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Scharff Weisberg Supports Papal Visit To New York

Scharff Weisberg had a particularly illuminating experience when it supplied lighting packages supporting broadcast coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to New York. The company met site-specific needs for three venues: the enormous Yankee Stadium, the iconic pit at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center, and the Chapel at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

The Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium was the biggest event scheduled for the Pope’s tour, and it posed considerable challenges for Scharff Weisberg and lighting designer Alan Adelman. The renowned Imero Fiorentino served as lighting consultant for all of the visit’s venues.

“We worked around the clock in shifts to achieve the very lofty goals envisioned by the producers in a very dynamic and ever-changing planning environment,� says Project Manger John Healy.

“Loading a show of this size into Yankee Stadium added many complicating factors: time and timing to load in and out between baseball games, large labor needs due to the size of the venue and the show, and the use of stadium house power and many other logistical complications,� he continues. “Of course, we also had to be prepared to light the Pope, the Papal entourage and the performers in any conditions we could have encountered.�

For the Front of House position Scharff Weisberg furnished 16 Zap Technologies Lil’ Big Lite 3.5 units which served as key lights for Pope Benedict and the performers who included Jose Feliciano and Harry Connick, Jr. Also on hand were ARRI 6K HMI PARs supplemented with fixtures from Available Light. The lights were hung from trusses on rigging points custom-built into Yankee Stadium’s upper deck and hung with Scharff Weisberg truss and motors. Fixtures were also mounted on a FOH platform behind home plate on the upper deck.

“Alan (Adelman) overcame the need for multiple spot platforms and huge spotlights to be loaded into the upper deck by employing our inventory of Zap Lil’ Big Lite 3.5s,� notes Healy “This allowed Alan and programmer Paul Sonnleitner to take their time setting levels and programming while giving them huge flexibility during the show and saving much time overall.�

According to Adelman, “The challenge was that it was a daylight Mass and the Pope started the Mass in the shade of the roof. The added lighting had to be able to achieve near sunlight levels in order to get people and scenery under the roof to balance nicely with the sky in the wide shot. And once the sun hit the stage directly from overhead, the additional lighting punch was needed to fill in otherwise severe facial shadows. It was the second time I used Lil’ Big Lites, and they were extremely effective. According to my measurements, from a 250’ throw distance, the 16 Lil’ Big Lites focused in their tight beam on the alter provided 70% of the light output of the noon day sun. That’s a lot of light!�

Adelman and programmer Paul Sonnleitner worked from the third-base dugout, which was outfitted with two grandMA consoles and NSPs combined in a fully-redundant, networked control system. The FOH system was controlled wirelessly with City Theatrical’s new Show DMX system, which interfaced flawlessly with the grandMA.

Scharff Weisberg also provided the stage position lighting package which consisted of ARRI 4K HMI PARs and an array of VARI*LITE moving lights. They were hung from the stage with Scharff Weisberg’s truss and motor system. Scharff Weisberg also supplied all the cable and power distribution onstage.

The Papal Mass was produced by Stig Edgren for the Archdiocese of New York. Doug Pope was site coordinator, Patrick Stansfield and Dennis Menard were coproducers, and Tom Blancato and John Ellar production electricians.At Scharff Weisberg Chris McMeen was the account executive and initial equipment specifier and Chris Komischock and Ian Healy lighting technicians and operators.

Earlier, Scharff Weisberg supported the Pope’s moving Ground Zero Blessing in the pit of the World Trade Center.

“Logistical and weather complications forced us to plan for the worst: Too much of anything — rain, sun, wind — would have posed a potential problem in the pit,â€? continues Healy. “ Lighting for an International TV event like this left no room for surprises, so our months of planning made a huge difference. The technical production crew handled everything that was thrown at them, and the event was flawless — like none other we have ever been involved with.â€?

Scharff Weisberg’s Ground Zero lighting package comprised four scissor lift lighting positions each a self-contained unit outfitted with ARRI 12K and HMI PARs. All the lighting, rigging and power distribution equipment was provided by Scharff Weisberg; the scissor lifts were supplied by Able Equipment Rentals and the grip package was supplemented by Available Light.

Scharff Weisberg also furnished a VIP tent viewing package at the top of the ramp to Ground Zero. Walter Elzey was project manager; Joe Volpe, TJ Donahue, and Russel Cowans installed and operated it.

“Though many of the other Papal visit venues were much larger, I think it’s safe to say that the visit to Ground Zero was the emotional cornerstone of (the Pope’s) New York City trip — the jewel in the crown, so to speak,â€? said site producer Donna Roseman addressing all the venue vendors. “By every account, it looked and sounded beautiful on television. From the exquisite set that seemed to spring organically from the ground, to the lighting, to the audio, and to the care and attention to the VIP Tent up top, everyone worked to make this historic event even more special.â€?

The Ground Zero Blessing was produced by Stig Edgren for the Archdiocese of New York. Steve Cochrane was the technical director, Randy Nordstrom lighting designer, and Eugene Meinhofer and Brian Stark production electricians. At Scharff Weisberg Ian Healy was the lighting technician.

Pope Benedict also led a chapel service at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers for which Scharff Weisberg furnished lighting, control and dimming, and rigging packages.

“The Chapel is an ornately-decorated space that needed to be treated with care and delicacy,� recalls Scharff Weisberg project manager Meghan Marrer. “Production manager John Trowbridge, gaffer Gerard McCarthy and rigger Anthony Bonilla were incredibly diligent in their planning and preparation to ensure that the integrity of the space and the show were maintained throughout the process.�

Scharff Weisberg’s lighting package contained ARRI 2K and 1K fresnels, Arrisun 2.5/4K HMI PARs, ARRI 650 fresnels, ETC Source 4 lekos and 4 PARs, Altman 3.5 lekos, and Par 64s. ETC 94×2.4K, 48×2.4K and 12×2.4K sensor dimmers were supplied along with two ETC Expression 3 consoles. The rigging package was provided by United Staging through Scharff Weisberg with Adam Cartwright United’s project manager.

Lighting designer David Agress of David Agress Lighting, Inc. notes that during the chapel service, “the Pope was going to be interacting with disabled children and their families seated along the entire length of the nave as well as participating in the sanctuary. It was going to be an emotional event so I wanted to make the Chapel look warm while accenting its architectural features in a dramatic way.�

Summing up the Papal visit Scharff Weisberg’s Healy reports that “every event went incredibly smoothly, looked amazing and pleased our client, the Archdiocese of New York. We rock, even when we’re at church!�

Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications, firms with extensive histories in the presentation and staging markets, recently announced a co-ownership agreement. While continuing to operate independently the two companies work together strategically to provide clients with state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting equipment and services. With a strong presence on both coasts Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications are able to deliver a large array of cost-effective services on a national level. For more information, call 212-582-2345 or visit our website at

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