Joseph was a pretty nostalgic show for me, as it was the last musical I was involved in at my high school and one of the first shows where I started getting involved in lighting.
It was pretty fun to get the opportunity to revisit this show as a lighting designer. It certainly looked a lot better than my high school's production did:
(Yikes: the date on the photo is March 16th, 2003)
Ion was an enjoyable console to demo. Like Congo before it I chose an ideal show that would play to the strengths of this control system. Ion's purpose in life is to play back pre-recorded lighting cues in a set order - which is ideal for a conventional theatre show such as Joseph.
The displays are dominated by the live view, showing active levels on channels on the left; and the main cue list playback screen on the right. While the Ion does use a tabbed interface like Congo, it is not a versatile. Windows cannot be split across the screen and it is not even as obvious which tab you are controlling. The console seems designed specifically to live in this general view and occasionally access tools from other windows. It is also designed a bit more for a touch screen or mouse interface, which slows it down.
The best part of Ion is the cue list screen. It shows the currently active cue list, with the cue active on stage highlighted in the center. It gives you a nice wide view of the list, showing a great number of cues ahead of and behind the currently active cue. It also shows a ton of information about the cue, fade times, total transition duration, move times for non-intensity parameters, flags, and labels. It manages to fit a lot more information on the screen than Congo's master playback screen without even looking cluttered.
Another major difference here is that Ion is a command line console, allowing you to type in lengthy and detailed commands and execute them at once. For example the command line:
[record] [cue] [time] [delay][out] [label][s][c][e][n][e] [enter]Would all at once record the current look on stage as cue 12, set the fade time to 6 seconds, put a 2 second delay on the downfade, and label the cue "Scene 3". This system allows you to build more complex commands and have more specific control about how the console records your show - but it also takes longer to program.
The other major differences are that the Ion is a tracking move-fade LTP console where as the Congo is a preset state HTP console. I come from a background with Expression, Impression, and Express, so I'm more comfortable with a state/preset style of control. But, rather than trying to explain all of that, I shall defer to a bobblehead of ETC CEO Fred Foster who can do so much better than I:
When it comes down to it, Ion is a console made to control conventional theatre shows very well. When you depart from the world of neatly pre-recorded cues though, it tends to fall flat. Unfortunately for Ion I frequently find myself having to light concerts for bands I've never heard of, have no idea what the set-list is (not that it would do me much good having never heard any of their songs), and the only idea of their style I got from the sound check. Add to that the crazy dance shows (like my Congo demo), school events, and corporate meetings and I only end up running off pre-recorded light cues for about a third of all shows I light. Congo is just much better for those kinds of on-the-fly and flexible events.
Now the really fun part begins - trying to find the money to buy one! Anyone have $13,000 laying around they'd be willing to donate to the SMPAC?