were starting to boost back up. They were looking for a Technical Director so I put my hat in the ring and decided to give it a shot. I knew audio very well. I know video somewhat well, lighting was my weakness, but I was confident that I could grow.

I got the job and, over the last three seasons, it's been a constant learning process. I feel I have made a good progress and surrounded myself with other very knowledgeable people. One of the technicians on my program, which is one of my designers, is a good person to be around as they love sharing knowledge with you and keeping in touch. I keep up with the latest industry trends and making sure that we know about the latest, greatest thing and understanding how soon can we integrate that into our workflow.

 

CT: What do you like doing?

CM: I’ve recently enjoyed designing some of my own shows. Last night, even though it's a classical show, there's still a lot of room for creativity in there, like painting the shells and, trying to make it an experience and not bland. Single classical wash from the top, touching up on my theatrical lighting theory which had all been really good. But at the heart of it,  I'm still an audio guy. I was just working on an installation at our sister venue of the drill or Ford Amphitheater where we're putting in a new sound system for the lawn, for the GA section, soon to be followed by an installation for the main section, which is going to be pretty substantial, but here I love the the design and planning aspect for new lighting upgrades. Our most recent investment was in 16 GOP X fives, which was the reason we were at Li this year. Our main goal was sure to go and meet other industry professionals. We had the choice between this and three other flights from a couple of other manufactures. We decided on what we're going to use and what we're going to invest in. We went to the GLP booth, the X5 was far from the main product that they were announcing there. They have the new, JC two, video on a pan tilt. 

 

CT: So how many GL PX fives do you did you, so this OK?

CM:16. Initially our old wash system, our old moving head washes. We only had eight and those have ended up being installed at the front of house count lock so it gives us a little more flexibility and now we have an LED front wash so it allows us to increase our capabilities, but getting 16 has allowed us to split the rig. Across 3 electrics or two electrics in a truss allows us to create a little more depth to the stage because beforehand this used to be just the two electric house for the OED where everything was very tightly clustered around these two electrodes. Being able to expand trusses and being a push the first a little further down stage has allowed us to make this room and feel a little bigger than it actually is.     

 

CT: So does this season based on these fixtures look different?

CM: It does. A big reason we invested in the X5 was that the new light engine that GOP developed RGB L instead of the traditional RGB RGBW. Our old fixtures were RGBWW which lends itself very well. Very nice pastels, Lime Line emitter, which it looks like a sickly yellow on its own, in conjunction with all the other emitters really contributes to a really nice, fuller spectrum white.

 

 

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The backstage team at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: City Theatrical.


CT: What does the L stand for?

CM: Lime. Getting a very subtle pastel tones with lime, you are able to get more by moving the hue and saturation slider around with the white you have very precise control over the saturation slider with the line you have very precise control over the hue slider essentially. You have the ability to choose very subtle hues. With the 16 bit dimming color mixing performance on these things that allows for very precise and consistent fades. We got them in and the first big show that we had Alonzo King's Lions ballet company. Their lighting was very precise and these had a very big role to fill.

Many LEDs look comparable or almost indistinguishable from Tungsten. It’s a completely other series of issues that you have to be able to navigate. These are incredibly useful lights for not just for theater, classical, ballet and dance. They are also incredibly useful lights for rock and roll as well, which is great for producing map eye candy. They have an immense zoom range. They're incredibly fast to put in a theatrical setting. The focus palette they're set to, you hand to a rock'n'roll guy who is just  flash and wiggle. They're going to move them. We've gotten a really good reception from both the concert and classical designers.

 

CTL: So with a typical show, are they coming with a lighting designer as part of their crew or are you lighting each of these different performances?

CM: We sit in a very interesting place where our artistic team is trying to push to book shows that are well above our weight class. Some of these shows  would never perform in A500 seat theater. Yet here they are shows that either headlined in bigger venues in Denver than I had before, we've had shows that did stop at Red Rocks.

For larger shows, they always bring their own designers, consoles, and occasionally they'll bring in their own ground package. But often, contracts are made ahead of time under the agreement that house lighting or how sound is used and what has really helped us, bolstering our rig even more and buying lights and having the capability to rearrange everything and set things. Designers want to have allowed it so that we don't have to spend a day pre rigging or spend an entire morning in pre rigging tour trusses.

 

CT: So for last night's performance, what were you using?

CM: Last night's performance was classical. We used as little LED as possible because the room is so quiet. You know whether there's bodies in here or whether there's not bodies in here. You can hear a pin drop backstage from the balcony. Even though all of our lights have modes to be able to run quietly or low fan speeds for classical, especially in the environment that we're in.We don't have super high trims available here, so we try to make a point to only use Tungsten and conventional lights for the performance that it gives us in.

 

CT: Some of your house lights were on during the performance. Did you have a full follow spot operator?

CM: They were so well lit. I set up a very basic system of eight bars with white flood. We're going to lamps on 1st 2:00. Electrics. We have the shells, which we usually set up at our mid stage traveler line, so for classical it's always a mixed bag but they really don't want anything particularly flashy. That ends up making the musicians pop, introduces a little bit of design and makes the setting and everything feel a little more interesting. We keep the House lights on at about 1015% so that our patrons can read their programs during class because we have a lot of them follow along. It feels very intimate, too, to be sitting there and make eye contact with a person. As far as lighting, it was a generous amount of front light, some from very sharp angles and some from very far.

It was very well lit with no shadows, it looked crystal clear. You could see every one of his facial expressions. Both his and the pianist. You could see his fingers. It was very well lit. It's lighting from three separate angles and the texture on the shells and it's  450° Source Fours, 2 on each side with, the standard, medium leaf breakup gobo inside of them with a couple of top hats so that the people in the box is going to see the fixture itself. The top hats did their job and just skimming the surface of the shelves really helps. 

 

 

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GLP X5 Fixtures with City Theatrical beam control accessories for GLP X5 at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: City Theatrical.

CT: Can you point to everything that you were using?

CM: It was a system of eight pars for on this electric we have these six lithos. Rooster out on our catwalk handrail. That was used as a front top light.  

 

CT: Did you use any sort of a warm white or a mix to enhance the skin tone?

CM: It was just playing with intensity. As Tungsten varies in intensity you get your difference in color temperature and having these three systems and the pars could be at a much lower value than the the front light. You get your warmth and slightly more red from the pars then the face light, the one that's hitting them, a much shallower angle is at a much higher intensity. You get a much cooler light.  

The shelves lend themselves extraordinarily well too being by open white Tungsten and again playing with the intensity on that. I chose the four fixtures because you can cover the whole show with one, 50° lens. If you set it far enough you got to really crank up the intensity for that and then it can make the shelves look a little barren. The wood looks a little too white if you have the shelves that are in the wood.

 

CT: Are you working with a local scenic designer?

CM: They've been here ever since. Unchanged. Just minor maintenance here and there, catching up.

 

CT: Do you ever have any sort of, like elaborate scenery for any of the performances that come in or is it usually the shelves and lighting effects?

CM: We don't usually. We're almost exclusively a Roadhouse. We don't produce almost any of the shows that we have. We have two exceptions to that, every year in the spring and in the winter, we have a local youth ballet company that, rents out the space and really works with my lighting designers and my audio engineers to produce their. Ship what they.

 

CT: So tell me more about your pre hang today that you're doing for dance. How is it different from classical performances?

CM: Yesterday the design that hang in that plot were entirely conceived by, a few hours before the musician gets here and, think about where the shells are going to be placed and have them place the piano where they are going to want it, and then we work around it. You know the needs of the artist and then we just decorate it. We're working with an established company, thay have their own lighting designer who wants to make sure the pieces that are designed in their space look the same wherever they go anywhere in the world. So we're hanging to their plot, so we'll get paperwork ahead of time. They'll look at our existing inventory, which thankfully we're able to cover. 90% of the things that come through here without the need for any amount of substantial rentals. As we continue to invest in the Theater we'll be able to eventually get to the point where we have zero rentals and we'll hang to there exact spec.


 


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GLP X5 Fixtures with City Theatrical beam control accessories for GLP X5 at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: City Theatrical.

CT: What software are you using?

CM: We use Vectorworks in house. We have a couple of Vectorworks licenses that we share, and then most designers will send us files. If not then Lightwright also works in conjunction with that. We're on Lightwright 6 and it helps produce Max paperwork, all the channel lookups.

 

CT:Are you using moving light assistant by chance?

CM: We are now. I haven't gotten a chance to take a look. I haven't gotten a chance to poke around in that. I'm always up for looking to see what the latest is.

 

CT: Do you use DMXcat?

CM: We do. I have one. Personally and a couple of my designers also just always have one in the back pocket. Especially with an intelligent rig, that's where everything that we have in the air is happy with RDM being able to have my text go to the very end of the of the whip and plug straight into the DMXcat. Especially for troubleshooting when we have a particular tour that will allow us to have our console on the network while their console is there. Having something that can read DMX values as they're coming in makes it a very quick and fast way to settle debates and get things done quickly and verify. Being able to settle debates very easily with DMXcat.

 

CT: Is everything here wired? You said RDM is? Are you using wireless at all?

CM: We don't use any wireless, although we're looking into the May gallery space that we have our artistic team has started pushing to use more or to present more shows in that space, which wasn't designed to be a performance space, it was designed to be a lounge. Most recently, we had to host a comedian and it was building a couple of riser decks setting up a very small PA. We made it work, but it was very cumbersome. We took a couple of our movers down and used them there. There's no real positions for lights and especially having so much cable, power wise and everything come in, really makes it less than optimal and less than ideal for the audience experience if there's a cable ramp on your way to the bathroom.

 

CT: Couple of show babies would probably do you guys good.

CM: Yes, exactly. We're looking at a couple in the next year or so we can start to develop a package. We're looking at a couple of products that have the City Theatrical Multiverse wireless already built into them, and there's a couple of up lights up there that have that already have it built in that are battery operated no less.

 

CT: The QolorPoints that we have are uplighters. They have the Multiverse in it. I don't know for that small of a space for a comedian, how many people are you having in the audience?

CM: We're not pushing any more than 80 in there at most. You have like some standing trusses or some like some way of bringing the lights in. We have boxes that works for dance shows. We use those as stands for our monitors, so we can stand in for side fills, but they also make really cool stands for lights. It was quite interesting to have the new X fives used exclusively to light that particular show.

 

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Backstage at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: City Theatrical.

 

CT: Tell us more about lighting for dance. Are you guys doing anything for the foot lighting? Are you using beam benders? I know that's a typical one of our accessories for dance.

CM: I would love to be able to try them out, but we've got a general rule of thumb is if we don't get it requested enough by touring designers, then we're going to be a little less eager to spend money on it. We've had a few designers who have worked with them. They don't even really like necessarily ask for them, but to me, if I'm designing a dance show, it's all about the shin and all the side lighting and being able to make the dancer pop without still leaving the rest of the stage completely obscured. It's huge and especially if I can get to the point of, even if it's just mentally knowing that the entirety of the beam is, an eighth of an inch off the entire deck all the way through, that would be great. Hopefully in the next two years we will be starting the process of changing all of or a  substantial amount of our inventory and transitioning to TC sort you know source four LED Series 3 and I notice that you guys don't make.

 

CT: Tell me more about your role at we're talking through the lighting for last night and for Friday with the dance performance and anything in particular.

CM: Top hats are awesome. They're great, especially with these zoom lenses, because they spill a ton without top. It’s super helpful to have. Then the concentric rings for the X fives are going to suite. We sat in the audience last night. We didn't see anything. They did their job. I was happy to see that.

 

CT: So how do you guys work together?  How big is your team?

CM: Currently I lead both production departments. Whenever we have video involved and then I work with below me, we have my designers, master electricians for the day. It's hard to find talent in the mountains and get talent to relocate in the mountains. When we have, especially for dance shows, calls that require a lot of precision, attention to detail, we have somebody in the air focusing lights. That's a really hard job, focusing the lights is really hard. That's a high stress job right there.

 

CT: How great is this that you guys are running 2-3 shows a week. All year? Or is it mostly in the winter time?

CM: We have we have a couple in the summer season we book big shows, but not as often in the winter which can be four or five shows a week. Shane and I also managed to drill our Ford amphitheater, our roles are split between both venues. They pick up in the summer as an outdoor venue.

The amphitheater in Vail just 15 minutes to the west.  It's a very different building with 2500 capacity outdoor amphitheater, essentially that was initially designed for local music, but in recent years, the Value Foundation has entered a partnership with AEG to bring in big concerts into the space. The space also has to be shared by a classical music festival and a dance, contemporary dance and ballet festival.

 

CT: Tell me about the May Dance Festival.

CM: It's a Vale dance festival that happens in August. That is done at the Gerald R Ford Amphitheater and also done here. 5050 low perform for the main bulk of the festival which happens at the Ford Amphitheatre and then we'll host two or three performances that can't be accomplished over there because out there you don't have wings, you don't have a grid or a fly system. Over there you also don't have a site, it's just a big stage, which is cool to go to perform in that way but it's a little more challenging if you have very specific needs for audio and lighting.

 

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The lighting team at Vilar Performing Arts Center: Kyle, Cheyenne, and Cheyenne. Photo Credit: City Theatrical.

 

CT: So are you also working with the amphitheater or just in the theater?

CM: My full role as Technical Director of the Ballard Performing Arts Center and Amphitheater open for the season in the first weekend in April. We have a new thing that they did for the first time last year, and we're trying again this year, which is referred to as operate at the AMP. They bring in big EDM acts to come in and play, too proud of EDM lovers after they're done skiing. Logistically, a lot has to happen in order to get the place up and running because it's completely shut down for the winter.

 

CT: Are you marketing to the skiers who come to both locations?

CM: Yes, a lot of our audience is the destination guests that come up to the resort and have their ski trips up here.I saw the TV ad. I saw the the billboards I saw in the Christie Lodge. They were ads. I saw digital ads. So I see, you know, the a lot of the velar, the V pack, which way do you guys prefer to be called? Deepak, very yeah, very strictly not allowed to call. So the V pack stuff all over. It just move along, OK. So yeah, it's V Pak or Villar performing. Arts Center this one. I like that V pack. Yeah, it's cute.  And it's and the logo is and the logo was even. Shown on each side last night and you know where you're going.

It’s for people who are looking for not only a ski adventure, but to have arts as part of their vacation. This is something that really differentiates this area from others and makes it like you can see a Broadway style show or a classical performance here.

 

CT: I know you have some rock'n'roll comedians too, but could you have something for everybody and really fill out the experience to make it for people who love entertainment and the arts?

CM: Yes, there's something for everybody here. It's really nice to hear that we have from an outsider that we have good visibility around.

 

CT: What City Theatrical products do you mainly use?

CM: The main use that we have for City Theatrical is if we need a top hat, we're buying a City Theatrical Top Hat, if we need an iris, we're buying a City Theatrical Iris. What I find very useful from City Theatrical is just the fact that whatever little niche rigging solution we need for a particular deployment, City Theatrical already make it such as Safer Side Arms and Track Tamers. The safer side arms the track Tamers are house wipes. The safer side arms, we have the juniors, which hang on our rep box room positions and then on the front of the catwalk you can see that every single main support has an 18 inch new steel for side arms.

If a tour has very large movers that they want to go out there because we can't fly a trust out there, we'll rope them up and they'll hang up there. I have no worries of the weight capacity. We also have a set of 3 foot long side arms that we will use to hang movers say on the box booms or anything like that. We recently invested in a replacing our old conventional cycle lights with LED cyclists with them because the new LED cycling is big strips of pixels, we're always trying to look for ways to maximize our investment. Currently these sites are great for ballet, classical, anything that has to have a psyche, not really great for rock'n'roll. Rock'n'roll is not really big on the whole psych lighting thing. With the new LED Sykes we had to think how can we could best maximize their flexibility if they're designed as a fixture for great color reproduction.  

We ended up reaching the conclusion that by buying a couple of small dozen of the tail downs and hanging side lights on as blinders and eye candy lights, it’s going to be the best way to maximize our return on investment. You can also use those fixtures in the way that you would like an X4 bar from GLP.

Next 4 bar is a less than optimal cycling. We'll have those showing up here in June once our fiscal year lapses and we get a chance to actually cut the check and get all those orders in and other little things that cyclic trust protectors constantly we're having to use the trust as a as a you know 5th electric. Hanging conventional lights with traditional seat clamps doesn't do wonders for trusses well-being so having just a small army of those ready to grab in a bucket that we can just grab. And clamp onto.

 

CT: You really know City Theatrical’s product line well!

CM: That we do!  And of course, we use the DMXcat, and it works great for us.

 

For more information about Cheyenne Mendoza and upcoming shows at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, visit: https://vilarpac.org/