Your current project with REM is the upcoming world tour. Tell us about that and how it's different from other projects you've done.
This tour is on a grander scale and with a bigger budget than most of my previous tours. REM has had spectacular looking shows in the past and has high expectations, so I had to force myself to take a leap into the unknown and try several new design ideas all at once.
The translucent Polygal plastic panels were the starting point for the design, along with an Italian lighting fixture called the Puraluce, which was featured in the New York Times annual design magazine last year and which I was unable to actually get my hands on since it was a just a prototype. The idea was to have the 40 or 50 Puraluce lamps (a hanging decorative fixture made up of bulbs in the shape of three concentric rings inside a clear plastic disc) hung all over the stage at different depths and heights with the panels upstage reflecting them, as well as refracting a whole other system of lights on minibeam trusses further upstage. The Puraluce fixtures were scrapped and replaced with the Color Kinetics iColor® Accent LED fixture after I saw them in a New York gallery show by the artist Leo Villreal. Of course, I am interested in all the new LED technology, and these seemed both elegant and a novelty. I hadn't seen or heard of them being used in any live entertainment setting yet. They are marketed as an architectural fixture.
The panels are corrugated 8mm plastic Polygal used for construction of atriums and large-scale skylights. I wasn't sure that they would work the way I wanted them to. I had a sample and played around with it at home, but I was still just guessing about what kind of look I could get with them onstage. I had used the idea of a transparent backdrop with effects lighting behind it on a smaller, cheaper scale on a Beck tour in 1999-2000; that backdrop was made up of 30 translucent shower curtains sewn together, with a fiber optic drop hung behind it. The shower curtain drop refracted the light from the fiber optic drop, as well as reflecting any light that hit the front of it. So I have been thinking for a while about being able to play around even more with transparency, as well as having more reflective surfaces onstage. This tour has been a perfect opportunity to realize all those ideas on a large scale.
Tell us about a particular challenge you've had to face in this, or another, project or in your career.
My usual challenge is making something out of nothing with limited resources, unlike this tour, where I have much greater resources as far as budget, crew, rehearsal, and prep time. Even larger sized tours I have done in the past have been much more limited in all those respects. It seems like I always wind up making some part of the show by hand (backdrops made out of plastic reflective half spheres, lighting fixtures made out of clear plastic tubes stuffed with rope light and covered with diffusion gel, handmade gobos, hand painted film loops for old RDS projectors, etc.)
What is your favorite gear or a tool you can't live without?
Computer (Apple®) and VectorWorks. Exact configuring of the hanging heights and positioning of the Color Kinetics fixtures and the panels on paper (for the rig to be built prior to the production rehearsals) would have been almost impossible without it.
What's interesting to you in terms of lighting and/or video technology these days?
I'm very hung up on integrating cheap construction materials with standard show lighting gear. I am always looking for smaller, lighter, less obtrusive wash units, although I love the new VARI*LITE VL3000s™, which are exactly the opposite of that description. I am interested in newer ways of show control. I love the Icon console, and I use the Wholehog® all the time, but I need a much more updated version of both these consoles.
What inspires you in your work?
Architecture, visiting Japan, and Industrial Plastics on Canal Street in New York City.