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  • Writer's pictureMichael Horn

"A Number"

In late 2022, Alan Mohney, Jr. approached me about collaborating with him on a special set he had in mind for a show he was directing and building the set for, at the Off-Central in Saint Petersburg - "A Number". It's a beautiful play, about nature versus nurture, and also about living with relationships you didn't ask for, I think, which features a man who is meeting, for the first time, individually, a number of clones of his son that were made, apparently without full consent.

Alan's vision was to create a set with panels that had slots cut out of them, to represent DNA base pairs, and he wanted me to use light to add color and make them change or mutate in some way between scenes.

This is what I came up with:

This is the finale cue, played on a loop, which I realized I should probably get a recording of while I was testing things.

The set is made from a single Teensy 4, which was interfaced with a MAX485 to read DMX and manage a ridiculous number of pixels.

The light strips are WS2811ECO cut and soldered zig-zag style and fixed to long taped-together strips of posterboard, which were tacked to the back of the panels with slots cut out. the slots were filled in with plain thin roll craft paper to diffuse the lights, which on their white posterboard backing were about 3 and a half inches behind the paper.

I used 2 separate 5V high amperage power supplies, I don't recall what the ratings were off hand, with the grounds connected together between the two sections of strips being powered.

Each scene had its own color scheme, and these were hard coded as a state machine in the teensy, the DMX signal would define which mode should be started, as in which color palette, whether it should be actively moving or lock into whatever is in motion.

The motion for each slot could be left to right, or right to left, always there is a "was" color and a "becoming" color, so we stop when the DMX says freeze and we reach the "becoming" color.

The final scene just loops through all the color schemes quickly so we get random bursts of this color or that color, which I thought looked nice for the finale.

I was nominated for Outstanding Lighting Design of a Play or Musical for this show.

And the actors were awarded "Best Clones" I'd like to think my lighting helped ;)

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