TLC may be one of the most resilient pop groups in the music industry. Their troubles--from Left Eye's torching of her boyfriend's house to T-Boz's battle with sickle cell anemia to a collective bout with bankruptcy--could have exiled a lesser group to a "Where Are They Now?" special, but TLC keeps on keeping on. In its most recent return to the concert stage, the group called their show the Fanmail tour, a nod to the audiences who keep them coming back.
Much of the show, which opened with a slew of boy bands followed by teen queen Christina Aguilera, was aimed at involving the mostly teenybopper crowd with images from popular TLC videos transplanted onstage. Montages of clips played on an oval video screen, the centerpiece of John McGraw's set, while lighting by Peter Morse and co-designer/lighting director Michael Keller reinforced the pop look [below]. "If you look at their videos, there are a lot of really bright colors, hot pinks, yellows, and sometimes blaring white," says Morse. "I wanted to keep it as vivid as possible because the girls don't like pastels, but electric colors."
"They wanted to transpose the look of their videos so the audience would feel like they were a part of them," adds Keller. "So we tried to amplify what was on the screen with colors and make it feel like it was popping."
A major challenge in achieving the desired looks was limited budget. "They had a lot of visual ideas they wanted to bring alive onstage," says Morse. "But the biggest controlling factor was a very limited touring budget and it was tough trying to deliver a show that would give them as much bang for the buck."
Budget constraints translated into scaling back for Morse, who was simultaneously designing Ricky Martin's well-funded Livin' la Vida Loca tour (see "Oh, Ricky, you're so fine," page A20, supplement), a 22-truck show compared to TLC's five-truck outing. "I kind of have a reputation of using at least two vendors if not three and at least that many manufacturers," he laughs. "I knew we had to keep this simple and our sources had to be from one or two manufacturers and certainly one vendor."
Light & Sound Design was the winner of the bidding war and out of its Atlanta office supplied a lighting package that included 60 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), 34 High End Studio Spots(TM), 13 Coemar NAT 2500s, 24 bars of ACLs, and 24 PARs with scrollers. The show was driven by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II and hung on a Tomcat pre-rig, allowing the lamps to travel in the truss, which Keller says was very effective.
Overall, Keller says there was an adequate amount of lighting. "It wasn't over the top," he says. "Everything was lit, but we had to really work the lights so it would be exactly what they wanted in every song. John McGraw was also constrained by budget, so there wasn't much set to capture light. Band members actually became pieces to light so there would be depth of field onstage."
Time constraints also played a hand in the lighting design, which became a co-design when Morse was called away for La Vida Loca and Keller stepped in to steer Fanmail through rehearsals. "[TLC] rehearsals got pushed back so far that I had minimal input in the actual programming, and Michael Keller became 100% in charge of the rehearsals," says Morse. "I left it in his hands to deliver the show and the balance of the design."
In his hands, Keller had to make sure the vivid pop colors of the show didn't get dark with the limited amount of fixtures at his disposal. "The PARs with the color changers were to illuminate the band," says Keller. "The ACLs were basically for accent so we had a lot of manual bump-and-flash and some audience fill. The Studio Spots, 16 in the air and the rest on the ground, were used for dance light and shin kick."
Keller credits a veteran crew, including crew chief/head electrician Gordon "Gordo" Hyndford and production manager Dale "Opie" Skjerseth, for helping to pull it all together. LD Butch Allen was the lighting director for Christina Aguilera, the opening act for this leg of the tour, which began rehearsals in October and ended in January with a taping for a Pay-Per-View special.