Take a Las Vegas revue, add a touch of vaudeville, plus a few Cirque du Soleil-style acts, Canadian singer Paul Brandt, a club atmosphere, and roll it all into Century, the 2012 TransAlta Grandstand Show at the Calgary Stampede. This 77-minute show ran for just ten nights in July, as part of the Stampede’s centennial celebration.
"I have been with this show since 1996, and we had about 48 PAR cans back then," recalls Canadian lighting designer Pierre Marleau of Calgary-based Orange Frog Productions. "I always try to update the technology, and we have evolved to a show with over 600 fixtures of which more than 400 are moving heads." Marleau is also part of the producing team for the show, which he notes "comes from the vaudevillian era, when fairs had a show every night. We are the last of the big fairs that still does a live show on this scale."
Each year, an audience of 25,000 people per night comes to see chuck wagon races at 8pm and stays to see the Grandstand Show that begins at 10pm. After the chuck wagon races, the largest John Deere tractor in existence pulls the 500,000lb stage one-quarter mile into place, during a 25-minute changeover (the stage measures 100' long by 30' deep by 45' tall). "The stage was built in 1999 by F&D Scene Changes in Calgary, who build a lot of Broadway shows," Marleau points out. "We are lucky to have them in our backyard. They do our new scenery every year."
One of the challenges for the lighting team is that the sun does not set over western Canada until 10:45pm in July, so there is still full sunlight when the show begins. That also means any programming is done from 11pm until about 5am. "Since the show is outdoors on a stage with no roof,
we need fixtures that work well in the rain," Marleau adds. "We can’t lose any moving lights and can’t afford to lose time programming, with just one week to program a 77-minute show. Luckily, Epic Production Technologies created watertight rain gear for the moving lights."
Marleau draws his plot in Cast Software wysiwyg, but he does not do advance programming. "We hit the deck running," he says, "And I try to make the rig as flexible as possible. From 6 to 11pm, we watch rehearsal, have a powwow, and then start programming." This year, programmer Michael Wilkinson used an MA Lighting grandMA2, and once the show was programmed, it ran via SMPTE timecode.
To add color and intensity at the top of the show, 31 light boxes were built into the stage, each with 12 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlasts. The automated fixtures included 53 Clay Paky Sharpy units, 32 Martin Professional MAC 101s, and 67 Philips Vari-Lite VL3000 spots. "The Sharpy fixtures really helped reshape the show," says Marleau. "I started playing with them earlier this year and found they could really help us, especially in a club scene at 10pm when we needed the extra brightness. The MAC 101 was the real little workhorse to give me a base color. I’d like to have about 150 of them next year. I am also a big fan of Vari-Lite and really like their optics." Epic Production Technologies provided the rig, which also included 20 Altman Lighting Fresnels, 20 VL2500 Spots, 15 VL2500 Wash units, 16 MAC 700 Profiles, 25 High End Systems Studio Colors, six Lycian M2 followspots, ETC Sensor+ dimmers, and six Philips Strand 240V power distros.
Eight Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers and eight Martin Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass units provided fog all around the stage. "We never know which way the wind is coming from and hope we can hold the fog," Marleau notes, adding that he lights to the music. "The show is very cue-heavy, maybe 1,200 to 1,300 cues in a 77-minute show. There is not a specific palette; for the more rock ‘n’ roll numbers, we just go from pretty picture to pretty picture."
For a number with young Chinese acrobats, the look was cartoony and kid-friendly in pastels, from pink to a dash of fuchsia, and soft puffs of color in the light boxes. For a Japanese lariat act, a kung-fu anime feel permeated the video, its colors supported in the lighting.
Another scene featured an animated eagle with a 60' wingspan and native hoop dancers on its neck, with a large mirror ball that was flown in during a more modern music section (the likes of Lady Gaga). "Usually, the music is more dated, but this year, they wanted a more modern soundscape," explains Marleau. "Our composer is David Pierce, who also composed for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 and serves as sound designer as well."
Marleau worked closely with video director Jamie Nesbitt on the coordination of looks and color. Much of the video content was created in Adobe After Effects with playback via Dataton Watchout, with images seen on 120 18mm Mesh LED panels by MVI Multi Vision Inc., used for original content and I-Mag.
"This is a huge outdoor spectacle, and we want a different look every year," says Marleau. "You always have to find new tricks in your hat and see what you can bring to the table to change your game."