Early in Bob Dylan's career, he wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin.'” Decades later, he wrote “Things Have Changed,” and anyone who saw the spring incarnation of The Bob Dylan Show tour knows that, indeed, they have. Both Dylan's music and style may be timeless, but he felt it was important to keep things evolving, so LD Jon Pollak was given the opportunity to bring some change to Dylan's traditionally downplayed and straightforward touring look.

“Historically, he does not want a visual interpretation of his music,” says Pollak. “He wants to be seen and have the audience be seen, sort of a black-and-white film style — film noir.” Pollak explains the mandate he was given. “On this tour, however, while still having nothing too literal visually, I was told he wanted to change things up a little,” he says. “He still wanted to maintain certain elements, which meant not having colored lights on anyone's face — not a lot of changes in stage levels — and he still wanted basic illumination coverage, nothing spotty, just a very wide, large wash, so I used a lot of wide PARs and medium PARs. Yet, contrary to popular belief, there is not a white light on stage. I used a lot of cosmetically enhanced color; I used Lee 201, 203, 204. There is a warm look and a cool look; it is all molding and modeling.

“In the past, they were reticent to use color because color suggests things to the audience, but [Dylan] thought we could add some color on this one, so I suggested a big red drape, since we were playing theatres,” continues Pollak. “I came up with the design, had it rendered, and sent it to him. He approved it immediately, no changes.”

Rose Brand fabricated the sumptuous red velour drape, and Pollak used the curtain not just as a background punch. This simple element was the springboard for a rich, multi-look design.

Pollak breaks the design down into two parts during the course of the show. During the first part, the drape is closed behind Dylan. It is lit very discreetly, and as the show goes on, it becomes a “red” curtain. “I used the Color Kinetics ColorBlaze, which are fabulous to light scenery,” Pollak explains. “The drape becomes a really alive red rather than just a reflected light red. Slowly, during that first part, I would do a five-minute color fade from red to a sort of lavender, but over the five minutes, you don't notice the change; it is subliminal. Dylan really liked that. He thought that was great. By the end of the first six or seven songs, we have gone through a range with the red of the drape to a really vibrant thing; we have faded between colors and then, we raise the curtain to a contoured, swagged opening. The lights hit the underside of the drape, and they light the folds.” This marks what Pollak considers the second part of the show, where he literally adds another layer to the design, with the reveal of a fiber-optic stardrop supplied by Upstaging.

With the red curtain serving as a strong framing device, Pollak subtly focused attention on the drop. Behind the drape, he reveals the stardrop. “I play it in very gently,” he says. “It starts very dark with only a few of the stars, and then, I very gently add more. Slowly, I start to add it in, a little brighter, a little fuller, so by the end of the show, it is all lit up. By the end of the show, you have seen several looks. The colors have changed, and the audience goes up with the mood or down with the mood, but the show doesn't say anything. It never really interprets the music.” The design certainly fulfilled Dylan's wishes for change without altering the audiences' appreciation of the music.

Pollak's ability to balance Dylan's wishes for both change and subtlety is not surprising when you understand Pollak's approach to design. “In this day and age, I really feel that, with artists' propensity to focus on the bottom line and budgets, concise design — clever use of tools in design — is more practical in the future,” he says. “You give enough thought to something, and you don't need to throw 500 lights at it to make up for lack of an idea. Have a really cohesive idea and then make that into a design that will suit the artist and [execute] the design to really get the best out of the products. You don't need a million lights doing this, that, and the other thing. It all gets lost in the translation. You need a strong design idea, a strong design.”

Once Pollak has a good understanding of what the design is, he essentially reverse-engineers it, by thinking about how the products and technology will work. This allows him to keep his work both creative and budget savvy. “You have to really understand what it is you want to do, what the different type of instruments will do and their limitations; between the two of those things, you make decisions,” he explains. “You try to use things because you know when they are going to work — how they are going to work — and that you can really put them through their paces. You are able to make a finite decision and get the most out of your gear to serve your design.”

Pollak has always turned out strong, rich designs, and for anyone who has seen his work, his artistry is obvious, but his design approach has a practical benefit, as he jokingly explains. “When managers and promoters realize it costs less to put the show in a truck, less to rent it, and less in personnel for hotels, they don't complain about the design fee.”

Bob Dylan Tour Spring 2005
Lighting equipment supplied by Upstaging:
78 ETC Source Four® PAR
5 6' Color Kinetics ColorBlaze® 72 LED Cyc
4 6' Altman Zip Strip
4 Altman 2kW Softlight
6 Martin MAC 2000 Profile
5 James Thomas 8-Light Molefay
2 150W CDM Zoom Ellipsoidal
4 150W CDM PAR
4 High End Systems Color Pro FX
1 30'×30' Rose Brand Fiber Optic Drape
2 Rose Brand Red Velour Drape Panel
2 30'×20' Rose Brand Black Drape Panel
1 Bi-Parting Traveler Track
1 High End Systems Wholehog® 2 Console
1 ETC 48×2.4kW Sensor® Dimmer Rack
1 A/C Power Distribution
1 Reel EFX DF-50 Hazer
6 Tomcat 10'×12"×18" Black Box Truss
11 Tomcat 8' Black Pre-Rig Box Truss
9 Chain Master Chain Hoists with 2 Cable Picks
1 Motion Labs Motor Control System
4 Upstaging Custom DMX 5M Pantograph
2 50lb. Pipe and Base
6 Short T-Pipe

Jon Pollak, lighting designer
Tyler Elich, crew chief
Troy Smith, technician