LD Patrick Woodroffe illuminates the pop star's "Dance into the Light" tour Most of the audience members missed it, but during the singer's rendition of Diana Ross and the Supremes' original hit, "Can't Hurry Love," several of the crew members took up the challenge suggested by the title of Phil Collins' latest tour, "Dance into the Light." Lighting director Vince Foster and Vari*Lite(R) operator Tellson James were joined by Carly Jones from the wardrobe department as well as caterers Louise Robinson, Jimmy "Five Bellies," Scott Young, and Diane Mills in what started out as an impromptu Supremes-style backup dance and became a regular feature for those seated with a view of the lighting consoles every night.
Though this was hardly a rehearsed number, such peppiness seems indicative of the show's production. LD Patrick Woodroffe is convinced that the tour's design reflects the singer's cheerful frame of mind. Woodroffe also designed Collins' 1994-95 "Both Sides" tour, which took place in a distinctly urban environment-type set. "There was no brief for this tour, except they wanted to play in the round, and that it was to have an 'up vibe,' " Woodroffe says. "That was it, really: dancing into the light. It was quite unlike the show that I had done with Jeremy Railton three years ago, which had a darkness-on-the-edge-of-town feeling--because that was Phil's state of mind at the time."
For this outing, Woodroffe teamed up with his longtime collaborator, set designer Mark Fisher, to produce a staging setup that was to rely heavily on lighting looks. "It's a very simple idea of making a sort of journey, and it has this slightly tropical theme in the design--and we just play on that," Fisher says. "The main tricks are all to do with these very articulated panels of wooden louvers. Everything is done to look like wood--and it looks very pretty."
Charlie Kail of Brilliant Stages was charged not only with creating the staging's aesthetics, but also arranging the motion control system for the louvers and gold wire towers used, and the lifts in the center of the stage, all of which propelled the show's ever-changing moods. The moving panels and light trusses are controlled by a rigging system specified by consultant John Bray and built by the UK's Unusual Rigging Company.
While Collins may not have envisioned a particular set design, he was very specific about the way he planned to do his show. And more than almost any other pop artist, he is known for taking the time and spending the money to ensure that his production develops according to plan. "We had meetings in September for a show that did not begin until March," Woodroffe says. "They definitely wanted to perform in the round, not just because they would sell more tickets, but because they thought it would be interesting and different."
Although Woodroffe and Fisher had done an elaborate in-the-round tour for Simply Red a few years ago, the LD encountered a series of challenges on this show that he had not considered. "I didn't realize how difficult it is to plan or do a show in the round without a lot of scenery," Woodroffe admits. "Obviously, you have to have something interesting to look at, and if you don't have scenery, you have to rely on the lights--but that can be very boring.
"The other thing I didn't realize, and I actually made a mistake about, was how many lights you need," Woodroffe continues. "I specified a normal package of 100 Vari*Lites or so, and we ended up having to add another 30 once we got into rehearsal."
The two-hour-plus show consists of 25 songs that Collins performs with a 15-member band. "Every one of the musicians was in a specific place for each song--and they all had to be key-lit by 130 moving lights [a combination of Vari*Lite VL6(TM) and VL2C(TM) automated spot luminaires, VL5(TM) automated wash luminaires, and High End Systems Cyberlight(R) automated luminaires] that were on a system that moved into nine different positions during the show," Woodroffe explains. "If you multiply all those statistics, you have an extraordinary permutation of where all those lights were and what they had to do."
Then add to the mix an artist who is very involved--with very specific ideas about his music and how he wants the show to look. "It was a huge programming task for Dave [Hill] to get all those lights into the right places at the right time," Woodroffe says. "But he's very good, and we had a good computer system that moved the rig to these nine different positions. But with the roof and the trussing moving into different positions, you had to have lights that would pick up the performers onstage at exactly the right point at the right time. The only reason that it worked was because Phil and his band were so disciplined about how they performed.
"Having said all that, it actually ended up being one of his loosest shows," Woodroffe continues. "He was in a really happy state of mind, and that really came through. So you had this nice balance between a very disciplined, structured lighting show and a stage show with bits of scenery coming up, going down, and the lighting moving. It was a big challenge and a lot of work, but in the end we pulled it off. It was quite satisfying to see."
Of course, the luxury of three to four weeks of rehearsal time in Lakeland, FL, made the design process all the more satisfying. "Overall, it was a very calm, cool production, led by Robbie Williams with Steve Jones and Howie Hopkins--they were all a very strong part of the team," Woodroffe says. "When any aberration took place, they were able to fix it and produce extraordinary things at the drop of a hat."
The show's set list included a few new tunes, but most were culled from the artist's previous material. While Hill programmed the Vari*Lite automated luminaires on the Artisan(R) console, lighting director Foster programmed the rest of the lighting on Flying Pig Systems' Wholehog II console. "I really like the Wholehog II's effects generator," Foster says. "It lets you create cues in bundles, and that proved very helpful."
"It's always a challenge doing the same material, because you don't want to make it look the same. It's very easy to just make things the same colors or the same looks when you've done it before," Woodroffe explains. "So you try and push that out of your mind and treat it as a new show. Just the fact that he was performing in the round made the presentation of the songs very different. But Phil is good to work for. He's very clear about what he wants; he is also supportive of artists. He doesn't just sit back and expect to be there. So he is part of the process of creating it, which is always nice. And he has a strong management and production team around him, which means that you can pull off any challenges."
The production is currently on an extended break, but the tour is scheduled to pick up again this fall in Europe.
Lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe
Set designer Mark Fisher
Lighting director Vince Foster
Production director Robbie Williams
Production manager Howard Hopkins
Stage manager Steve Jones
Vari*Lite programmer Dave Hill
Vari*Lite operator Tellson James
Lighting crew chief Scotty ".com" Duhig
CPL lighting technicians Jeremy Lloyd Nick Evans Glen Bowman
Vari*Lite technicians Joey Chardukian Mel Dorough Richard Bruce
Electrician Jim "Rosie" Greenawalt
Rigger Phil Broad
Rigging consultant John Bray
Rigging supplier Unusual Rigging Company
Set construction Charlie Kail/Brilliant Stages
Lighting supplier Concert Production Lighting/Vari-Lite, Inc.
Lighting equipment (36) Vari*Lite VL6 automated spot luminaires (40) Vari*Lite VL5 automated wash luminaires (32) Vari*Lite VL2C automated spot luminaires (16) High End Systems Cyberlight automated luminaires (16) four-lamp ACL bars (2) Lightning Strikes strobes (24) terra strobes (15) PAR-64s (DWEs) (12) MR-16 battens (1) nine-light with color changer (4) cracked oil machines with fans