Taking place at the beginning of the new academic year, Mars Hill Bible School’s Celebration Show Choir concert is a lavish production that runs for two hours, featuring over 50 students, more than 15 costume changes and a lighting rig to rival a Broadway show. For the 2018 performances the powerhouse of this rig was an array of eight ADJ Vizi CMY300 LED-powered moving heads supplied by long-time lighting designer Jonathan Edwards.

Located in Florence, Alabama, Mars Hill Bible School was founded in 1947 and educates children from pre-school thru 12th grade, with a dual focus on spiritual and academic education. Part of a diverse arts program, the School’s Show Choir has a summer camp for rehearsals and then stages its production right at the beginning of the school year. For 2018 the show was successfully staged at the Norton Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Alabama, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances.

Many of today’s lighting professionals started out in high school, working behind the scenes for shows and concerts. It is a great way to gain initial experience that can lead on to a rewarding career. Eighteen years ago that’s exactly how Jonathan Edwards started his journey into the lighting industry, serving as Lighting Designer for the first ever Show Choir Concert at Mars Hill Bible School during his freshman year. 

“I was never in the show myself, to be honest I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket!”, Jonathan jokes. “I don’t like being in the spotlight, I like to be the one providing the spotlight! That’s just the kind of guy I am.”

Having found his niche, Jonathan has been instrumental in helping to improve the production quality of the show year after year and that small-scale musical showcase, featuring just 37 students and a single costume change, has developed over the years to become the epic production it is today. And, despite graduating in 2003, Jonathan returns to his alma mater every year to design the show, now providing the lighting equipment through his company Axis Sound & Lighting.

Starting out as a DJ in high school, Jonathan launched Axis in 1999 as a DJ company. However, after graduation he branched out into professional sound and lighting production, building up an inventory of equipment and roster of clients across Alabama. The company is now well-established, serving a wide variety of different events each year. Although production work is still at the heart of the business, an installation division was also launched in May of last year. Since then Axis Sound and Lighting has carried out numerous installations, both big and small, with that part of the business growing rapidly.

For the Celebration Show Choir concerts Jonathan continues to act as the Lighting Designer, Programmer and Operator, while Axis Sound and Lighting also provides all of the lighting equipment as well as the set and audio system. Each year the Axis team meets with Show Choir Director JJ Davenport to agree a budget and discuss her vision for the production. They then put together a bespoke set and lighting rig to bring the technical elements of that vision to life.

With an aging equipment inventory, mainly consisting of fixtures from the early 2000s, Jonathan and his team decided to invest in new technology ahead of the 2018 Celebration Show Choir production. “We felt it was time to upgrade our moving heads and go for something modern and a little more robust. We choose the ADJ Vizi CMY300, first of all because it was LED. That was a great feature for us, because the cost of one of the fixtures was the same as it would have been just to re-lamp our existing models. So we decided to invest in new fixtures that will last for years to come. We’ve been really pleased with that decision and have had no issues with them at all, every one worked right out of the box. The quality control on them was great and they clearly have an excellent build quality. I was thoroughly impressed!”

Axis Sound and Lighting added eight ADJ Vizi CMY300s to their production hire inventory over the summer and deployed them all for the 2018 Celebration Show Choir concerts. Rigged in pairs, they were positioned above and just behind the performers to allow for stage down-lighting, mid-air beams and also for creating silhouette effects.

Powered by a specially-designed 300W LED engine, the Vizi CMY300 offers a massive output and expansive collection of beam-shaping tools. As a hybrid unit, it is capable of functioning interchangeably as a beam, spot or wash fixture – making it ideal for use by production companies who want to minimize inventory while maximizing the lighting looks and effects they can offer to their clients.

For the Celebration Show Choir production, Jonathan made full use of all three of the fixtures’ beam modes as he explains, “Some of the numbers in the show were up-beat, some of them were ballads and others were somewhere in between, which meant that having a multi-function fixture like the Vizi CMY300 was incredibly useful. For one song they’d be providing a nice subtle smooth wash and then for the next they’d be shooting around creating energetic mid-air effects. I also really liked having the two different types of prism available, they were really handy. I’ve never had a fixture with a linear prism before, and that feature was really impressive. It worked very well for covering the floor of the stage, really spreading the beam out, getting the coverage I needed to wash the whole floor with texture.”

In addition to the two rotating prisms, two independent GOBO wheels (one offering replaceable, rotating GOBOs), motorized zoom and focus, frost filter and color wheel, the Vizi CMY300’s signature feature is CMY (cyan, magenta and yellow) color mixing, of which Jonathan also made extensive use. “The CMY color mixing allowed me to dial in exactly the right color to fit the mood of every number. The mixing is very smooth and the fixture has a really even field, which is very impressive for an LED unit. The optics are great too, they really are pristine. These are great fixtures, I love them to death!”

As Axis Sound and Lighting will be using their Vizi CMY300 fixtures for a variety of different productions, they also invested in four of ADJ’s DRCVIZI Road Cases to make transportation easier and to keep the units protected during transit and in storage between events. Jonathan was equally impressed with the cases as he was with the fixtures themselves. “I love the cases, the cases rock!”, he enthused. “The fixtures fit in perfectly and there’s plenty of extra storage space for cables and clamps.”

For the Celebration Show Choir Concert, the Vizi CMY300s were definitely the stars of the lightshow. They created vivid color washes, sharp GOBO projections and striking beam effects that highlighted the true stars of the show, the talented student performers. “We try to bring the eye candy to make the kids feel good,” Jonathan sums up. “ We want them to feel like rock stars!”

Mars Hill Bible School Show Choir Concert 2018

Norton Auditorium, University of North Alabama

N Pine St, Florence, AL 35630

ADJ Dealer & Production Company

Axis Sound & Lighting

Lighting Designer, Programmer and Show Operator
Jonathan Edwards

Choir Director
JJ Davenport

Betty Dale Walker

Gear List
8 x ADJ Vizi CMY300

4 x DRCVIZI Road Cases