Big things are happening at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. The original movie-based theme park has been eclipsed by the addition of Islands of Adventure, five mega-themed playlands that debut this spring. Universal's City Walk just opened there as well, with a lineup of clubs and restaurants ranging from Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville to the Motown Cafe. Smack in the middle of all this is the Hard Rock Cafe, now installed in a new, larger location and flanked by Hard Rock Live, a sophisticated performance venue that soft-opened in January, and where a house band and touring acts share center stage.
"The design of the building resembles a vintage coliseum with Roman arches and columns, and rock work that is actually crumbling," says Jim Pope, project manager for Morris Architects in Orlando. He points out that the Hard Rock Cafe design is more traditional, with two copper domes (the "copper" is thanks to scenic paint) atop the private dining rooms. The two buildings are interconnected with small kitchens located between the cafe and the club, which also serves as a corporate function hall.
The exterior lighting includes dramatic uplights that accent the architectural features. The interior lobby of the theatre is complete with items from Hard Rock's collection of rock and roll memorabilia. Brick display cases (built with bricks from the original Cavern Club, where the Beatles first played in Liverpool), a brass chandelier made of saxophones, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle behind the bar continue the theming.
"The goal for the performance space was to provide a flexible, intimate environment in which to see and hear the best rock acts in the country," says Steve Friedlander of Auerbach + Associates, theatre consultant for the project, which was brought on board to provide stage rigging and lighting systems design and to assist Morris Architects and Design Development Inc. with the design of the performance room. Auerbach came to the job via Island Systems, an Orlando-based company that has provided the audiovisual systems for many Hard Rock Cafes.
The main level of Hard Rock Live is a large flat floor that can be left open for dancing or arranged with seating in rows or at tables, while the balcony has fixed theatre seats and a special VIP section with large easy chairs and direct access to a private bar and lounge. The balcony wraps around the sides of the room to maintain the intimate feeling of the club, and forms a side tier with tables and chairs. "The club can accommodate 1,700 people in a theatre seating arrangement," Friedlander notes. "The sightlines are excellent and virtually no one is more than 100' (33m) from the stage."
The complex lighting systems were designed to meet a variety of requirements, and according to everybody involved with the project, flexibility was the operational buzzword. Other concerns were voiced by Pope. "We had some code concerns, and had to meet certain light levels," he says. "The lighting had to be powerful yet not obtrusive. We didn't want it to overpower the interior design intent, but rather enhance it and bring it to life."
To achieve all this, a team of lighting specialists worked on various aspects of the project. The circuitry and basic lighting systems were designed by Auerbach + Associates, with Friedlander (from its New York City office) as project manager. Systems integration, engineering, and installation was done by Production Arts with support from Vanco. The light plot for the house band was designed by Norm Schwab and John Featherstone of Lightswitch, and programmed by Rick Locklin and Warren Flynn, also from Lightswitch. Steve Cox, the general manager of Hard Rock Live, also played a role in this process.
By all accounts, this pentagonal collaboration was unusually successful. "This was our first job for Hard Rock, but we have done two others that started after this one and have already been completed," says Friedlander, who worked on the update of the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan and on another in Memphis. "Once the design for Orlando was underway, Hard Rock decided to install more sophisticated performance lighting in other venues, so they brought in the Orlando systems designers for these projects. With construction underway, close coordination between the systems contractors and the designers was essential," he says.
"The Orlando facility was a major move from a typical Hard Rock system to a professional performance system in terms of the lighting, rigging, and audio," says Friedlander. "We worked on the system design as they developed their vision for what the room would be. That vision came into focus when Steve Cox came on board as general manager. He came up with the concept for a high-end house band." In a room that serves as a roadhouse and a room for corporate functions, Auerbach's goal was to design a lighting system that would support a business luncheon, a band with a large touring rig, and everything in between.
The lighting system uses two control consoles as well as an architectural front end. A Wholehog II from Flying Pig Systems is provided for moving-light control and more complex shows, while an ETC Insight 3 provides a more theatrical front end for touring groups who may not be familiar with or have time to set up the Wholehog. An ETC Unison system handles the architectural lighting. There are more than 700 ETC Sensor dimmers divided into theatrical (including non-dim modules with chokes) and architectural racks. The system design required that each of the three control devices have the ability to drive all the dimmers in the system for maximum flexibility. This allows sophisticated cues and presets utilizing architectural lighting, fixed theatrical lights, and automated fixtures to be programmed and played back on either console and/or recorded and played back with a simple push of a button on the Unison architectural system.
Three sets of DMX data, generated simultaneously by the two consoles and the Unison system, are distributed throughout the venue and merged at the Production Arts custom control racks. Console ethernet data, which provides the capability to interface standard DMX consoles, scrollers, and fixtures as well as use new ethernet distribution systems, is also distributed throughout the space. A Gray Interfaces Pathfinder system, programmable from the front-of-house control position, provides the DMX distribution.
Production Arts collaborated closely with Auerbach + Associates to ensure that the finished product met the full intent of the design and was properly installed on-site. Besides engineering the Unison system and the various DMX interfaces, Production Arts coordinated and engineered the interface of the consoles and architectural systems with the Square-D PowerLink automated circuit breakers that control work lighting and non-dim circuits for 208V automated fixtures.
"The challenge was that any of the control consoles needs to address any of the lights in the space from the lobby to the stage," says Ben Saltzman, project manager for Production Arts. "We designed a custom control network with devices from AMX, Gray Interfaces, and Production Arts custom control modules to route all the data in a way that makes the network work."
"The rigging is an installed version of what rock bands usually travel with," says Friedlander, pointing out that the stage rigging uses Columbus McKinnon Lodestar motors and Tomcat truss, with 32 chain hoist points divided into smaller control groups of eight each. The chain motors and their control system (with custom software) were installed by Secoa, of Champlin, MN. The final look for the stage rigging was the providence of Lightswitch as part of their design of the plot for the house band, and includes joints that allow "V" or "W" formations, with angled pieces to accommodate the hanging of lower lighting instruments.
"We came onto this project via Mike Esmond at Universal," says Norm Schwab, the Los Angeles-based partner of Lightswitch. "They wanted someone with rock experience to design the lighting rig for the house band and a utility plot for smaller touring acts or Hard Rock Live television broadcasts. The whole thing has to fly out to allow a bigger touring rig to fit," he notes.
The house band, which includes rock and roll veterans who have come in from the road, performs five nights a week. Their show is a history of the evolution of rock and roll, with different looks as the songs progress from the 50s through the 90s. The lighting is based on a traditional PAR can-heavy rock-style rig, with more than 200 Tomcat PAR-64s and 24 ETC Source Four PARs, plus 14 High End Systems Cyberlights(R), 18 High End Studio Colors(R), four Strong Super Trouper II 1,600W xenon followspots, 70 ETC Source Fours with a variety of City Theatrical accessories (such as color frames, template holders, drop-in irises, and EFX2 Effects Projectors), and 26 Wybron Coloram color changers. Cyclights are by Lighting & Electronics, star strobes by Diversitronics, and DF-50 Diffusion(TM) hazers and Little Giant wind machines from Reel EFX to add atmosphere.
Some of the more unusual items on the fixture schedule are Altman 8" fresnels and Altman 360Q ellipsoidals listed as "shopworn." "For the 1950s we hid the rig so you see just the bare bones of the lighting. It has the look of followspots on stage," says Schwab. For the 60s portion of the show, two ladders fly in with old-fashioned scoops and striplights as might have been used for bands on The Ed Sullivan Show.
"This is a simple, early-rock-in-the-high-school-gym look, that moves on to liquid psychedelic patterns," Schwab says. "By the time the 70s roll around, the rig is visible, and in the 80s you see the moving lights and the entire rig turns into a really big look."
The Tomcat truss that supports the stage lighting is hung using CM Lodestar chain motors. "We asked for an unusual size truss that measures 30"x12" to be wide with a low profile," says John Featherstone, the Chicago member of the Lightswitch team. "This is more compact and gave us a lot of hanging space in very little room. Using corner blocks, the trussing arches around the stage and wraps in a vertical manner, rather than the traditional horizontal way."
Secoa also installed decorative truss formations and stage machinery including an orchestra lift in front of the stage that descends to the basement level. Also from Secoa is the plum-colored variable-speed stage curtain that can move from 0 to 300' (91m) per minute, using custom PC-based software, and black masking curtains. "The time frame was short and we had to keep pace with the train ahead and behind us," says Steve Hagen, the project manager for Secoa, who provided controls and motors for the "Braille" or contour curtain that is dead hung at the top and picks up from the bottom.
The decorative truss was manufactured by Universal Manufacturing in Clinton, MI, and features a 90' (27m) box truss that spans the space between two columns and can be used for additional lighting positions. Universal also provided a custom-configured 38' (12m) curved aluminum box truss (201/2" square) that hangs right in front of the proscenium and is held up by three chain motors above the proscenium catwalk and hidden by a plaster facade.
Dave Pavilitz, technical director for Hard Rock Live, reports that the bands who play there find that the venue has everything they need in terms of lighting. He also notes that in order to keep the history of rock as authentic as possible, they added set pieces from actual rock tours. A blue-and-purple tie-dyed backdrop was rescued from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's No Quarter tour, and the metal risers used for the house band were used on the last Backstreet Boys tour, who in turn had acquired them from Kiss.
"The lighting onstage is a concert-style rig with lots of backlight," says Featherstone. "We wanted to provide a good generic rig with typical looks that are mainstream in terms of the music. It's not too extreme in any direction. The lighting goes along with that, but it becomes a high-energy show when the moving lights kick in." The lighting system also kicks in when stars take center stage. Freelance programmer Vickie Claiborne worked with the Wholehog II for performances by Mike Pinera of Iron Butterfly fame and for the official grand opening on March 12 with the one and only Elton John. The Hard Rock rocks on.
GENERAL MANAGER Steve Cox
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR Dave Pavilitz
HEAD ELECTRICIAN Cliff Fletcher
PROJECT ARCHITECTS Morris Architects Jim Pope, principal Edward Yankowich, project architect
GENERAL CONTRACTOR Beers Construction
INTERIOR DESIGN Design Development Inc. Eddy Bitton
THEATRE CONSULTANT Auerbach + Associates Steven Friedlander, principal Grace Gavin, Dan Mei, project designers
LIGHTING SYSTEM AND CIRCUITRY DESIGN Auerbach + Associates Steven Friedlander, project manager
LIGHTING SYSTEM INTEGRATION and INSTALLATION Production Arts: Steve Terry, Ben Saltzman, Ron Brodeur, Michael Lay Vanco: Bill Ellis, Cynthia Carraway
HOUSE RIG AND LIGHT PLOT DESIGN Lightswitch Norm Schwab, John Featherstone, designers Rick Locklin, Warren Flynn, programmers
DECORATIVE TRUSS FORMATIONS Universal Manufacturing
STAGE CURTAINS, ORCHESTRA LIFT, RIGGING Secoa
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (200) Tomcat PAR-64s (70) ETC Source Fours with City Theatrical accessories (24) ETC Source Four PARs (14) High End Systems Cyberlights (18) High End Systems Studio Colors (10) Lighting & Electronics 3-circuit 6-light cyclights (4) Strong Super Trouper followspots (26) Wybron color changers (4) Altman R40 striplights (6) Altman 18" scoops (4) Altman 8" fresnels--shopworn (4) Altman 360Q ellipsoidals--shopworn (2) Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion hazers (3) Reel EFX Little Giant wind machines (100) Diversitronics DS-5 strobes (25) Tomcat 1230 96" truss sections (12) Tomcat custom articulating blocks (32) Columbus McKinnon chain hoists (1) ETC Insight 3 control console (1) Flying Pig Wholehog II control console (1) ETC Unison architectural system (8) ETC Sensor SR48 dimmer racks (1) ETC Emergency Lighting Transfer System (2) Gray Interfaces DMX mergers (1) Gray Interfaces Pathfinder LR DMX router (2) AMX DMX interface units (1) AMX relay cabinet (3) Production Arts control racks