CROSS-COUNTRY ON THE NIGHTLIFE SCENE Our first stop on this tour of clubland is Club Chameleon, a concept of many colors, as its name implies, and soon, three new locales. Its first incarnation, pictured on this spread, was part of the Empress Casino and Hotel in Joliet, IL, but a change in ownership at the facility left Chameleon out in the cold after a successful launch in June 1999. Not for long, however, says designer Cheryl Irwin-Tesmer.

She and her son, Daryl Irwin, run Irwin Designs and Productions Inc., which has offices in San Diego and Las Vegas. Club Chameleon is the first nightclub experience devised by the 16-year-old company, which is best known for elaborate theatrical events for clients that have included Fortune 500 companies and Elizabeth Dole. Says Daryl Irwin, vice president of operations, "We produce Broadway-type industrials, and bring that kind of understanding to the static environment."

The rationale behind Club Chameleon was simple, Irwin-Tesmer explains (she is the firm's president). "People want to meet other people, have fun, and enter into fantasy worlds. At most nightclubs, you get meatheads at the door, sour bartenders, the same old music, and one lighting look."

Club Chameleon, she explains, is built on nightly change, to new environments, augmented by staff who are also trained performers, slipping from country garb to disco duds depending on the theme of the evening. The illumination, too, gets into character, ranging from dark purples and blues and jagged projections on techno evenings to creatively rendered UV effects when boogie nights roll around. "There's not a single white light at Club Chameleon," says Irwin-Tesmer. "Everything is either dichroically colored, or we use Rosco gels and Lee Filters to match the room and environment. Every night changes with color."

Much of this color change, subtle or spectacular given the evening's theme ("there's a physiology to the effects of illumination and color that a lot of club lighting guys don't see, but we know from our corporate work"), is contributed by Martin Professional gear. "I like it," Irwin-Tesmer says. "It offers a lot, particularly the intensity of the light. And the company understands what we're trying to accomplish - this club is completely out of the box compared to others."

A problem with the pilot Chameleon was that it was in a box, shoehorned into a 6,500-sq.-ft. (585 sq. m) space that had once housed the Empress' off-track betting parlor. "It had just 15'-high (4.6m) ceilings, and we had a stage for performers," Irwin-Tesmer says. "We had to be so precise with our throws - we wanted to entertain, not assault, our guests, in an intimate environment. Besides the moving lights, we also used typical theatre fixtures to apply a soft wash in different areas of a room, to support the color changes in a given evening. The stage there was set up exactly like a typical theatre, with front-, back-, and sidelight, and Martin Robocolors as upstage thrust points."

Adding "wow" to the space were Precision Projection Wavelights, contributing rippling patterns of hues that delighted visitors during Club Chameleon's year-long premiere in Joliet. Daryl Irwin says the next Chameleons, slated to go up soon in Las Vegas, San Diego, and downtown Chicago, will have a few new shades of illumination, with architectural ambient effects like LEDs. "In Vegas, we're planning to put handpainted UV effects into our concrete floors, like you've never seen before," Irwin-Tesmer says. "The lighting has got to smoke."

Club Riviera, which opened last December, is a high-water mark for Atlanta in terms of club culture. "There are no really huge clubs here, as Atlanta is primarily a Saturday night town, unlike, say, Orlando. But Riviera, with its themed nights dedicated to different musical styles, is stepping up to be the big one," says Matthew Clouser, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Active Production and Design Inc., which designed and installed its lighting system.

Clouser started Active Production, which is six years old, at age 20. The company has worked on 100 clubs, few of them as gear-heavy as Riviera. "It has one of the most extensive lighting systems here - on an overall production budget of $180,000, $100,000 is in-your-face lighting. That's pretty good for Atlanta, as the norm is $20-30,000 for club setups."

Bang for the buck was the desired effect. "The owners wanted the most modern, high-tech equipment they could get for their budget," Clouser says. "They wanted a design no one had, for one of the few clubs that has a 24-hour liquor license in the city, and this one has circular trusses. Most clubs here just anchor black-bolt lights into the concrete ceiling or attach them to wooden beams; they rarely spend the time to bring in fabric or trusses and make it really theatrical. We have three Applied Electronics trusses inside of each other, topped by a white scrim."

Lead installer Frank Kendall elaborates. "We all wanted something enveloping, and perfectly symmetrical, so I thought, `Let's go round, in multiple layers - that's ultra-modern.' But we have a 4' mirror ball in the middle of it for a classic look, too."

Regarding this concept, Kendall says, "It took about 10 minutes to design in my head, and the next two weeks to get it down on paper. It took about eight days to put it all in and program it all." The biggest challenge was the 15,000-sq.-ft. (1,350 sq. m) site itself, an 85-year-old building that had previously housed a more downmarket club. "These are steel trusses, so I had to consider metal fatigue. Winters are worsening here, so I had to figure out the snow weight, too. The unit had to go where I needed it go, so the rigging was tricky."

The easy part was figuring out what lights to use, says Clouser. "We stock High End Systems for our rental inventory - they're always been the best and most reliable for us. They can get us equipment when we need it, and in clubs you can need it quickly."

Regarding the completed design, Kendall says, "We have nice cross shots going across the rooms and a little hot spot over the centers, and plenty of light left over to go up on the top scrim over all the trusses, with ambient light or strobing effects with our High End Studio Colors[R]. The room can go from upscale and well-lit to anything else you can imagine, with just the touch of a button." (To stay within the budget, the club uses two NSI MLC16s, linked by MIDI, for control.)

Though its name implies Europe, Riviera is largely Vegas inside, complete with murals of the Rat Pack and the Strip as it used to be, with a touch of Wildfire UV to create a western sunset effect and ETC equipment for added theatricality. The design team came up a winner for its work: For its illumination of the grand opening ceremony, Active Production won a Best Use of Lighting Award from the International Special Events Society.

Hollywood nights have gotten a little livelier since the recent addition of Club Blue to the LA night scene. Formerly an 8,000-sq.-ft. (720 sq. m) theatre, the space is now divided into two rooms, pulsing with different styles of music in the afterhours; in the early evening, it is a restaurant, with a more relaxed tone. The venue can handle a total of 655 patrons per night.

Gardena, CA-based No Static, which installed the lighting system at the behest of owner Bruce Perdew, says American DJ Supply equipment fits the many shades of Blue, where the selections swirl from goth to rave to alternative. Lead installer Brian Wurfel says the gear supplies "good effects for a tight budget."

Perdew adds that past experiences with American DJ have been positive, and that he hand-picked each lighting effect. "Their fixtures and controllers provide the flexibility we need to accompany the wide range of music that we play."

The American DJ equipment is used in different ways. "The pinspots are by the restaurant seats; blue gels on top of the lights shoot up the brick walls to create a really cool effect," Wurfel says. "And the Groove Wheels, oil wheel projectors that supply a neat psychedelic look, are above the DJ, pointing to the wall opposite him. Those I think we should make more use of."

No Static, he says, installs a handful of venues per year, concentrating on restaurants and health clubs. "Club Blue had pretty much a wide-open ceiling for us to use." The challenge here was filling the space with evocative effects, met not only by American DJ gear, but recent contributions from Mobolazer and Abstract, the latter distributed exclusively in the US by Tracoman.

"I have to say that the main room light show is better than the back room, because of the Mobolazer Lil'G-beam laser we use there in conjunction with the American DJ lights," says Wurfel. "When we put them all on, the effects bounce around the space, from the entrance of the club all the way to the back."

Wurfel says the club and restaurant areas are separated by a "huge" white mesh fabric. He plays Abstract VR8 scanners over this cloth. "They do a slow scan across it; you can see it, because it hits the sheet and goes through it. And at other times I can do wild strobing with them; I'll have their mirrors moving all over the place, and blinking white, while the strobes go off. They're very bright, too."

Jem smoke machines ("I love their equipment," Wurfel says) ensure that the beams are seen throughout the rooms. He adds that the lighting look is complemented by two Sharp projectors, and 12 TVs beneath the bar that play "trippy" videos, adding another layer of hipness to an already cool Blue.