Murray Kahn Theater Light System Gets a Revamp

The light system in the Murray Kahn Theater underwent renovations.

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Stuyvesant’s Murray Kahn Theater is home to a variety of performances throughout the year, including Stuyvesant’s annual SING! competition and Stuyvesant Theater Community’s (STC) seasonal productions. Here, parents, faculty, and students have the opportunity to watch students display their artistic and musical talents. However, in the past STC has faced the persistent obstacles of dim lights and an increasingly worn-down system. Recently, this problem has been addressed by renovations to the lighting infrastructure, which now illuminate the stage more than ever.

The renovations had been in discussion for some time, but the plans never came to fruition until now. “It was a project started during former Principals [Jie] Zhang and [Eric] Contreras’s time at the school,” Principal Seung Yu wrote. “Due to COVID and supply chain issues, the project [was] delayed several times.”

The renovation resumed over the summer. “[Senior and director of lights and sound] Talia Hsia reached out to Principal Yu and [...] it was a pretty easy process to reach out to him and notify him if it was possible to get the lights renovated,” senior and STC technical coordinator Ziying Jian said.

Principal Yu worked with contractors, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE), Assistant Principal of Physical Education and Safety Brian Moran, music teachers, and STC advisors to oversee the renovation process. Principal Yu was also able to secure funding from the Parent Teacher Association for the project. “My role [was] to initiate and facilitate that the project restarted and is eventually completed,” Principal Yu said. “I [worked] with the NYC DOE, the contractors, and with our team to ensure the project was restarted.”

The hardware for the new system has been installed, with programming still ongoing. However, while the hardware was being constructed, STC members had limited access to the theater, so they had to find other places to prepare for their fall musical, Matilda. The Lights and Sound crew’s preparations for this show were very different from the norm, with their schedule being shortened to two weeks. “Of course, for lights and sound, we have to learn an entirely new system before the show and design lighting cues for different parts basically within a few weeks, which is very different from per usual when we start preparations, maybe about a month to a month and a half before the actual show date,” Hsia said.

In the past, faulty lighting infrastructure often hindered or interrupted showings of STC productions. “You could have [an] excellent cast, amazing set, and beautiful composition, [but] if you can’t see them, if the lights are flashing away mid-show, if you can’t hear them because the mics break mid-show, if the lights don’t turn on for intermission, [...] everyone is just sitting in the dark for five minutes wondering what’s happening mid-show,” alumnus (‘22) and former STC technical coordinator Katherine Lake said. “There [were] an infinite amount of things that go wrong with lights and sound.”

The Lights and Sound crew often had to accommodate for the outdated system with improvisation. “Because we didn’t have super bright lights, a lot of what our lighting had to be in shows was supplemented by spotlights, and [...]though it worked, it lit the stage, spotlights are usually used for certain effects with the shows that we suddenly were not able to do as much because [the spotlights] were on almost all the time just to keep our actors lit up,” Hsia said.

The problem with malfunctioning equipment also posed a hindrance to how creative lights and sound crew members could be with their light design. Due to faults in the blue and green lights, the number of usable lights was shortened to only three different types: stage lights, a red light, and an orange light. “[The lights were] at least a decade old and they [...] worked fine, but we were restricted to just a few colors, and they were a little bit dull,” junior and director of lights and sound Dorothy Ha said. “They didn’t stand out too much.”

The newly designed light system is also an upgrade from the former system in regard to its variety and functionality. “We have so many different colors, which is amazing. It’s also really well-programmed so we’re able to control [them] from the booth and from the stage,” Hsia said. “I think it’ll make coordination a lot easier to do.”

The new light system is also more technologically advanced than the system in place before. “Before, we were storing all these [light] cues on floppy disks, which is very outdated because [...] they’re like physical copies on an external hard drive [that’s] all saved on the actual computer,” Jian said. “But now we don’t need this anymore, [...] and now we can [get the cues] from the shows prior and it’s saved.” STC members are now adapting to features of the new light and sound system in time for their fall musical Matilda.

Though these renovations may seem insignificant to some, Lake emphasized the importance of a fully functional lighting system. “Many people will say, ‘Why didn’t you put your money elsewhere?’ and I feel like these questions stem from the fact that people don’t realize or appreciate the full extent of the impact that good lighting has and the usefulness that it has. The theater is a very commonly used space in Stuyvesant,” Lake said. “It is used for productions, panels, fundraisers, award nights, and even in classes sometimes. These simple facts can translate into greater learning, greater enjoyment of content, and massively greater amounts of money raised. They actually have impact.”

Principal Yu shared a similar perspective. “We’re trying to make sure our physical spaces, including our theater, match the talent and potential of our young people. We want our building to be a ‘hub of excellence’ that matches what we believe our students are capable of,” he said. “We use and rely on the theater for so many of our activities from musical performances to theater productions to SING! and Faculty Conferences that we need to make sure our theater continues to fit our needs as a school. I’ll truly be satisfied when the lighting project is completed.”

The potential of the new lighting system reaches far beyond the lights and sound crew and STC. With an easier system to work with and more options to choose from, it will be simpler to learn how to teach students outside of STC how to use the equipment. “I really, really want [...] the Stuyvesant Theater Community [...] teaching as many different groups as possible. Maybe they are dancers, like StuySquad, [who want] to know how to use the lights. Maybe it’s faculty, so if they host an event, they can make the lights look nice,” Lake said.

Overall, the changes to the lighting system have brought optimism and relief within STC. Audiences can now enjoy a clear, illuminated stage and will be able to watch the fall musical, Matilda, as well as SING!, dance performances, and other future productions, with fewer concerns. “We would just complain about not being able to see anything when it comes to the lights,” Jian said. “Now, we’re kind of talking about how excited we are for the lights.”