ABIGAIL ROSEN HOLMES TAKES THE CURE ON TOUR "It is quite streamlined and minimalist, and that's one of many things I like about this show," says LD Abigail Rosen Holmes of the latest Cure production. The tour design, which features five truss towers ranging from 18' to 26' (5.4-7.8m) as the primary set elements, grew out of one of the club dates that Holmes worked on with the band earlier in the year that used only house gear. "In the process of the club shows, we had one venue where there was no house lighting equipment at all," she explains. "So I did a little drawing that was just some lifts with ellipsoidals and PAR cans, and that metamorphosed into the prototype of the towers we use on the tour. I basically just designed a beefier version of them."
The Dream Tour, in support of the Cure's Bloodflowers album, began as an arena tour, and ended in amphitheatres. During the pre-production phase, Holmes and band founder and lead vocalist Robert Smith discussed all the visual aspects. "Part of the pleasure of this show is that it has been a very collaborative process," Holmes explains. "For me, there is a huge pleasure in doing that creative exchange with someone - it's part of the fun of it." This collaboration resulted in a daring move - no spotlights. "After reviewing my notes regarding some specific looks, it became clear that they could be done with a fixture other than a front-of-house followspot."
To provide frontlight for the band, she put four Light & Sound Design Icons[R], which basically worked as theatrical specials, on the 44' (13m) front truss. "Since we were really controlling the angles and very aware of what hit the video screens and what hit the risers, there seemed to be a point in keeping that contained in our system. You can't control the angle of the house spotlights, and they can be quite flat sometimes, depending on where they're positioned," Holmes explains. "And if the position of the spots was bad, it would blow through some of the very subtle cues in the show, as well as some of the controlled angles."
Because there are no spotlights to mar images on the stage, the show retains a very theatrical look while maintaining a suitable level of illumination for patrons who are far away from the stage. "It appears to be a show without any frontlight, but it's really not," Holmes says. "Without using spotlights or a tremendous amount of frontlight, I feel like we've illuminated the band quite nicely."
Overall, the show features four asymmetrical front projection screens, three towers upstage, two downstage, as well as upstage and downstage truss positions. "The lighting looks are distinctly asymmetrical," comments Holmes. This unusual look is created by the physical layout of the towers as well as the instruments found on each tower. "The lighting layout varies slightly for each tower - they're a combination of Icons, Vari superscript *Lite[R] VL5[TM] automated wash luminaires, and a handful of conventional fixtures," she explains. "We have truss toners, star strobes, some High End Systems Dataflash[R] AF-1000s, and some good old-fashioned police beacons."
The towers were also surprisingly roadworthy, thanks to the help of Holmes' lighting crew. "I had been worried that the towers would be difficult to tour, but my LSD crew figured out some really clever ways to manage them - in the end, our load-outs were finishing in an hour and a half."
Working in conjunction with the towers, the video projection screens complete the visual look of the stage. "Development of the projection continued throughout the tour in Europe, including modification of the images we were using in the show and the creation of additional images through shooting video sequences, still photography, and scanning found images," Holmes notes. Four Barco projectors, located on the front truss, provide a variety of still and moving images onto the asymmetrical screens. "In all of our design discussions, projection was considered as a tool to be used as a part of the overall visual show design."
Smith, Holmes, video designer Richard Turner, and operator Clarke Anderson created the visual imagery for the show while keeping in mind the overall look of the production. "There is a large range in the complexity of the images - some songs essentially use single stationary images, other numbers have complicated sequences of moving images," notes Holmes. The screens, which serve as a type of backdrop for the show, are used visually in a variety of ways. "At times, the images are projected only into a set of defined windows, as if it were a slide presentation. Later in the show, larger, seamless images are projected across the entire space of the screens, ignoring the gaps between the screen panels themselves." There are also times during the show where the Icons are used on the projection screens to provide abstract images, primarily using custom gobos.
It is interesting to note that although automated fixtures dominate the plot, for the most part, they act as static fixtures. Early in production, it was decided that the moving lights would actually move very infrequently. "There are a handful of places in the show where the lights do move when they're on, but virtually the entire time, once the focus is picked for a specific song, the fixtures don't move," she adds. Using moving lights in a fixed position may seem like a tremendous design encumbrance, but as Holmes continued work on the show, she found the opposite to be true. "What was really interesting was how infrequently I had any desire to actually move the moving lights. I think we achieve a substantial sense of movement in some numbers through the use of effects such as rotating gobos, zoom lenses, and edging in the automated fixtures. And the time when we move them, it's really a small undulation - they don't go flying around the house."
The highly visual show also makes use of a number of specialty fixtures, some of which haven't seen the light of day in decades. "The band has been releasing material for over 20 years now," Holmes comments. "And some of the songs that they play in the set list date back to the late 70s. In our discussions, we talked about trying to light them the way they might have been done when they were first performed. Some of the songs are illuminated primarily by things like photo floods on stands, and other floor fixtures that were used to light early-80s bands. In fact, one of my lighting crew claims that they're probably the same fixtures they used back then!"
The Cure show lasts almost three hours, and the band can draw from a massive amount of material that spans over two decades. "The band will do 25-30 songs on any given night," Holmes says. She and programmer Kille Knobel worked on the show in Europe, which was essentially put together in five days. "Kille and I basically cued as fast as we could," Holmes recalls. "She's fantastic. It's the fifth show we've worked on, and we communicate easily, which allowed us to work as fast as we did."
When Knobel left after rehearsals, Holmes continued modifying the design during the European leg, which consisted of indoor venues. The American leg was primarily an amphitheatre tour. "I thought about changing the cues for some of the songs that came in the early part of the show, when it was still fairly light outside," she says. "But the band felt that we should keep the show the way it was, and most nights, the looks read the way they're supposed to."
The show's moody look is quite unlike most concerts. "I've worked with artists where it's very important for them to look natural and beautiful, and that wasn't really a requirement for this band," she admits with a chuckle. "Consequently, I was able to light the Cure using unconventional angles and I think they look fantastic, but in a much more unorthodox way."
The color palette for the show is also much more theatrically inspired, in keeping with the somewhat dark and gothic nature of the band's image and music. Rather than depending on the ubiquitous flesh pink, Holmes went for a different look. "The songs I programmed early in the rehearsal period were very saturated, and that's something I did intentionally. But there is quite a range in my palette - I programmed other songs in what I'd call the dirty side of the spectrum, with colors that have sort of a gritty feel about them."
But the songs themselves were Holmes' inspiration. "Overall, the palette for the various songs developed while looking for whatever seemed appropriate for their mood." For those who experienced the Cure tour in person, it was a visual treat that ended much too soon - the American leg concluded in late June, and the band returned to Europe for several dates in July.