Ask anyone who knows me who my favorite singer is, and the answer is unequivocally, and without hesitation, Kylie Minogue. Why? Well, for a few reasons: First, I love the Australian singer's incredibly catchy music. Her unique blend of dance, pop, and electro instantly gets me moving on the dance floor and puts a smile on my face. Second, I am always captivated by her bubbly, friendly, and loveable performance personality (she always appears to be truly enjoying herself while performing). Third, and perhaps, most importantly, I love her spectacular concerts. The stunningly well-designed live shows always leave me mesmerized and wanting more.
Minogue, who has been recording for over 20 years, has released 10 studio albums, over 50 singles, and has wowed audiences in Europe, Asia, and Australia, playing sold-out arenas. Having never before toured North America, 2009 sees Kylie playing smaller venues in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, and New York.
Responsible for creating the glossy and polished US show are show director and designer William Baker, stage designer Alan MacDonald, lighting designer Nick Whitehouse, video director and producer Tom Colbourne of BlinkTV, laser and effects designer Lorenzo Cornacchia, and musical director Steve Anderson.
The concept behind the North American tour was to present a "‘best of" Minogue's arena tours from over the last few years, "a chance to give American fans selected highlights from the shows they missed…with a few exclusive new bits thrown in as well," says Colbourne. This includes songs with new arrangements, original costumes, new choreography, and a new visual design.
The show is broken down into seven themed sections, including a futuristic opening, which sees Minogue arriving from above on a giant skull; a section inspired by the 1980s club scene; and a Hollywood glamour act, in which Minogue plays a starlet perched upon a golden sofa and surrounded by two golden panther statues. "Kylie wanted to make sure that she is seen as the Queen of Pop and not under deliver," says Whitehouse.
The musical arrangement at the top of the show includes an overture using the 20th Century Fox fanfare followed by snippets of "Over The Rainbow" and "The Sound Of Music," when the vibe morphs from classic Hollywood into more contemporary electronica. The entire show is run off timecode, according to Anderson, due to the amount of production involved. "I always write the parts for the band into the arrangements, and then anything that is impossible for them to play such as orchestras, choirs, and some electronic sequenced parts are run live in Logic for rehearsals then bounced to a Mackie system. Our drummer Matt takes the main kit sounds for the electronic songs and plays them on pads. It's so important to me that we have an incredibly tight and perfect sound that has a live feel, which is something our band achieves perfectly under the direction of [band musical director and keyboardist] Sarah deCourcy."
The stage itself is built off a 60'-wide by 40'-deep model, with some venues providing a stage area with less depth. A main band riser extends the width of the stage and rises 9" off the stage floor. Slightly stage left of center stage is a step riser for Minogue's entrances, with a further two step levels, each 9" high. The front and sides of the risers are faced in a brushed metal fascia, and the entire stage floor, including the risers, is covered in a high-gloss black Marley. PRG Scenic Technologies built the three-tiered riser.
Seven Everbrighten BR-15 video screens, of different sizes, five of which move throughout the show, pepper the stage. Three of the screens (9'6" squares) sit downstage, with a home trim position of 24' from the stage deck, and these fly in and out during the show. Two static screens—29'x16' and 14'x20'—with trim positions 2' from the stage deck, sit to the rear of the band members. A 6'x24' screen splits the middle of the stage for reveals. Each 3'-wide section of screen has an open position off stage-left and -right. On her arena tours, Minogue usually uses lifts for reveals and entrances, but due to the smaller venues on this tour, the splitting and moving screens do the job. The high-gloss flooring reflects the video screens, making it seem that the floor is itself a video object (a nod to last year's KylieX2008 tour).
The major set piece of the show is a giant, 6'-diameter silver skull that Minogue flies in on at the top of the show. Built by PRG Scenic Technologies, the skull was made from a "3D carving of a real human skull from EPS foam," says project manager Troy Atkinson. "We then coated it with a fire retardant spray rim coat. Smoothing was done by hand, and then we applied mirror panels by hand. A full aluminum armature with integral back support was added in order to allow for attachment to the chain hoists it flies on and to support [Kylie]." When starting to sing "Light Years," Minogue stands atop the skull decked in a Jean Paul Gautier silver space mini-dress and wearing a headpiece of orbiting planets. Other set pieces include a high-backed gold leaf couch, rolling shower scenes used by the male dancers, and a pommel horse.
Lighting Light Years
Whitehouse started his design process with the screens. "I added lights around them," he says. "Looking through William's treatment, I created this whole idea of what I wanted the lighting to be and went to Solotech to see if it would fit in the budget, and they did it."
A new product in Whitehouse's rig is the Philips Vari-Lite VLX Wash LED luminaire, its first use on tour. To round out the design are Vari-Lite VL2500 Spots, VL3000 Spot and Wash units, Martin Professional Atomic Strobes, ETC Source Four 19° ellipsoidals, and two-lite and four-lite DWE fixtures. Inserted into the fronts and sides of the risers are Element Labs Versa Tubes to make the risers pop out from the rest of the stage. Whitehouse uses four followspots to complete his design.
To program the show, Whitehouse used a PRG V676 console. He had previously used one when he was the first to take the console on tour with The Circus Starring Britney Spears. Connected to ESP Vision on his laptop during load-ins on the Spears' tour, Whitehouse preprogrammed looks for Kylie to preview.
Having produced the visuals for Kylie's tours since KylieFever2002, BlinkTV was again commissioned to create the content for this tour. Colbourne was responsible for the show's dynamic content. "We believe that screens should be integrated with a show rather than dominating the stage for the sake of it," he says. "So, there are times where the screens are used as a static set piece with curtains and chandeliers and others where we fill the stage with graphics to transport the audience into a 1980s music video for the Taboo Section." Kylie premiered a new song on the US tour, "Better Than Today," for which Colbourne created new footage. "As it was created from scratch, it allowed us to really have fun with the screens configuration and have images traveling from one screen to another and cutting across different screens."
The seven video screens are used as both a giant canvas and individual screens at different points in the show, creating a visually stimulating design that leaves the audience mesmerized. "The playback is setup so we can treat all the screens as one canvas or have completely separate feeds," says Colbourne. "We approached each song individually and spent a lot of time reformatting existing content to maximize its impact within the new stage set. For example, on ‘Better The Devil You Know,' we have the image positioned on separate feeds for the verses and then switch to one canvas for the 3D arches in the choruses. I think, for set backdrops, it's really important to treat the whole stage as one canvas. At their most effective, Kylie's screen visuals can literally transport the audience from, for example, a homoerotic gym to a grand ballroom."
To control the content, BlinkTV used Virtual VTR (VVTR). "It's simple software that runs on a Mac with a Kona HD video card in it and allows the Mac to playback uncompressed HD QuickTime synched to timecode," says Colbourne. "The whole stage canvas comes from a single HD source that was designed by Richard Turner, who has worked with us on playback for pretty much all the Kylie shows. The VVTR is controlled via Medialon Manager V4 using MIDI triggering from the band's timecode. It's quite high-res content and is tightly edited to the music, so a solid, high-quality playback system is important."
Since a lot of the footage for the tour is reedited from Minogue's last few arena tours, BlinkTV had to adapt all the visuals to the different aspect ratios of the new screens, an arduous task. "We had square content and portrait content as well as the footage for KylieX2008 that was on a large backdrop of six screens and a video floor, so we had lots of fun making it work for the Kylie USA stage set."
Lasers & Effects
Lorenzo Cornacchia, vice president and director of operations of Pyrotek Special Effects Inc., designed the lasers and effects for the show. Using new diode technology, Cornacchia and laser programmer Jason McEachern programmed the opening of the show to create cages of light that surround Minogue as she descends on the giant skull. "We're involved in a nine or 10 minute opening section," says Cornacchia, "and it's all lasers. Two of the lasers travel down with her and create different diffraction and caged looks around her. The idea is for scans and sweeps, and with so many lasers, we can do symmetrical and asymmetrical looks. I love that people are allowing me to do this. With all this technology, you can get pretty creative."
On the effects side, a Minogue show is never complete without glitter or confetti, the manifesto seeming to be, "When in doubt, apply more glitter." Red rose petals fall from the sky during one of the show's ballads, and at the close of the show, confetti canons blast. Low-lying fog is another key element. "The main riser has two recessed cryogenics under that stage, and we can frame her in that cryo," says Cornacchia. A total of 13 jets add effects to "Red Blooded Woman" and accent key chorus hits.
For the full gear list, check out the November/December issue of Live Design.
Steven Battaglia is a New York-based technical director and production manager, as well as a lighting and video designer. Writing about Kylie Minogue's North American tour revealed to him all the creative input it took to fit an arena-sized show into smaller venues.