It is a small world after all--or at least that's what producers of Times Square 2000 would have you believe had you been one of the 500,000 revelers celebrating New Year's in the epicenter of New York. The subtitle of the Big Apple's millennium extravaganza--The Global Celebration at the Crossroads of the World--sums it up: There were 24 separate presentations of cultures from around the world which took place on the hour throughout the Square as the new year arrived in each time zone. Behind the scenes, it took a production crew that could populate a small nation itself to orchestrate the shindig, the largest New Year's Eve celebration ever held in Times Square's 95-year history.
Produced by the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID) and Countdown Entertainment, Times Square 2000 called on a seasoned team of creatives to pull off the all-day show, which began on Friday, December 31, at 6:30am and lasted 24 hours, continuing even after the climactic descent and debut of a new Times Square ball (see "A New Year's ball," page 52). Creative producer and writer Geoff Puckett was joined by artistic director and puppet designer Michael Curry and dance director David Parsons to conceive the multimedia celebrations, which involved more than 500 costumed dancers, musicians, and puppeteers who operated 160 processional puppets. Production management was supplied by DSG Productions: Peter Kohlman, executive producer; Anthony Salerno Jr., event director; Don Gilmore, associate producer/production; Christine Krische, associate producer/media relations; David Stern, associate producer/video. Brooke Wentz was the world music producer and Treb Heining was the confetti master who designed the five tons of confetti and airborne effects which showered the crowd.
On the design side, David Woolard created the inventive costumes, John Kilgore crafted the sound design, and veteran concert designer Roy Bennett envisioned the lighting looks to ring in the New Year. "I got involved two years prior and did the 1998-99 New Year's pretty much to get my feet wet," says Bennett, adding that everything was obviously stepped up for the millennium, from the amount of city agencies and sponsors involved to the scope of the show and how it would be designed.
Midnight, of course, was a highly anticipated moment, even more so this year because of the debut of the new Times Square ball, lit by New York-based Fisher Marantz Stone. However, the ball drop was only part of Times Square 2000, which played out over the course of the day and was staged around a half square mile of the Square. "With the ball, you are concentrating on a little more controlled area," says Bennett. "My design was the rest of Times Square, which is a challenge because of the amount of ambient light."
Competing with the bright lights of the big city, Bennett used an army of 3kW and 7kW xenon sources by Syncrolite, including 32 SS7Ks and 12 SX3Ks. "The majority of the xenons were focused on One Times Square [where the ball is dropped], and there were islands of them dotted down the center between Seventh Avenue and Broadway," says the LD, who also designed lighting for the Mayor's stage in the center of the Square.
All other lighting equipment was supplied by Production Arts/PRG. The stage system included 68 High End Systems Studio Spots(TM) and 25 Studio Colors(R), 36 Diversitronics 3000 strobes, 30 ETC Source Fours, 16 followspots, and some key lights to fill in especially for the live telecast of the event. Bennett chose the system based on equipment availability during the millennium, reliability in the outdoor setting, and cost, which became a factor after a series of budget cuts.
Bennett took his design cues from the work of Puckett, Curry, and Parsons. "It was based on costumes, puppets, and music," he says. "There were times when there was a certain group of performers representing a certain country that we could go by the color of their costumes, or the national flag. If there were one or two countries in the time zone that was easy," he adds. "But if there were seven or nine or even more countries then they had to include a little bit of everything and we had to create an abstract feel for that time zone."
While timing for the actual event was precise--stage management took cues off a signal transmitted to Times Square from the US Atomic Clock in Colorado--the days preceding the show ran on a more complicated schedule. "We loaded in a week before, but because of security issues everything was slowed down and we were behind two or three days. We didn't get a chance to start programming until Thursday night which meant that we were there all night and went right into the show. The Syncrolites were pretty much WYSIWYGed and we corrected some stuff and added a few extra things, but the stage is where we had to start winging looks in as fast as we could."
Bennett credits his crew for turning the show around quickly, including lighting director Tom Beck, assistant lighting director Troy Eckerman, who WYSIWYGed and programmed the Syncrolites and ran the stage lights, and Kurt Kalivoda, who did some programming with Eckerman and ran the Syncrolites. Pat Alapa was the production electrician. Colin Brown was head electrician for the Mayor's stage. Ed Puntin and Ken Davis were assistant electricians. Spotlight operators were provided by Entolo. The show was run off four Flying Pig Systems Wholehog IIs, which Bennett says "were good for grabbing looks and doing general improvisations."
After completing the fast-paced programming, the lighting crew began New Year's Eve day with the dawn, a sunrise created through lighting. "The dawn sequence was like the beginning of time," Bennett remembers. "The feel of it was like a rain forest with these abstract creatures crawling through the crowds. We tried to simulate sunlight coming through the trees. As it went on, the music built up and accentuated the fact that the sun was rising. As it built, we added more xenon lights so it got brighter and brighter until finally we did a huge sunrise with all the Syncrolites down by One Times Square."
Following the dawn and early morning celebrations, the lighting crew left for two or three hours during the daylight and were back at 4pm to light the duration of the show. While every celebration varied in presentation, each was conceived to gradually escalate the excitement as midnight neared. A favorite for Bennett was the 10pm celebration as midnight reached South America and a tropical world of Brazilian dancers and fantastic rain forest puppets came to life to the beat of tribal percussion. "We made it very festive and bright, lots of golds, ambers, reds, and some blues in there," says the LD.
All this festivity was just a prelude to the big moment--midnight in Times Square. "The music started building up and chaos started breaking out about 15 minutes before midnight," says Bennett, who was safely ensconced in a trailer near the stage. "That's when the police really let us go for it, let us rile up the crowd with a light show. Because we were limited in the amount of equipment we had, we had stopped using the xenons maybe two or three hours prior, and then we started using them again, and adding more and more until midnight. Everything was full on white with lots of strobes, plus there was the confetti and the balloons and the people screaming."
When the chaos crescendoed and the New Year turned, the Crossroads of the World was illuminated with an almost apocalyptic light show, including pyro by Dittmer, MO-based Performance Pyrotechnic Associates firing off the top of One Times Square. Needless to say, Bennett and his crew didn't want to miss the millennial moment and stepped out of their trailer to see their work. "It was great, but then we had to go back in and continue the show," says Bennett, who spent the first morning of 2000 lighting the millennium until 6:30am, when the last time zone in the mid-Pacific entered the new year.
It goes without saying that illumination played a central role in the millennium celebrations in Times Square. Despite a new ball, however, the trusted incandescent lamp continued to earn its place in history.
"We didn't use new technology of the next millennium to make a lasting impression; rather we used what we knew about the power of light to provide energy," says LD Jules Fisher. He, Paul Marantz, Scott Hershman, Andrew Thompson, Steven Huess, and Jordan Ruden, all of New York City-based architectural lighting firm Fisher Marantz Stone, designed the special celebratory ball, which spanned 6' in diameter, weighed 1,070lb, and was constructed of sponsor Waterford crystal attached to an aluminum frame. The ball, fabricated by Hudson Scenic Studio (with Landmark Signs), was augmented for performance lighting by Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, of the entertainment lighting firm Third Eye.
[Other firms that participated in the Times Square festivities were Lee, MA-based Limelight Productions, which provided the lighting gear and location crew for ABC's live telecast of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve; and Lumenyte, whose fiber optics added sparkle to the podium from which the ball's descent wasinitiated. Geoff Puckett designed these effects, aided by local public utility company Con Edison Solutions.]
Philips Lighting (one of many corporate sponsors, including Con Edison and Waterford), sponsored the lamps used with the ball. A total of 168 Philips Halogena 2000 lamps (medium-base A-style incandescent, pictured), engineered with a special envelope (straight edges with additional facets for crystal enhancement) were used for the exterior. Inside, 432 lamps of various types provided additional effects, and were circuited and controlled via ETC equipment provided by Production Arts/PRG. There were 208 clear Halogena decorative flame tips (stock lamps) used for the core and wedges, because color was also a key design element; Philips also manufactured 56 red, 56 blue, 56 green, and 56 yellow lamps in a 40W, medium-base (A-19) special incandescent version. "For the desired bursts of color, we needed a certain saturated color, but we faced a very tight space constraint. Philips specially manufactured the smaller envelope lamps, which allowed us to increase the total number of lamps within the sphere," says Hershman.
The strobes were another area that combined versatile "conventional technology" and custom applications. Fisher arranged with GAM Products to modify its standard GAM Star Strobe II to be double-ended, enabling 48 units to provide 96 strobes. Hershman says the "Millennium model" of the Star Strobe II also featured a higher output, and the shared electronics within the module provided the double-ended strobing and allowed for space savings within the ball. Hudson modified the strobes by changing the acrylic covers to a polycarbonate tube to better withstand the temperature extremes (especially heat) within the ball interior. While the use of incandescent lamps are definitely low-tech, the heat produced by the lamps called for high-tech materials--special polycarbonates, cables, and attachment methods.
A key challenge faced by Hudson was cabling. The design called for powering 98 lighting circuits (56 outside, 42 inside), six strobe triggers (0-10V), three non-dims for AC power for the DMX-controlled stepper motors (rotating triangular mirrors), and three DMX lines for the control of the 90 mirrors. Electrical designer Dave Rosenfeld originally considered 12-circuit multiconductor power cable; however, the 1,350lb cable weight was heavier than the ball itself and too much for the flagpole and rigging apparatus to bear. So he analyzed each circuit by load, and in accordance with National Electrical Code tables and guidelines, chose wire gauges appropriate for each circuit or function. Olflex 3855 robotic cable was used to power the ball along its descent from the 77'-high (23m) flagpole atop One Times Square.
The use of color in the final moments before midnight was designed to excite the crowd and to "read well on TV," Fisher notes, adding, "Prior to the last minute, the ball pulsed red, like a heartbeat. This set up the final-minute sequence, bringing in more chases, then lights (interior and exterior) and finally the Vari*Lites." The 24 moving lights, 12 VL2Cs(TM) and 12 VL7s(TM), were located under the ball on the roof of One Times Square, under the control of a Mini Artisan(R) console, run by programmer Dale Polansky. The control of the interior lights and DMX controlled mirrors on the ball exterior was through an ETC Expression 2X console guided by Scott Gillette.
According to production electrician John Trowbridge, "The boards were linked via SMPTE. This year marked the first time that we, via satellite, downlinked a feed from the US Atomic Clock in Colorado, generated the time code, and distributed the reference signal to others, including the media, for perfect synchronization."
This was the most complex New Year's show Trowbridge had ever worked on. "We used 200 macros, and seven pages of submasters. Naturally, we had a full set of consoles auto-linked and tracking in real time. This was the ultimate one-off and everything needed to work, perfectly, and the first time." Luckily for everyoneinvolved--not to mention the millions watching the festivities--it did.