'The Circus Starring Britney Spears' soars with PRG's Scenic Technologies

Photo by Jeremy CowartNew Windsor, NY—June 23, 2009—PRG's Scenic Technologies group has had many opportunities over the years to engineer new and innovative automation solutions but they were particularly excited to have the chance to join The Circus Starring Britney Spears. The European leg of the world tour, which began at the O2 Arena in London, was the debut of the overhead automation system and two flying scenic elements. PRG received the request to engineer and build the system approximately four weeks prior to installation. The design concept presented a challenge that the PRG engineers found impossible to resist.

Tour Producer/Director Steve Dixon, Production Designers Nick Whitehouse and Bryan Leitch, and Costume Designer William Baker have created a spectacular set with a large circular mainstage and two smaller stages, evoking a three-ring circus. Above the mainstage is a large circular truss system, containing a massive 360° video screen and a red drape, which raises and lowers during the show. However, that is far from the only aerial work of the night; there is a complex automated flying system for scenic elements as well as performers, including Ms. Spears herself.

“PRG was able to deliver the show that we conceived,” explained Dixon. “It is unique automation for a concert environment, more like a Broadway show, but with the ability to handle a touring schedule of back-to-backs with eight hours to load in and four hours to load out. With PRG, I now have a slick, smooth automated flying system that is precise, repeatable and most importantly, tourable. PRG is a company that has an absolutely positive attitude. It was never ‘no, we can't do it.' If there was an issue, they came to us with solutions. Their focus was on the timely delivery of the system and the costs. They understood the importance of balancing both things.”

PRG engineered the overhead automated flying system on the show including all 15 winches. There is a center lift winch that rotates 720° and works as both a scenery winch and a performer winch. Though this winch is used throughout the production it is particularly effective during two major moments in the show, both of which also include new scenic elements supplied by PRG. The first is when Britney sits onstage on a large umbrella that opens and flies up while slowly rotating as she sings a soft ballad. Later in the show she steps into a basket-style element that lifts her above a ring of actual fire.

Another key automation sequence in the show involves three large picture frame assemblies that each contain one performer. All three frames revolve in a circle as well as lift and lower. Previously, they only tracked 70° but PRG engineered a solution that allows the units to rotate 340° around the stage. Three lift winches were installed which are connected via an aircraft cable so that they lock into one another and become a single cable-loop. One revolve winch moves all three frames around the circle and the distance between the frames remains constant.

An essential part of the assignment given PRG was to provide four performer fly winches that the aerialists use with both ring choreography and fabric routines. Here safety, precision and consistent cue accuracy were absolutely imperative. PRG Scenic Technologies built permissive switches for each performer winch, which were used by the performer's individual spotters. The spotter presses a button in order to allow the winch to move up and down. If the button is released the winch is disabled and will not move until re-enabled (the permissive button engaged). This provided another layer of individual safety for each winch. The actual control of the winches is handled by a single operator on PRG's Commanderâ„¢ console, the newest version of the PRG Stage Command® system for automation control.

The Commander console utilizes new software and it shares many hardware components with the new PRG V676â„¢ lighting console. All of the effects go back to submasters on the control console where the operator can manipulate the time signatures via faders. There is a grandmaster that can operate all of the effects, as well as individual submasters that control individual winches. Once programmed, the Commander console ensures the speed is going to be the same every night at the touch of the go button. All of the drive racks and control intelligence for the system were moved to ground level where they could be more easily serviced. This also reduced the weight on the grid and allowed for faster load in and out.

The new control system and permissive button arrangement is particularly appreciated by the lead aerialist, Shannon Beach. She praised Scenic Technologies saying, “The new automated flying system had a big impact on the production and the feeling of security for the performers who work with it every night. It's so tight and so specific; we now feel that we can sharpen and expand our performances. Our confidence in the system allows us to focus on our performances.”

PRG Scenic Technologies has over 20 years experience engineering automation for the theatrical market, corporate events and themed environments. It was the expertise and confidence of the well-respected Scenic Technologies team, led by Orestes Mihaly, General Manager, that convinced the tour they had found the right shop. “I have worked for years with PRG; they are always excellent and reliable as a company,” explains Mo Morrison, Production Executive for the tour. “Yet going with PRG Scenic Technologies to handle concert touring automation work was still a gamble; but they very quickly adapted to the concert touring concerns of back to backs, fast in and out; the truck space considerations; and the gear reliability required for work on the road. They were very open to what we required and always had a positive, confident attitude. What is not to love about the new automated flying system? It does everything that we wanted; it's sexy; and it's always on the mark. It's predictable and with automation, predictability is your friend. When you have people and scenic elements in the air, you want it to be spot on. I can truly say this has been another great PRG experience.”

Prior to this tour, Whitehouse and Leitch partnered with Steve Dixon, William Baker and touring veteran Mo Morrison to form the production company Road Rage, which is producing The Circus Starring Britney Spears tour as well as handling the production design for the current Il Divo world tour.

For more information on PRG Scenic Technologies, please visit www.prg.com.

About Production Resource Group—Production Resource Group, LLC (PRG) is the world's leading supplier of entertainment technology solutions, including lighting, audio, video, scenery, and automation systems. PRG serves a wide range of markets, including theatre, concert tours, trade shows, corporate and special events, television and film, and themed environments. PRG provides its services worldwide through more than 17 offices in North America, Europe, and Asia.

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