High atop the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, there is a striking circular arrangement of lights that’s a perfect balance of classical elegance and simplicity. As the house lights go low and the performance begins, a dual halo of 128 light bulbs—with 32 forming the outer circle and 96 forming the inner circle—provides an ethereal crown over the audience.
As concert attendees gaze up, they may be losing themselves in the music or they may be thinking, “What happens when one of those bulbs needs to be changed?” That question was recently confronted by Keith Williams of the New York Times. In the F.Y.I article “How Do You Change the Light Bulbs in Carnegie Hall?” he details his experience learning what happens when one of the 128 light bulbs above the Isaac Stern Auditorium needs to be reached.
It’s a real privilege to get a glimpse behind the scenes and above the 2,804 seat auditorium of such a historic building, but that’s where you have to go should you need to access the crowning light fixture set in the Guastavino tile plaster ceiling.
As Mr. Williams sought answers regarding the light fixture’s maintenance, Carnegie Hall archivist, Gino Francesconi led him to a backstage elevator and up to the hall’s sixth floor. After unlocking and leading him through a sound dampening door nearly six inches thick and across a metal catwalk above the stage, they eventually reached the interior of a vaulted ceiling. There, metal structures that supported the concentric circle fixture can be raised so that the bulbs are accessible for replacement and updating.
These types of interior access points and backstage systems are so easy to overlook or simply not consider when visiting an entertainment venue, and that’s usually the idea. Brilliant acoustical design, hidden pathways, and secret access points are all a very real life part of what creates a magical experience for the audience.
Light and sound have always been one of the most rudimentary parts of a successful performance. That’s why stage lighting, like that offered by Specialty Bulb, is so different from the light bulbs used to illuminate a home. Effective sound design is also much of the reason why theaters, concert halls, and other performance spaces usually have many commonalities in their architecture, even as individual features and styles may vary so greatly.
Understanding these hidden aspects of entertainment venues might seem like it would detract from the joys and pleasant escapism of a concert, musical, or play, but to the contrary, knowing what’s required behind the scenes and above the stage can provide a whole new level of appreciation and fascination.