Your company, Tribe inc., was involved for the second time this year in the Super Bowl Halftime show, with you as production designer. What was the difference between Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's performance and last year's Prince performance?
There are so many differences, but thank goodness, the constants were in place: the amazing collection of live show producers, production crew, staff, and builders involved, all of which are needed to pull off this kind of live experience.
The biggest difference is the music. Prince has his own style and vibe; Petty and the Heartbreakers have theirs. Each is a superstar aware of his own tribe of fans and each ready to convey his sort of musical/poetic message to a huge audience. That's the difference and the exciting part of this job. The producers, designers, and production team get to peek closely into a musician's mind — somehow infuse — then get involved in the design, then execute the performance with the audience in mind. It gets very personal, and it's a lot of fun.
And what were the biggest challenges?
You really can't start discussing or sketching the Halftime until the band is chosen. It's all about getting this final bit of tense information and then scrambling to tackle the essence of the music — to build a show that installs in five minutes and plays live for 12 minutes in front of 100 million viewers. The production team members are like Super Bowl athletes — specialists all, aggressive and involved in the process of pinpointing the essence of the performance. Following last year's show, the biggest challenge of all was the need and desire to create something as big and rewarding as Prince's performance, which, in my opinion, set a higher standard for a lot of shows.
How does an event of that scope differ from other projects you do?
I've never worked on the Olympic ceremonies, but I can't think of any other music event that is as big and exciting as the Halftime performance. There's electricity, in that it's overwhelmingly live and intense throughout the entire design, fabrication, rehearsal, and performance process, with the actual performance playing in front of the biggest audience in the world. It's very hard to explain, but the combination of all this brings a different kind of satisfaction you can't find in any other form of entertainment.
What is the best career advice you've ever been given?
My theatre design professor and good friend, Dr. Forrest Newlin, always said to me, “Set design must first come from the heart to ensure that emotion is driving the design, and the brain will join in naturally to allow what architect Louie Sullivan once said: ‘Form ever follows function.’”
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
Lately, I've been very proud to see the careers of my former assistants gain more traction…that's a cool feeling, but personally, I'd have to say it was the night I walked backstage on a set I created for a Johnny Cash tribute just before he passed away. We were hoping Johnny would be well enough to attend and, hopefully, perform (I was always a huge fan). It was the night before the show, and much to my surprise, as I was working my way off stage through the side-stage black masking, Johnny himself walked on stage through the same masking. It was as if he appeared out of the blackness, and we bumped right into each other. All I could think was, “Oh my God,” and all I could say was, “Hello, sir. I'm Bruce, your set designer.” Johnny said, “Thank you, son. I love the design. It feels good.”