Alicia Keys Stars on a Brilliant Stage

003t0061small.jpg UK-based stage set fabricators, Brilliant Stages have designed and constructed the dynamic and exciting set for the Alicia Keys As I Am Tour. Following a European launch at the beginning of the year and a summer spend touring the States, the tour has returned once more to Europe, before embarking on its final leg in Australia later this year.

Tour Producer, Steve Dixon, of Music Tour Management Inc, who has been responsible for producing tours for other high profile clients such as Justin Timberlake, Barry Manilow, Britney Spears and Mariah Carey, contacted Brilliant Stages before Christmas on the recommendation of Production Director, Jake Berry (U2, Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Cher).

The creative team responsible for the original design concept consisted of Dixon, Lighting Designer Bryan Leitch (Siyan Limited), Co-Lighting Director Nick Whitehouse (Visual Light Ltd), Video Designer Emric Epstein (VYV Corporation) and Martin Granger-Piché (VYV Corporation). Dixon called for a non-traditional use of video and worked with the rest of the creative team to enhance the music message with colours and textures rather than full on traditional video. The presentation of this video was to have a strong influence over the final design. The original concepts from Dixon, Epstein and Granger-Piché were drawn up by Seth Jackman and subsequently handed over to Whitehouse and Leitch further adaptation.

Brilliant Stages finally received the full information for the design in mid January, with the brief that it should be ready for rehearsals by the beginning of February, leaving them a turnaround time of approximately three weeks.

The core of the much-changed design centres around a convex video screen which provides the main projection backdrop. This, in turn, is surrounded by a 4' wide walkway curving around the screen at a height of 10' above the main stage.

Suspended directly underneath the walkway are twelve sloping panels of Philips I-Tiles, each measuring 12' x 4' and comprised of twelve individual 2' x 2' I-Tiles. These panels are hooked onto a track running around the front of the walkway to facilitate rapid assembly and are locked together in two sets (6 each side) so they can slide off stage to create an entrance for the piano riser directly under the walkway and video screen.

The result is, as Dixon terms it, “a very dramatic set.”

“We designed the set for maximum effect with the minimum of effort for the construction and transport crews involved,” explains Brilliant Stages General Manager, Tony Bowern. “ The curved projection screen enhances the effect of a big set but it is actually very simple. The bi-parting screens, for example, are very effective but, along with the rest of the set, are efficiently designed for rapid set up and break down over the long tour.”

David Mendoza designed a magic reveal sequence featuring Color Kinetics iColor Accent Powercore fixtures and a piano riser for Keys' initial entrance. Brilliant Stages created the piano riser as a circular truck, 10' in diameter, the top half of which revolves with the piano on top, while the bottom half acts as a steerable truck. Both truck and revolve were controlled by a Kinesys system to Brilliant Stages instructions.

Following the curve of the video screen at the lower level are band risers situated either side of central entrance. These are constructed out of Brilliant Stages' low, carpeted Dekex lightweight staging system and backed with the Phillips I-Tile panels as surrounding fascia.

Then came a real challenge – Dixon wanted the artist to be revealed in front of the projection screen on the centre of the upper walkway. Brilliant Stages had to devise and construct a method of making an electric ‘Star Trap' which would emerge from the piano revolve and be located into the centre of the walkway.

Brilliant Stages worked on the project with sister company Tomcat UK which used Tomcat medium duty box trussing to support the video screen and the curved outrunning trusses for the drapes either side. The main lighting rig was composed of thirty sections of Tomcat Swing Wing in a combination of 8' and 10' lengths, plus 5 rotating followspot chairs. “As usual, the turnaround from Tomcat was painless and rapid,” says Bowern.

For the American leg of the tour a thrust stage was added. This catwalk was mounted on rollers for ease of fit up and was designed to interface with any height of stage during the three month tour. The catwalk takes Keys through the audience to a circular B stage, also designed by Brilliant Stages, which was originally intended to be 5' in height to conceal the piano beneath it.

However, a last minute decision was made to reduce this height to 4' leaving Brilliant Stages with the problem of how to house the piano within the foreshortened structure. This was overcome by replacing the legs of the piano with electric linear actuators (and the pedals with MIDI foot controls) which could alter the height of the piano as required.

This redesigned B stage and walkway were added to the touring combination only two weeks before rehearsals in another example of how Brilliant Stages is quick to respond, adapt and change according to the customers' needs.

“Brilliant Stages delivered in a crunch, on time and on budget,” says Dixon. “When you are working to a tight deadline, it is very important that people can do what they say they can. Equally important is to say when something is not possible. Brilliant Stages' communication was very clear at all times, presenting us with a series of viable alternatives at any point when what we asked for was not practical.”

Alicia Keys tour runs to the end of 2008 ending in Perth Australia.

More information on Brilliant Stages can be found at www.brilliantstages.com

Photos: Todd Kaplan

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