Lighting Innovation at Goodspeed

September 21, 2004

A revolutionary piece of lighting software was employed on the revival of Frank Loesser and George Abbott's Where's Charley? (Goodspeed Summer Musicals at East Haddam CT — directed and designed by Tony Walton with lighting by Richard Pilbrow.)

VIRTUAL MAGIC SHEET is a program developed by software designer Eric Cornwell. It creates a live Magic Sheet at the designer's production desk or on a laptop computer anywhere in the theatre, driven via a Wi-Fi link to the DMX output of any control system.


The software provides "Tiles" (perhaps 400-500 per screen) each of which may represent a DMX channel. These can be laid out in any desired configuration, like a conventional magic sheet, positioning channels according to function or area or use. In addition each tile may have a descriptive label — location or use — and may be any color. So from the outset the lighting layout is represented onscreen by small colored, labeled tiles.

As the DMX channel is raised above zero, each tile lights up to become a gauge — like a small pie-chart — which indicates level. Since this can be in the color of the instrument it is a vivid representation of the lighting onstage. A small triangular arrow in top right or bottom left indicates a channel increasing or decreasing intensity. In the event of a channel with a color-scroller, the actual color of the instrument can appear "in real time" on the screen.

Designer/developer Eric Cornwell first tested the software with Lighting Designer Beverly Emmons on a number of productions around New York. He suggested it to Richard Pilbrow, who invited him to join him at Goodspeed.

Richard said, "This seemingly modest advance is actually a real breakthrough — a significant development in lighting control. For a decade I've been bemoaning the obsession with numbers that seem to run the lighting designers' life. The channel display screens of the conventional control are a mass of digits, which constantly have to be mentally translated into actual lights. The instant visual representation with VIRTUAL MAGIC SHEET of the live lighting on a laptop is a new important bridge between the stage and the designer's vision. I would guess that the time spent actually lighting Where's Charley was significantly reduced by this instant feedback. During rehearsals I found myself constantly turning to VIRTUAL MAGIC SHEET. The on-line instant diagram of the lighting onstage allowed far faster changes than on any conventional system."

Eric Cornwell can be contacted at

Where's Charley?
Goodspeed Summer Musicals at East Haddam, CT
Playing until September 25th 2004
Director and Designer - Tony Walton
Co-Set Designer - Kelly Hanson
Lighting Designer- Richard Pilbrow
Assistant Lighting Designer - Anna Jones
Master Electrician - Jay Hilton