A Year Into Using the zactrack SMART System, the Utah-based Performing Arts Center Reflects on the Easy Tracking and Enhanced Creativity it Provides
SANDY, UTAH ― Since opening its doors, Hale Centre Theatre (HCT) has continuously produced world-class performances, including traditional Broadway and off-Broadway plays, musicals and more. With two venues under one roof, HCT puts on nine shows per year for massive audiences, seating just under 1,000 people in its largest auditorium — the Young Living Centre Stage.
HCT’s Center Stage is a theater in the round, with the stage centralized in the venue. As a result, HCT’s tech team relies heavily on lighting effects for the spectacular musicals that it produces. In many cases, lighting also helps enhance the stage sets. Among the many requirements of HCT’s lighting system is the need to track actors in flying sequences, which is a common way for actors to enter and leave a theater in the round. To accomplish this, the venue upgraded to a new zactrack SMART system, a plug and play automated follow system for stage lighting, sound and video effects.
Since investing in zactrack late last year, HCT has utilized the system for a variety of musicals, including: The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Hello Dolly, The Titanic, and most recently Around the World in 80 Days. “We fly a lot of people, and our follow spot positions were often blocked, so we knew that anyone who was flying would need to be tracked,” says Jaron Kent Hermansen, HCT’s lighting designer and head of video and lighting. “We have an upper level with two gantries that fly people in vertically, and when we’re first flying people out, we can’t spot them. The zactrack SMART System comes in handy most especially in those moments.”
Now, after more than a year of using the system, the team reflects on how they have also been able to fulfill other production goals they didn’t think would be possible. This includes tracking people using a disguised projection network. “We have four projectors that shoot down on stage and we track them from above,” explains Jaron. “With Little Mermaid, for example, whenever the eels were on stage, we had a lighting track for them using PosiStageNet (PSN) data from zactrack.”
Additionally, zactrack has enhanced the way the team utilizes its projectors. “A lot of our key scene light in Newsies and most recently in 80 Days came from projections, which can easily become washed out because they’re not LED screens on the floor,” continues Jaron. “Utilizing zactrack, we’re able to map the floor with our projectors and utilize them to their full potential—and I’m not washing out the entire projection. This allows our performers to interact with the projections a lot more, too.”
As head of lighting and video and principal lighting designer for HCT productions, Jaron says one of the best features of zactrack is its ability to isolate elements on stage. “In Centre Stage, everything kind of bounces and goes everywhere, because you have to light from all sides,” he adds. “The fact that I can utilize zactrack to narrow in on a performer and really help move the story forward is my favorite element of it. I can track performers and change the color or texture I’m using for them as well as keep them isolated in one spot, while something is changing on the other side of the stage. On the other hand, if we’re using specials or movers or anything like that, it takes so much longer to program. When programming lighting cues, I often have to be very quick and prepared, and zactrack allows me to do that.”
Jaron also credits the programming capabilities of the zacktrack for further improving his workflow. “We do a lot of pre-planning and pre-programming so that when actors get on stage, everybody’s already activated and lit when they’re supposed to be,” he explains. “We do spacing tech practices even before dress rehearsals, where the actors wear their zactracks on a lanyard and run through the show, so we can start honing in on their settings before we actually get into our main rehearsal.”
Moving forward, Jaron and his team plan to incorporate more interactive projections into productions using zactrack. They are also looking to integrate the system with their automation, using PSN data to track the stage.