The play is known for its stunning visual effects and has been staged yearly since 1998 (photo: Jeffrey Miller)
USA - Illuminate Production Services (IPS) plays an integral role in creating the visual magic that is The Thorn and again this year enhanced the drama using a large package of Elation Professional lighting. Lighting Designer Caleb Franke of IPS uses the dynamic lighting to help sculpt the inspiring story while wowing audiences with a variety of visual effects.
The Thorn is a modern-day Passion play, a theatrical depiction of the life and death of Jesus, yet with a modern touch. The immersive theatrical show combines modern dance, music, martial arts, aerial acrobatics, and emotionally powerful performances, with state-of-the-art lighting and visuals. The play is known for its stunning visual effects and has been staged yearly since 1998. The current 10-city tour launched on 1 March in Loveland, Colorado, and ends on 8 April in Miami.
This year, IPS provided audio, video, lighting, staging and special FX for The Thorn, their 10th year working with this theatrical production. IPS vice president of design & operations, Caleb Franke, served as lead lighting designer on the project. He comments: “This show is often affectionately described as ‘Passion of the Christ meets Cirque du Soleil’ so it’s truly a theatrical journey filled with moments ranging widely from subtle to celebratory. The Elation fixtures we use give us the dynamic range we need to help tell the story.” Elation has featured in IPS’s visual design for the show for many years.
The Thorn has toured in churches for nearly a decade but this year the production has made a significant jump and moved to performing arts centres and arenas. According to Caleb, the move has made many aspects of the show more consistent and efficient. “In the past, because church venues vary so much in design and layout, we were redesigning and deploying new custom solutions for the show every week. This took a lot of time and creative solutions to accommodate.
“Now that we are in larger open spaces, we’ve reduced many of these challenges. Keeping a similar design from venue to venue translates into faster load-in and load-out, a more prepared crew and cast, and most importantly, a universally better experience for attendees.”
Designed to be inspirational and motivating, visually stunning beams, colour-changing scenes with pattern projection, and changing background graphics add an extra element of visual drama and intensity to the production that both wows and engages the audience. “The rig is versatile and has the ability to do ‘big’ heavy gobo and beam looks with lots of energy like in the Battle or Heaven scene, but we can also tone things down for beautiful, dramatic looks like when Jesus is entering Jerusalem, or when Jesus is on trial by Pilot in the Mob scene,” Caleb shares.
“That versatility is also key in the Resurrection scene. There are some fantastic subtle theatrical looks in the beginning, but then when Jesus rises, there are a lot of beams and the rig just explodes with energy.”
Used to flood the stage in colour and break-up textures, as well as provide striking mid-air beam looks were a variety of lights in Elation’s Fuze, Proteus, Rayzor and SixPar series along with other luminaires. Many have been staples of previous productions but new to this year’s rig are Fuze MAX Profiles, which Caleb calls fantastic fixtures. “Because The Thorn is now touring in large theatres and arenas, we needed more power and the Fuze MAX was the right tool for the job. These fixtures replaced the Artiste DaVinci moving heads that have served the tour for a few years. The Fuze MAX Profiles serve as the primary stage profiles, but also back light, side-fill, and even feature somewhat in the floor package.”
Another Fuze series light that Caleb singles out is the Fuze Wash FR, an automated LED Fresnel fixture with framing that is used as the primary followspot fixture. “What a fantastic fixture. We love the softness of the edges and the great colour temperature control.”
A host of Proteus series lights are used in the production including Proteus Maximus, Proteus Lucius, Proteus Hybridand Proteus Rayzor 760.
Passion plays lend themselves to creative use of haze and fog effects as an important aspect of atmosphere creation, as well as providing a midair projection canopy for light beams. For The Thorn, a pair of Therma Tour 800 hazers from Magmatic effects provide a fine, long-lasting atmospheric haze.
In order to reach an even wider audience, production was filmed for the first time, playing in theatres across the U.S. in early March.

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