For the last three years, Bryan Hartley has enjoyed a luxury few designers get: time to perfect his design. Since 2000 Hartley has been the LD for Trans-Siberian Orchestra's (TSO) Christmas Eve & Other Stories tour. While the musical content doesn't change, for the most part, and you can count on the artistry of Hartley's lighting, his design is ever evolving.
TSO's creator Paul O'Neill and tour director Elliot Saltzman brought in Hartley for the 2000 tour and have never looked back. TSO's centerpiece of the tour is a rock opera that tells the story of an angel's search on Christmas Eve for the one thing on earth that best represents Christmas. The music is sweeping and the songs and narration weave a very emotional story, and the lighting design visually reinforces it. “You don't see shows like this often,” Hartley points out. “It's like a miniature Pink Floyd show; it has that same vibe.”
Hartley's lighting works as the overall scenic element throughout the piece. He uses a star drop with the right amount of restraint to make the effect worthy of the gasps it elicits from the audience. Hartley has found that there are some key moments where the original cue has become as much a part of the show as a note of the music. “There are some staple moments and certain cues just fit,” Hartley muses. “I couldn't see doing them any other way. I like to think that some of the lighting is like a good song; it will stand the test of time.” One such cue is when the moving lights sweep into a position that creates the look of a star around the dark silhouette of the singer who plays the angel. This effect highlights one of Hartley's great achievements with his TSO design: the use of beams of light as a visual character.
The TSO tour is actually two — one for the western half of North America, one for the eastern — touring simultaneously with the same lighting design and equipment. Dan Cassar is lighting director for the western leg while Hartley travels with the eastern. The 2002 package includes 30 High End Systems Studio Color® 575s, 30 High End Studio Spot® 575s, eight High End Studio Spot 250s, eight Martin color-changing luminaires feeding the star drop, 28 Wybron color scrollers, over 100 Altman PAR cans, 20 Diversitronics 3kW strobes, a 40W YAG laser from Laser Fantasy, a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II with expansion wing, and three diamond-shaped truss set pieces made of Total Fabrications Auto Truss. The first and second years, Hartley took the tour's lighting package out of Westsun. Craig Redden was the point person for Westsun and this year TSO followed Redden to Q1 of Winnipeg. Hartley explains, “I really enjoy working with Craig; whatever we need, we get, and every time we do a tour Craig knows we will be adding more gear.”
The reason for the addition of gear each year is designer luxury number two of working with TSO — Paul O'Neill, who understands and supports the impact that the lighting has on the overall show and is a firm believer in the idea that more is good. “Paul is so supportive of taking the show up another level every year,” says Hartley, and that's why this year the LD has the added punch of a laser unit. “We are using a unit from Laser Fantasy. I saw these guys at LDI and it works really well.”
The audience reaction to much of Hartley's lighting is not surprising given the level it achieves but he is sometimes surprised by what they see. “Last year we had arch-shaped trusses and I did these red and green audience sweeps and everyone kept referring to my great Christmas tree effect; it took a while for me to figure out what they meant. Sometimes things just happen.”
Hartley is already planning for next year and he holds out promises of some really big surprises. Hartley “loves doing this tour” and he has had the same lighting crew for all three years. “It's great to have good guys to call and work with,” Hartley comments. Saltzman is another reason the LD looks forward to returning. “He always goes above and beyond to take care of people. He is really good at what he does and is truly unique; plus, this year's catering was amazing.” Hartley concludes, “I look forward to this tour every year and next year is going to blow this year away.” More images of the design progression for TSO can be found at www.bryanhartley.com.