Lunchtime on a dry Las Vegas afternoon gave LDs Kevin âStickâ Bye and Yves Aucoin time to discuss sharing a venue for Elton John and Celine Dion at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. John's The Red Piano dates, announced earlier this year, fit in nicely with Dion's A New Day production, a three-year run of 200 shows annually, that started last year at the new $95 million, 4,100-seat theatre.
Bye, a former Vari-Lite technician, has paid his dues on tour, including acting as lighting director for previous incarnations of John's tours. Aucoin, perhaps most closely associated with his work as Dion's LD since 1989, also has extensive experience in other live and theatrical settings, including creating designs for Holiday on Ice and Romeo and Juliet.
Joining Bye and Aucoin for lunch was Chris Nelson, Bally's/Paris director of entertainment. Nelson was kind enough to moderate the discussion between Bye and Aucion for a true Light Lunch, Vegas-style.
Kevin Bye: There's a danger here that we'll probably talk about everything but lighting.
Yves Aucoin: Yes, because we have quite a long time together.
Chris Nelson: When did that start?
YA: I don't know, â93 or â94, maybe. Celine Dion was opening for Michael Bolton, Kevin was working for Vari-Lite with Bolton, and I was the guest LD for Celine. We were doing some outdoor shows, and Kevin was running the Vari-Lites for me. That was one of the best times of my life, because it was so relaxed, no stress at all. It was not even really dark enough outside for the lights. It was fun.
KB: Yeah, I had a blast.
YA: Since then, we've always kept in touch. When Kevin would come to Montreal, we would always see each other. It's been cool how it's all worked out.
CN: Funny how sometimes things are so circular. You touch base here, and, then, you may lose contact, but you're going to regroup again.
YA: We never thought of moving to Vegas, but, with this project for Celine, we came out here, and Kevin was living here already. So, I knew I had one good friend in town.
CN: What brought you to Vegas, Kevin?
KB: I was looking for a change, and another good friend of mine in the lighting business, who was also living in Texas at the time, and I decided to come to Vegas. Neither of us wanted to go to the west coast. So, we shared an office, collaborated on a couple of things. It's good to have friends to work with.
CN: It's a good place to base out of â centrally located, good airport.
YA: For me, it's a new country, new language, and it turns out that I kind of like it here. Montreal is a great place, but you're a lot closer to the action here. There's more happening in this part of the world.
CN: In the United States, in general?
YA: That's for sure. It's a big difference.
CN: How did this collaboration start, having to share a space?
KB: When Yves went into the project initially, he had offered me the job as his assistant, and, ultimately, I couldn't do it.
YA: It was always a dream of mine to have Kevin as a partner on something like this. That's how it started, really. I tried to pick his brain and find out if he wanted to come and work for us, and we had a good talk about it, but I understood he was not available. It's just that we always have such a good time.
KB: Then, I was on the road with Elton John when I heard we were doing a press conference because he had signed a deal with Caesars. Actually, Yves called me up and said something like, âSo, we get to work together after all!â
YA: With shows running 40 weeks of the year, I needed to know that the other act coming in was going to be able to work with us in the same environment and share the same space. It was good news for me.
KB: Plus, we were able to bring Yves in on the Elton John project to consult, and he was just brilliant. He told me exactly what he thought.
YA: Well, after working a lot of hours for over a year in that same space, it was easy for me to share that experience.
CN: Did you end up making any changes to equipment, or do you share everything?
KB: We kept the same equipment. Just moved things around a bit - nothing much in the rig, but some of the floor lights.
YA: And some re-trimming for Elton.
KB: Yes, we trimmed it more for a rock and roll look.
YA: In Celine's show, it is a more theatrical environment and, because of the set pieces and the track system, my rig ends up really highâ¦about 43'.
CN: So, Yves, you're a little more theatrical, and, Kevin, you have more of a rock-and-roll style? Anything else that really differentiates the two shows?
YA: His show is really more rock than mine, for sure. We didn't have the same show director, so we had different visions, and it's really different. I don't think our shows look the same at all, even though it's the same rig and the same equipment.
CN: I've seen both shows, and, absolutely, they're very different.
KB: And, once again, two different designers and directors. David LaChapelle came in with a big vision on this show. He had done a bunch of Elton's videos, but he had never actually done a staged show before. He was very clear on what he wanted and what he didn't want, and we worked together on that. But I'm old-school rock and roll â sweeps and lights and strobes. It worked out fine.
CN: Let's talk about changeovers and what that entails.
KB: I didn't want to refocus a bunch of looks from Yves' show. We wanted to make it as easy as possible. Actually, changeover is pretty simple.
YA: I have extra stuff that I don't always use â some lekos that I can use for specials for the band â so, it's just all there, and Kevin isn't using my console. He's using a Virtuoso, and I'm using my Compulite, but it works out really well. The crew had to work on the set a lot, because there's a lot of electricity channels on stage, so it was a lot, at first, to get all that together, but, now, it's pretty smooth.
KB: The last run was our third time in. On our second run, we still had some things to work out. Now, when we come in, I always spend an evening just doing focuses, or bumping a few lekos here and there.
YA: We're doing the same thing. Our show is based on moving lights â we have 180 â so, that's the real focus to always work on.
KB: I like keylights on Elton and the band â the same thing I do on the road. I just love that. I like the color temperature. I always like to keep that, at least a little bit.
CN: How about color and dichroics or textures?
KB: He's a lot better of a texturer that I am!
YA: There are a lot of moving lights out there with different gobo patterns. I almost can't see what's good and what's not. There are too many. When I put a show together, I often wish that someone else would put the rig there, and I would just have to do something with it. Making the choice is difficult.
KB: For me, you can't go wrong with certain looks, but when we came in with Elton, David LaChapelle specifically said he didn't want to see any patterns.
YA: I had the same issue with Franco Dragone, the show director for Celine, but I had some time to work with him and convince him a little bit. I had more time to fightâ¦well it's not really a fight, but it's a way of presenting it. Sometimes, we both had different visions of a song. I realized it worked better if I could come back and say, âI like it better this way becauseâ¦.â I had four months to negotiate and try to prove my points, and, sometimes, he would prove his point, too!
KB: And he brought that experience to the Elton show when we came in. I know what it's like to work with a show director or designer. It's really his vision that we're trying to light, and we have to always respect that his vision is bigger than ours.
YA: There are a lot of people who take our work very seriously, and I don't want to minimize that. A lighting designer is very important in putting a great show together. Everyone is important in the chain, but we have to do it together.
KB: At the end of the day, it was a very stressful time for us, because we only had one night of actual rehearsal.
YA: And I felt really bad, because Elton John is about the biggest name out there, and Kevin is a good friend â all that stress! It turned out really well, though.
KB: It took about five years off the end of my life! I programmed the lighting with no set or staging for three and a half weeks, just doing what I knew to do after so many shows and then, from what the designer was telling me he wanted, on a blank stage, just looking at drawings. Then, the set people came in, and it was really intense.
YA: You have to remember the stage is 120' wide and around 85' deep. It's a big room.
KB: And, in the initial drawings, the band was actually asymmetrically spread out because of the sight lines of the set pieces. Davey and Nigel have been in the band for 30 years, and the other guys have also been in the band for a long time, and when Elton looks over his shoulder, he wants to see where they are. He doesn't like any changes like that. The positioning had to stay the same. So, even though the director wanted to spread everything out, it worked better to have the set designers fill the rest of the outer space, and we still keep the focus on the center of the stage.
CN: And with a red piano and a giant star, it's easy to get distracted!
YA: And Kevin and I have to deal with a 110' by 33' high LED screen, but I had four months to deal with that, and he had a couple of hours!
KB: I had to go in after Celine's show and work all night to preprogram the show. I worked without the screen on gobo patterns and some graphic looks, but then the screen would come on, and I'd lose all that â you couldn't see a thing.
CN: Did you know what the screen was going to be doing?
KB: I had some Quicktime movies on my laptop, so we could match the colors, but now, we're not using the screen at full intensity.
YA: Sometimes, the screen makes everything too bright, like working outdoors. The way we worked for Celine was to do lighting on a black stage, and we chose the intensity of the screen, based on each image that was suggested. 80% of the time, we used the screen at only 1%. It takes too much for your eyes to adjust back to the show, if you go to 100%. So, we had some people to work on the images to give them more depth for the screen.
KB: And David LaChapelle is a filmmaker, and he really knows his craft, but we started running the screen upwards of 20% and had to keep pulling it down here and there. Just once, I would have loved to go to 100% in all white, but they told me I would have to pay for the retina surgery for the first 20 rows!
CN: Were there any other rock and roll looks you used the screen for?
KB: Not so much, because that was the director's choice. All in all, it came out great.
CN: What designers do you guys like?
YA:I'm a big fan of Willie Williams.
KB: I like him, as well. He and [production designer] Mark Fisher create a certain look together. It's neat to sit back and think, âWhy didn't I think of that?â especially when it's something simple but really powerful.
YA: Did you see the Olympic games opening? There were some simple set things, like the origami boat, that were really impressive. It's like when you go to a play or movie with a lot of dialogue, but, then, there's a huge silence, and that can be a very powerful moment.
KB: Right. Just because you have a rig with 1,100 moving lights, doesn't mean you have to use them all at once.
YA: And especially not all in the first number! When you see everything already done in the first act, it's a real turn-off.
CN: Who else do you like?
KB: Roy Bennett is a personal favorite. He's got a real saturated, âprince of darknessâ kind of style that I love so much. Also, Steve Cohen has a really great sense of color and composition. In fact, he's the one who entrusted the Elton show to me after being his LD for many years.
YA: Yes, a French LD I've worked with a lot, Jacques Rouveroli. He had one of the greatest visions of lighting I've known. He has a great sense of color and lighting. And I like Patrick Woodroffe quite a lot.
CN: Are you guys working on any other projects?
KB: I have a lot to do, just with Elton, and I travel with him a lot. I do a bit of corporate and television here and there, but, really, Elton keeps me busy. I also just finished five shows at Radio City Music Hall with Elton and a 160-piece orchestra [students from Julliard and the Royal Academy of Music], which was shot for television and for a DVD. I'm only in my office here about three months out of the year.
YA: I've been working on designing a new Cirque du Soliel show here since May. It's good to do other stuff, too. Celine and her people have been great for the past 15 years, but I like to do other work also â other types of music, theatre.
KB: Yeah, I still don't mind being on the road.
YA: And, as a designer, I still need to be behind the console, get involved, and program my own show.
KB: We think the same way. I still like to push the buttons â same style of designer.
YA: It's really important for both of us to design something and be able to program it and run it â to make the mistakes yourself. You don't have to give that information to someone else. I have great respect for designers who work the other way, but, for me, it's a lot easier to get to the bottom of what I want to do if I can do it all myself.
KB: It's the same for me. A lot of times, I can't get the lights or the board or the people I want, so even if I have someone else programming, I like to have the board set up the way I would run it during the show. Like I said, I love pushing the buttons.
YA: That's what we do. We like to run the show, move to the music. It's like an extension of ourselves.
KB: And hopefully, we'll be able to do this together again.
YA: Absolutely. I'm not ready to retire!