When tap sensation Savion Glover (pictured) returned to the stage after leaving the Tony Award-winning Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, it was to a more relaxed, loose-limbed dance revue Off Broadway at the Variety Arts Theatre. Poet and Noise/Funk collaborator Reg E. Gaines, a jazz quartet, and a rotating cast of tappers (and surprise guests) joined director/choreographer Glover onstage for Savion Glover/ Downtown, which ran through July and is scheduled to tour this fall.
Early on, lighting designer Mike Baldassari, who participated in studio rehearsals, decided against moving lights. "It's pretty difficult to improv with them, and I also felt that if I introduced their language, the show would be unfairly compared to Noise/Funk," he says. Instead, the LD used a rig of mostly ETC Source Fours and Source Four PARs, with two Lycian 1290 XLT 2kW xenon followspots placed in the back of the balcony, some Lighting & Electronics Mini-Strips, and Wybron Coloram II color scrollers, with control via an ETC Obsession 1500 console. The show had a few "tiny bits of technology," like a mirror ball effect for a Fred and Ginger piece called "Cheek to Cheek" and strobe flashes during the very percussive "Bof Booof."
"This show is like Savion's letting you into his basement, jamming with his friends. That's why there was no masking [of the stage], and why we lit the back wall like we did." The dimmers were placed on the floor upstage left, and covered with a cloth. An MDG Atmosphere hazer was also visible onstage, "making the lights into more of the scenery."
"The stage [at Variety Arts] is only 22' [7m] deep," says Baldassari, who tried to make it look bigger by layering the instruments, supplied by Four Star Lighting. "The dancers would be out front, and they'd be in a color. The band right behind them would be in a slightly different, sometimes contrasting color, then the wall behind that was either in another color or a version of the downstage color. You were always seeing things in a layered manner that keeps things interesting."
With a changing cast and numbers mutating into group jams or improvisational pieces, Baldassari had to be on his toes. He hired Sean Murphy as lighting director to follow the nightly action, and programmed the board so that Murphy had many "escape" options to build looks on the fly. "He [Murphy] had enough stuff in his submasters to build looks, but I also gave him about another 15 groups that were all color scroller setups so he could always pull down his color scroller lamp inhibitor, load a new group, then add and subtract other things on top of that.
"The ETC people, when I was visiting their factory, said, 'That's quite an accomplishment, making the Obsession into an improv console,' " continues Baldassari. "But I think I just used all the features that it has. There are 48 submasters, and I used all of them easily. In the end, the Obsession was the right console for the show, because there are 250 called cues that still have to be there, but it also had to have the improv to it, and it had to be able to rock."