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Robert Juliat Topaze Followspots Chosen For Unique Venue At RPI

The new Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York has purchased a pair of Robert Juliat Topaze followspots for its venues.

EMPAC, which opened October 3, features 220,000-square feet of theaters, studios and workspaces which are designed to bridge the gap between the world of digital data and the physical world of the senses. EMPAC’s mission is the creation of new time-based art, facilitation of advanced research in science and technology, and the formation of an unprecedented intellectual community.

“We’re not a traditional performing arts center; we’re more focused on edgy, forward-looking technology development,” notes RPI’s Geoff Mielke. “Our style is eclectic, and there’s a wide range of what we might do in any of the spaces.” A 1,200 seat concert hall is complemented by a 400-seat proscenium theater with movable stages and seats, and two “black box” studios, which act as immersive environments.

As can be expected, the unconventional venues “present a lot of challenges in terms of lighting,” notes Mielke. “We have two Topaze followspots which are currently in the theater. One of the reasons we selected the Topaze was for its portability. The theater has two levels, so we placed one Topaze in the projection room and one in the ‘followspot room’ so we can accommodate whatever comes along with minimal labor.”

One of the criteria when specifying lighting equipment was ease of use. “We needed something that would be easy to convert to multiple users,” points out RPI’s Bob Bovard. “We have varying crews and lots of guests, and everybody has to be trained on the lights. So we needed an instrument that was intuitive, and the Topaze was perfect.”

When EMPAC opened, one of the initial performances was a student production in the theater, Mielke reports. “We gave the student crew a very cursory overview of the followspot and let them try it out. They were very happy with its ease of use, flexibility and functionality: A lot of hands-on tactile interfaces were very ergonomic, and they really liked the rolling handle douser. They were easily able to figure out the color changes.

“So we’re really impressed with this unit. The Topaze is proving to be a good light for the theater.”

Bovard notes that the throw in the theater is 60-85 feet but the followspots could be brought in “as close as 50 feet.” The light’s versatility means “we can take them into other spaces if we need them. Our venues are flexible; we can move anything anywhere if needed.”

The Topaze has already been tested in the concert hall, adds RPI’s Angel Eads. “The concert hall has a longer throw, but we were very impressed with the light’s ability to hold its own in the larger space.”

The Topaze sale was handled by Dave Naone of Limelight Productions in Lee, Massachusetts.

About Robert Juliat

Robert Juliat is a three-generation, independent, family-run company dedicated to stage lighting. The current chairman’s grandfather was, at the end of the 19th century, one of the pioneers in creating special effects for the fledgling motion picture industry in France. Robert Juliat lights are used by customers who include the Cirque du Soleil, Celine Dion, New York’s Lincoln Center, LA’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Disney World, The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Comedie Francaise, the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games, soccer’s World Cup in Japan and Germany, plus theatres, schools and public venues around the world.

R&D, production and the company headquarters are based in the village of Fresnoy-en-Thelle, 50 km north of Paris. Robert Juliat USA is located in Wallingford, Connecticut. For more information, visit