Even tucked safely into his tour bus bunk, lighting director Garry "Sport" Waldie can still hear the girls screaming. At truly ear-shattering decibels, they're voicing their love for Justin, JC, Joey, Chris, and Lance--better known as 'NSync.
Waldie has been handling the lighting for the band since its first club tour in 1998, and since then the joyful noise has only grown. "It's a great show with a lot of energy," he says. "Obviously, the audiences are enjoying themselves, so they just add to it."
When it became apparent late last year that arenas and stadiums would be needed to comfortably fit these growing legions of 'NSync fans, the band's management brought in production and lighting designer Steve Cohen. Cohen got to work with associate Jim Day to put together a design for a new tour that began in March. "We opened up my 3D Max program and got into the design process and produced some color renderings, which they loved," Cohen says. "The style guide that I got from them included edgy, surfer-type graphics. I went to a bookstore and researched surfboard graphics, and those became inspiration for a lot of the shapes in the set and color choices in the lighting looks. We tried to evoke something of that nature. We did a couple of revisions, then All Access built it for us."
Cohen also helped create the tour's original opening segment. "We had a blacklight dance sequence where they came out in costumes that glowed in the dark, battled this mysterious monster, and a did a very interesting African dance with sticks--it was really powerful," Cohen says. "But when they began the shed leg this summer, they changed it to a Mission Impossible opening that has them flying in and rappelling down to the stage at the beginning of the show."
'NSync also takes flight at the end of the show. "The guys wanted to fly into the house during the song 'Sailing.' Doing that added an additional truck and a half of rigging hardware and an additional 20-something points for the flying rig, which I had to integrate into my front followspot truss and the front truss on the stage," Cohen says. "There was a learning curve that was required in integrating the two systems. I initially tried to make it all one piece, and everyone advised me against it because number one, it would slow down the day, and number two, it was two separate structures that needed to be taken care of independently. One couldn't wait on the other, and since we were flying five stars, their safety was obviously an absolute priority. So the guys from Branam Enterprises specifically took care of that, and they were great. We ended up having a monstrous amount of cables with the trolleys out there, but it got sorted out, as things do, in a couple of weeks on tour."
While the flying gag was definitely the band's idea, how it got integrated into the show was Cohen's job. "I had to take all of the structure, make it work within the show, and make it look good," he explains. "We ended up doing this five-fingered array out into the house, and the guys used the downstage edge of the stage as their launchpad. When you see the show you realize how powerful it is to have these guys fly out over your head. They're all very athletic, so they are really able to pull it off."
Once the rigging points and design were sorted out, the LD put together the lighting system, which features the Coemar automated line of luminaires. The Obie Company is the tour's main lighting contractor. "Obie's high-density trusses are interesting--a lot of the gear rides in the air, so it's a very efficient system," Cohen says. "I, of course, came up with my typical vertical element, which I seem to go back to in every show. This time I built three vertical trusses that had strobes and a collection of moving lights that had to be hoisted up in the air every day, which was a pain in the ass, but they created a great background.
"I used the Obie/Coemar combination again because it was really successful with Enrique [Iglesias]," Cohen continues. "We have some Wybron Colorams up there for color changers and followspots, but it's mainly a combination of Coemar wash lights, hard-edged lights, and 2.5k NAT lights, which were dotted around the show. I keep going back to the purity of color in the CF1200 because I find that it has an incredible range. It's such a bright instrument and I was able to pick a color palette that was acceptable for the type of music and the style that I wanted. There are a lot of lemon yellows, bright whites, and steel blues, which are compounded one on top of another to create a cold, icy effect that works with a lot of the colors of the surf graphics. There are also some really rich ambers and reds in there that you can pull off with this light."
Programmer Arnold Serame helped Cohen create these desired effects. "I hadn't worked with Steve in a long time, so it was really cool to get that partnership together again," Serame says. "It's awesome to work for him because when he has a very specific idea, he goes for it. But he's willing to say that his idea doesn't work if that's the case. And when I've got ideas, he always tells me to run with them. He'll look at everything I have to show him, which fosters a very open communication."
Cohen and Serame were joined by Waldie to create a unique FOH lighting triumvirate. "It was an interesting situation. Sport knew the music really well because he had taken this show out before, but I didn't know it at all," Serame explains. "There are programmers who like to immerse themselves in the music of whatever show they're about to do, but I'm not like that. I like listening to it when I have the light rig and after I've figured out what the light rig can do. To me, it's about whatever that first impression of the music is and what my initial feeling is about how to bring that to life. I don't like thinking about it too much beforehand because I think that's how people end up going back to their old techniques. It was a great combination because Steve knew the music and the choreography pretty well. Sport knew the music inside out and he knew the way they used to do the songs. I didn't know the music, but I knew the rig the best, and I was the one who eventually had to create it."
Production rehearsals lasted about a week in Palm Springs, FL. "When you work with Steve, it's not just about putting on a great show--it's almost as if the show is another step in having a great life," Serame says. "We'll go out, have dinner, and come back and exchange more ideas about the band and so forth. By the end of each evening we had written a few more songs. Steve turns it all into a great experience."
Cohen reports that Serame deserves the credit for getting the work done so quickly. "It was very interesting to work with Arnold because he's got incredible experience working with so many different lighting designers," Cohen says. "It was hard for both of us not to fall into our old tricks. We tried to reinvent some of our own gags, and he's so facile and so fast that we were able to see results, realize what we had, and move on. The work was done in record time for the amount of cues that were in it. He's a joy to have on set. Peter Morse often says that we're really the sum and substance of the people who program for us. In this situation, it was interesting to try to communicate to each other in a common language, so it was a bit of a learning curve."
As lighting director, Waldie also had a learning curve to take on with the new design. "Sport was at a disadvantage at first because he had designed their first tour, and it was kind of hard for him to let go of how he had done it before," Serame says. "Steve liked leaving certain passages in a cue even though there were a lot of musical accents, to emphasize what the boys were doing onstage. Sport didn't really understand it until he saw the whole thing together with all the new choreography, music, and staging, then it made sense to him. It was amazing how he was able to get these complex songs down so quickly.
"That was part of the programming challenge for me," Serame continues. "It's one thing to program for yourself if you're designing or operating, but how do you program when someone is designing and someone else is operating? So I first had to ask Sport how he wanted the cues structured: theatrically, where you've got one go button and little break-out flashes? Or do you want a cue on each handle in rock and roll style? We'd sit down and talk about the songs. It wouldn't have made sense for me to write cues for Steve's ideas if Sport doesn't feel natural to run it without thinking about it, because there is so much to keep track of. He had to know naturally where every cue was, and keep his eyes on the boys and keep the followspots straight. Sport could tell Steve and I where each guy would go during a song and which guy sang every chorus of every song, just by listening to it. It was a great partnership that way."
Even Serame had trouble understanding Cohen's vision at first. "What struck me most about how Steve built the show was that there were sections with huge musical accents, and I didn't get at first why he would let other sections go without picking up the musical accents," he says. "Once I saw the choreography, I understood it. That's where the show is really brilliant. For a show that easily could have been flash and trash, Steve showed a remarkable amount of class and restraint in lighting the guys and not the event. He really highlighted and showed off the guys for what they could do. When he chose to go over the top, he did it at the appropriate moments, but it isn't a whole show of that. We had a blast."
The band members also got into the production process. "The guys were very involved in all the decisions," Cohen says. "When they saw the looks for the first time Justin walked over to me and said, 'I feel kind of silly, because we're oohing and aahing like it's a fireworks show.' But when we played some tracks and ran the lighting cues, they were blown away. It was successful because they walked onstage feeling that they had something really interesting and fun behind them. They're very hardworking and very diligent."
The show also featured a central video display. "We incorporated the Jumbotron (the tour has since upgraded to an LED screen) into the show, and framed it with a 50s-style television screen," Cohen says. "This is really the first time I've integrated video into a show. It's the central upstage piece and also provides a great deal of backlight."
Dave Davidian is the tour's video director. "He walked into this position and not only filled the directorial shoes, but also created an incredibly exciting show," Cohen says. "It would not be as good as it is without him. This was first time I ever worked with him; I've only ever known him as a lighting designer and one of the things he brings to the plate here is an energy that comes from having done lighting cues--except here he's utilizing the camera for it. So it's incredibly musical and the shots are beautiful. It would not be the 'NSync show without him."
Davidian agrees that his lighting design background has informed his video direction style for the show. "Just like with lighting, I feel the video is there to enhance the music--I'm there to intensify the background and amplify it to a certain degree and communicate what the artist is trying to do," he explains. "My job is to help themessage of the performer get sent to the whole crowd, as strongly and cohesively as possible. My lighting background helps me a lot--certainly I'm trained to follow the activity. As a lighting designer you put spotlights on the people you want to highlight. I tend to do the same with the video, which is good in an Imag situation. Some video directors go with cuts, like on MTV videos where they cut away from the prime action--certainly sometimes they do that for valid, creative reasons, but with Imag your job is to provide the people in the back with a closer look at who is doing the prominent activity and highlight the whole band when they're working together."
Davidian also put together video clips to create the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s montage that backs up the band as they change costumes and pay tribute to each era. "I used the digital effects machine, and I keep developing that as the tour goes on," he says. "Mainly I stick with the Imag. The five of them are all good friends and that really comes out when they're onstage--they're having the time of their lives."
Davidian handles his responsibilities from the enviable backstage position. "Being backstage is a benefit because it does protect you a little from the girls' screaming--but I felt the same way when I was out with AC/DC," he laughs. "They're very nice guys and it's a fun show. My 11-year-old daughter loves them, too. Those little girls are our employers, so they can scream all the time as far as I'm concerned."
The band is currently doing promotional appearances in Europe and will resume touring this month in the US. With a new album scheduled to come out next year 'NSync has already tapped Cohen to design its spring tour. "I'm also doing Britney Spears' tour--it's all the same management," Cohen says. "They're surrounding these younger acts with high-caliber production, and Darrin Henson, the choreographer, is spectacular. They spent enough money on a production to go out there and do a great show, and young acts don't get this opportunity that often, so they come in and work their butts off to pull it off. People are going to these shows and they're getting much more value because they're being entertained in the old-fashioned way. I'm 45, and my primary clients have been rock stars who are older than me, like Billy Joel, Elton John, Don Henley, and Fleetwood Mac. To come in on this new wave and find a niche is great."
Lighting design Steve Cohen
Set design Jim Day and Steve Cohen
Lighting director Garry "Sport" Waldie
Lighting programmer Arnold Serame
Lighting crew chief Storm Sollars
Lighting technicians Mark "Poodle" Swartz Candida Boggs
Dimmer god Bob Fry
Video director Dave Davidian
Production manager/FOH audio engineer Tim Miller
Production assistant Flo Tse
Tour manager Ibrahim Duarte
Stage manager Anthony Giordano
Road manager Fritz Maugile
Head rigger Chuck Melton
Riggers Bobby Savage, Dale Long
Branam fly riggers Mark Ward, Lance Bogan
Video system engineer Jon Huntington
LED screen tech Greg "Grit" Fredrick
Camera operators Alan Doyle, Steve Fratone, Mike Goulding, Redo Jackson
Pyrotechnician Steve Aleff
Flying System Branam Enterprises
Set construction All Access Staging
Pyrotechnics supplier Lunatech, Inc.
Video supplier BCC Video
Main lighting contractor The Obie Company
Lighting equipment (52) Coemar CF 1200s (25) Coemar HE 1200s (15) Coemar NAT TMs (70) PAR-64s (12) Lycian Starklite 1.2k followspots (39) High End Systems Dataflash(R) AF-1000s (2) Reel EFX DF-50 hazers (40) Wybron PAR Colorams (1) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console