“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more”
- Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence”
There were well over 10,000 people at the Palace of Auburn Hills, located in Auburn Hills, MI, to see the reunited Simon and Garfunkel. By the time their Old Friends tour was over, that number would seem miniscule.
In a time when rappers and pop stars dominate the charts, Simon and Garfunkel represent a different time, when songs were perhaps more meaningful and, in a way, more beautiful. “It's a rather simple, unadorned coming together of these two people who have a public history of getting on and not getting on,” notes LD Patrick Woodroffe, who has worked with Paul Simon in the past.
The pair is most closely associated with the late 1960s, a time of upheaval for America. Yet, looking back, perhaps the issues that we're facing today aren't so different. “Both Artie and Paul felt strongly that the tour would have a relevance, as well as a spiritual significance with America at this particular time,” Woodroffe says. There was also a personal statement from the pair as well in play. “This was sort of a public affirmation of where they were at the moment; it was a poignant, public statement from two people about being old friends,” the designer adds.
One of the challenges in designing the show lay in the identity of Simon and Garfunkel, purveyors of harmonized sociological wisdom, occasionally tinged with a folk flavor. “The challenge was to come up with a stage and a lighting composition that was of it's day — a very modern, current show,” Woodroffe comments. “But you still need to keep in mind that these are still real musicians that are playing real music. The show had to be of a certain standard artistically and technically, but it also had to represent the last 50 years. We had to do a folk duo show in a big arena and make it look spectacular at times, but also make it look very intimate.” Ticket sales also figured into the design equation. “We knew we couldn't build a big stage set; we knew we were going to be selling a lot of seats, and the number of shows was limited.”
Woodroffe, who has worked with Bob Dylan, came up with an idea that represented the band's heritage, kept the sight lines intact and was sophisticated enough to look current. “We came up with the idea of a stylized tree,” he says. “It has some resonance with the folk aspect of the show, and an air of simplicity as well. But it is also quite an industrial tree, which made connections with songs ‘America’ and ‘The Only Living Boy in New York.’ It represented some of the tougher aspects of what they're about.”
The tree, which was encased in a painted mesh treatment (fabricated by Atomic Design of Lititz, PA), was more than just a three-dimensional set piece. It's also the lighting rig. The trunk is made up of three lighting trusses and five branches, also made up of truss, wind out, making their way over the stage towards the video wall downstage center. The trunk, as well as the branches, are lighting positions. “The tree turned out to be rather successful, because it gave us some really good lighting positions all over the stage, from different angles,” says Woodroffe. “It can be illuminated in two or three different ways as a tree, and it can become a very elegant, sparse theatrical prop,” he adds.
If the concept of the tree was inspired; the execution took a bit of work. “We [Woodroffe and associate LD Adam Bassett] drew it first, then we CAD-modeled it and then we actually built it in the Neg Earth shop in London, just to see if we'd gotten the proportions right, and to see if it worked, which it did,” Woodroffe says. “Setting it up allowed us to make decisions on the sort of trussing we wanted to use, the spacing of the lights, and the actual color of the trussing.”
The production then moved to DeKalb, IL, where further refinements were made, and universal hinges were added to the tree branches. “It's actually called a pintle-coupler,” explains Upstaging's John Huddleston. “It's a device that clamps two units together, but allows them to bend in any direction. A tree wouldn't just bend in one direction, and the universal hinge, which was suggested by Upstaging and built by Tomcat, allows the branches to bend on an X and Y axis,” Huddleston adds. While in DeKalb, the rigging crew led, by Mike Farise, worked out the exact details of the hang.
It was then that video was worked back into the equation. “The video screen was originally meant to play upstage left as a counterpoint to the tree, but as soon as they sold seats behind the stage, that, sadly, had to go,” Woodroffe comments. However, everyone still wanted an LED presence for content as well as IMAG. “We wanted to make the screen feel like it wasn't an afterthought, so we put it up just off-center downstage, and wrapped the branches of the tree around it,” Woodroffe says.
Another technical challenge was the cabling over the stage. “Basically, you have to assume this is a show in the round, so you see no cables at all,” he notes. “All of our cables end up behind the line of the tree trunk, which gives the rig a very clean, open look. It's more than just utilitarian, it emotionally makes quite a statement: it stops Simon and Garfunkel from being a heavy metal rock show,” the designer says. Instead of a massive structure above the band, the absence of cables, combined with the lighting, does give the stage an airy feel that's actually very appropriate.
Although the look of the set was streamlined, the rig did have its share of lighting firepower. “We used Martin [Professional] Mac 2000 Profiles and Mac 2000 Wash lights. The wash light is very good, it's my wash light of the moment,” Woodroffe says. The rig also sports several High End Systems xSpot® Xtremes on the straight truss upstage. “The xSpot Xtremes are quite bright, the optics are pretty cool; they're a very strong and dynamic light,” notes lighting director Jon Pollak. Although the tree is an omnipresent part of the stage, there are moments when it's not illuminated, and Lowel-Lite Omni lights, on floor stands, take center stage, so to speak. “Patrick's taken the appropriate look for each song and melded it into something that is really stunning,” Pollak says.
The color palette is what one would expect: beautiful and dramatic, interspersed with simple moments of just a spotlight on the duo. “The color palette is pastoral for songs like ‘Scarborough Fair’; we also use quite a lot of white light and quite a lot of darkness around the them for some of the folk duos,” Woodroffe explains. The darkness and the white light lent an air of intimacy to the production, and made songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Old Friends” even more poignant and emotional. “You don't want to have the lighting distract from what was happening on stage, which was really quite magical,” explains Pollak.
The show, which also featured the Everly Brothers as guest performers, used four front-of-house and three truss spots. “For the majority of the show, the spotlights are on those two guys on center stage,” Pollak reports. The color in the spotlights is, of course, appropriate. “We have some color correction in for the video, and we have a few colors, like light lavender, light pinks and some blues — nothing crazy,” Pollak adds. Pollak ran the show on the High End Systems Wholehog II, his console of choice. “It's the only thing I'll run these days, although the new grandMA looks interesting, as well as the new Martin Maxxyz,” he adds. Pollak, a designer in his own right, came to the show straight from Steely Dan, which he designed and operated. “The biggest challenge for me was being thrown into the driver's seat with no real rehearsal,” he says.
In the end, Woodroffe, longtime collaborator and programmer Dave Hill, Pollak, and Bassett and the crew accomplished quite a lofty goal: they created a modern show for one of the most famous folk duos in America, a show filled with drama, as well as something else. Perhaps the last line in the last song of the show expresses it best:
“Life I love you
All is groovy”
— Simon and Garfunkel, “Feelin' Groovy”
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL
Wendall K. Harrington
Upstaging, John Huddleston
Tree Scenic Treatment
|49||Martin Professional Mac 2000 Wash110|
|42||Martin Professional Mac 2000 Profile110|
|31||Martin Professional Mac 300 Wash110|
|14||High End Systems xSpot Xtremes111|
|12||PAR 64 ACL four lamp bar|
|12||Lowell-Lite Omni Light112|
|60||Diversitronics SS15 Superstar strobe113|
|4||Lycian Modular 2500 followspot114|
|4||Reel EFX DF-50 atmospheric hazer115|
|2||High End Systems F-100 Fog Generator111|
|1||ETC Sensor 48 × 2.4kW touring rack121|
|2||High End Systems Wholehog II control console111|
|5||High End Systems Wholehog II expansion wings111|
|8||DMX DataSplit data splitter117|
|2||Artistic Licence DataLynx show backup118|
|3||Automated Luminaire A/C distribution racks|
|8||Tomcat 20.5" × 20.5" × 10' truss sections119|
|26||Tomcat 20.5" × 20.5" × 8' truss sections119|
|9||Tomcat Custom Uni-Hinge119|
|6||Tomcat 10' Swing Wing truss sections119|
|8||Tomcat 12" × 18" × 10' black truss sections119|
|3||Tomcat 12" × 18" × 8' black truss sections119|
|4||Tomcat five-way black corner block119|
|3||Tomcat 30" × 20.5" × 10' black truss sections119|
|2||Tomcat 30" × 20.5" × 5' black truss sections119|
|2||Tomcat 30" × 20.5" × 4' black truss sections119|
|4||Tomcat 30" × 20.5" × 5' black corner blocks119|
|16||Tomcat 20.5" pick up bars119|
|16||1-ton motors with encoders|
|14||1/2-ton motors with encoders|
|10||1-ton chain motors|
|5||2-ton chain motors|
|1||motor control system|
|1||Motion Labs motor server system120|
|Circle Number On Reader Service Card|