Having spent the last five years working with internet and digital technology, LD Marc Brickman (Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney) decided to combine some of these new techniques with his lighting design for the Pet Shop Boys' current Nightlife tour.
"I've met a lot of young engineers who are involved in the rave scene, so I decided it was time for me to try using image as light rather than just having video or just having lights," Brickman says, "also to not use the video for IMAG (image magnification), but rather make it much more abstract. For the show's opening sequence where their heads are spinning we did shoot them live. That's really the only time the audience sees them up close, and that isn't live, obviously."
By the time Brickman was called to London to meet with the band, architect/set designer Zaha Hadid had already been involved with the project for about four or five months. Both striking and simple, the set consists of two enormous geometric shapes. Brickman used both the horizontal platform and the vertical panel upstage as projection areas. "Because it was a completely white set, we knew that it had to be lit the entire time," Brickman says. "There was no compromise here."
The LD created most of the visuals during production rehearsals. "I came to rehearsals with nothing finished--that's the first time in my life I've ever done that," Brickman says. "I was able to show up with two Windows 98 boxes that I bought at my local computer store in Malibu and digitize a bunch of images right on the spot at rehearsals. I worked with Chris Bird and Ben Whittam-Smith of Notting Hill Productions. They're rave guys who do cutting-edge, interactive, frequency-controlled images. Everybody, including the band and costume designer/staging consultant Ian MacNeil, had their own ideas about how the set was going to be used and when the panels would move out. But it all fell into place relatively easily. It was actually was one of the most painless and pleasurable jobs I've ever done. It all worked really well."
LD Jon Pollak had initially been approached to design the tour, but he was touring with Lenny Kravitz. When Kravitz cut his tour short, Pollak came onboard as lighting director. He joined Brickman and Wholehog programmer Martin Philips in West Palm Beach, FL, for production rehearsals. "I had to take a step back and get into Marc's head and figure out what he was trying to convey within the cues," Pollak says. "We established a very good rapport, so it was quite easy in the end. He was a great joy to work with because he is an intelligent, funny, wonderful guy, who's also very talented. I then took the cues under my wing and began to work with Chris Bird, the video operator, and his assistant, Kevin Campbell. The three of us work really well as a unit. We have it down to this intuition where I know if he's going to have something special up there or if he's going to come in late. I can tell just by how he's going along so I can cover--and he can do the same for me. While it's not a complexly programmed show, it does have to interweave with the video, so the cues have to be timed to the nth degree.
"The video guys really came to life once the tech rehearsals started," Pollak continues. "We started stringing the songs together and making it more of a show, and they were amazing. For me to see them work as part of the lighting really opened up my eyes to something I had never considered: using this large projection system as part of the lighting to light the people onstage. That taught me quite a lot. At first I would think, 'I can't black out here, there's no light onstage,' but then Marc would remind me that the video was acting as light as well. He assured me that I'd get used to it. I did, and it's been a great new learning process in my career."
Light & Sound Design is the main lighting contractor, and the crew includes Mischa Temple and Martin McLoughlin (Europe) and Thomas Kelleher and Dan Sasala (US). Equipment includes: 12 High End Systems Cyberlights(R), 43 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), six PAR-64s, one Lightning Strikes high-power strobe unit, one Reel EFX oil cracker smoke machine, and one Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console. New York-based Staging Techniques provided the two NEC DLP projectors and George & Goldberg Design Associates constructed the set. The Pet Shop Boys are scheduled to tour through early February.