Did you get Justified and Stripped this summer?

Audiences around the U.S. had that chance, thanks to the hard work of a design team that consisted of Steve Cohen (production/lighting designer), Peter Morse (lighting designer), Jim Day (set designer) and Joel Young (lighting design and programmer). And, of course, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, whose Justified and Stripped tour was one of the summer's big hits.

The LDs are not new to the Justin/Christina phenomenon. Cohen has a history with Timberlake's former band N'Sync, while Morse was the LD on Aguilera's last tour, What a Girl Wants. This time out, the design challenge was simple: create two productions that looked totally different using the same set. Furthermore, their schedules were so diverse that Timberlake was on tour in Europe while Aguilera was in rehearsals in LA. The current rig stayed in the U.S., while a duplicate rig went out in Europe with Timberlake. The pair got together in Phoenix with only two days to combine the production.

It's a task that posed more than a few challenges. As a matter of course, Cohen and Day view the set and lighting holistically. They are “one and the same,” says Day: “The set is designed and built to accommodate the lighting system and the lighting rig is the set rig as well.” That's not the simplest idea to realize when you also have to make room for another, entirely different show. Nevertheless, in order to accommodate both of them, the set design relied on several common elements that could be transformed into different looks for each artist's show. Timberlake's is dominated by urban backdrops and makes use of special effects, while Aguilera's makes extensive use of video and props. After creating the basic architecture of the set, Cohen and his team started on the truss configuration. “We started with Steve's approach to Justin — he basically showed me the set, and I started making a list of things I knew I would need,” Morse says.

TWO DESIGN STYLES, ONE PRODUCTION

Morse and Cohen freely admit they have very different design styles. “Peter bases most of his looks on hard-edged lights, with the wash lights coming in to fill the gaps. I'm just the opposite,” says Cohen. Their stylistic differences can be seen in the overall look of the show: “Basically, I was confronted with a show that was very theatrical in concept, so I proceeded to light it with that in mind, utilizing classic modes of lighting dance, while incorporating some of the edginess of high contrast in color and light level,” Morse explains. “Steve's show is very rock, very hip-hop and very pop, so it's big bold colors, flat on washes, and it really works for Justin. Basically, in this production, we're at opposite ends of the design spectrum.”

Aguilera's show features a number of edgy design elements; these include a shadow box that represents the window of an Amsterdam brothel; a fan-laden jungle gym; a dolly used to transport the star, à la Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and lots of video. “We have a video wall that's the full width of the stage, so, basically, when you look at her, it's all you see,” says Morse. Consequently, he had to consider how his lighting looked on the video walls, as well as variously shaped wild screens. “We're doing some IMAG, and any image of her that goes up on the screen must, of course, look good — despite the use of high-contrast color and lighting levels,” he says. The presence of video also influenced his use of color and gobos. “Any and all washes and hard edges that came down her were vibrant in color,” he says. “But where the color was too saturated, I'd pull the gobos. By the same token, due to the high trim, when using gobos as a general breakup, I utilized more pastel colors.”

The wild screens add depth as well as visual interest to the show; they come in at different trim heights around the stage, which wasn't a particular concern for Morse. “Even though many of them occasionally blocked the focuses, I didn't worry about obstruction,” he says. “I knew that some of the blockage would be fine, and it was. If we tried to focus around every one of these positions and screens, they'd be spending three days on every load-in,” he notes.

There are a total of seven spots used on the show: four front-of-house and three truss units — two on the side and one upstage, in which Morse uses in 1/8 and 1/4 color correction. “The correction varies with the front-of-house spot in each venue, and I never run more than two spots on her at any time from the front — I never needed to,” he says. Then he adds, “Except for [the song] ‘Fighter.’ Everything on the stage is in no-color, so I have to use four spots, just so we can see her.”

ASSEMBLING A UNIFIED RIG

A variety of equipment is in use, including gear from Coemar, High End Systems, Martin, and Syncrolite. When asked if any instrument was his workhorse, Morse initially names the wash lights, then changes to the hard-edged units, then comes to an entirely different conclusion. “I used the Syncro's a hell of a lot,” he says. Due to the configuration of the set, Aguilera's band was underneath a grated bridge piece. “It was a bit of a problem, lighting the band underneath, in the hole,” he says. “In the end, we just shot the Syncrolites through it and had some wonderful looks.”

Cohen is a fan of Syncrolites as well. “I've been using them for the past five or six tours,” he says. “It's a great lighting fixture, especially in arenas, because you can take six of them, put them in a color and get a complete stage wash.”

One element that's common to both shows is the ensemble of dancers, illuminated by two vertical towers at stage right and left. “You have all of this dance and, to me, the most effective way is to light them from the side because then you see all the great body movement,” says Cohen. Enter the Martin Mac 2000. “The two large verticals have a bunch of Mac 2K hard-edged lights on them that provide the cross dance light, as well as really good aerial graphics,” he adds.

Both artists make extensive use of floor lighting as well. “We have the entire stage ringed in Mac 2Ks, and High End Studio Beams, which are our wash light for dance,” notes Cohen. There are also about two dozen instruments embedded in the set, as well. “To me, if you light from the stage deck all the way up to 40', and you have instruments placed incrementally at 5' levels all the way up to the roof, when you take all of the lights, turn them on and spin them out towards the house, you have a massive look that makes it look like there's 300 lights up there,” concludes Cohen.

Since Timberlake's show relies more on traditional rock looks, Cohen relies more on audience light. “I've always believed that when you're in an arena, the more light you end up getting into the crowd, the easier it is to create an environment,” he says. “It's all very much about getting the audience involved. One thing that I do differently from Peter is that I'm notorious for breaking that fourth wall and letting my washes spill out into the audience.”

For both designers, the best part of the project seemed to be the chance to work with one another. “This is something that Steve and I wanted to do for a while,” Morse admits. “We want to develop some projects together and this was a good jumping off point,” he adds. Cohen enjoyed the experience as well. “The great thing about this project is that it's really the first full-on collaboration Peter and I have done, and it's worked out fabulously,” Cohen concludes.

Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera's tour was halted by a massive accident (see pg 14), but resumed soon after; both artists are touring Europe separately this fall.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE AND CHRISTINA AGUILERA

JUSTIFIED AND STRIPPED 2003 TOUR

Production Designer

Steve Cohen

Set Design

Jim Day

Lighting Design Justin Timberlake

Steve Cohen and Joel Young

Lighting Design Christina Aguilera

Peter Morse with Joel Young

Programmer Justin Timberlake

Joel Young

Programmer Christina Aguilera

Eric Wade

Lighting Director

Gary ‘Sport’ Waldie

Crew Chief

Russell Jones

Lighting Technicians

Mike Robison
Dianne Flemming
Mike Cummings
James “Ty” Brooks
Sondra Smith
Matt Cochran
Russel Halbach

Equipment

72 MAC 2000 Profile116
38 High End Studio Beams115
106 Coemar 1200 Wash luminaires118
1 1.2kW HMI Fresnel
6 3kW Syncrolites117
3 Lycian truss spot(2.5kW)129
6 L & E mini strips125
28 4-light Molefays
2 96-way ETC Sensor rack126
6 48-way Motion Labs power distros127
1 Hog Wing115
3 Wholehog II115
6 DF50 fog machines122

Tour Vendor

Steve Cohen Productions, Ltd., Las Vegas, NV

Special Thanks to:

Fourth Phase
SyncroLite

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