BRUCE RAMUS TENDS TO SAVAGE GARDEN Savage Garden brought its unique blend of upbeat Australian pop to the US this summer, along with a splashy lighting rig that proves once more that rope light isn't only for nightclubs. LD Bruce Ramus brings a number of specialty fixtures to the show, which hits Europe this month, as well as High End Systems Studio Colors[R] and Martin Professional MAC 500s, to create a unique look.
Savage Garden's tour manager, Peter McFee, contacted Ramus about doing the band's Affirmation tour; Ramus co-designed it with Willie Williams, with whom he often works, and is its lighting director. "Peter was looking for something a bit different and wanted me to work with Sean `Motley' Hackett, who was already on board as a programmer/ operator," Ramus explains. "Sean already knew the show, which was a huge help, and he had lots of good input at the programming stage."
The next step was to find out if the band had any specific ideas on what they wanted. "Darren Hayes, the lead singer, is very much interested in the creative side," Ramus remarks. "He had some ideas regarding video screens, elevators, treadmills, and that sort of thing, but they weren't appropriate for their budget. He did, though, give us a direction to go in, a `pop industrial' look, which really helped." Rather than create a show that hinted at 'NSync or the Backstreet Boys, the LD went in a different direction. "We basically convinced them to do a show that was really bright, colorful, cheerful, and unpretentious."
To achieve this look, Ramus visited the rope light experts at Neo-Neon in Hong Kong. "The rope light was the first idea we had, then we built a design around it," the LD notes. "We've tried numerous rope light companies over the course of time, and we just felt like we wanted to go closer to the source of it. It's a great company that is prompt, courteous, and has an excellent product." [Ramus was the lighting director of R.E.M's Up tour, designed by Williams, featured in the November 1999 issue; it also used Neo-Neon equipment.]
The rope light panels, inspired by the neon jungle of Hong Kong and the seaside resort of Blackpool, England, measure 6' tall by 4' wide and have four different patterns on them - horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and curved lines. Four colors are available on the panels - red, yellow, green, and blue. "Each panel has three of the colors," Ramus explains. "There's red in every panel, then there's two of the other colors in the rest of the panel." Using the colors and patterns, Ramus creates a variety of very different looks for the stage. "With the circuiting of the panels, you're able to do lots of interesting chases. They can be really elegant and gentle, or really cheesy and disco hell-looking," he jokes.
At first, the stage appears to be overwhelmed by the 60-odd panels. "They hang in the air above the band and all around them," Ramus comments. "The rope light is also used on the faces of the risers," and add an immense amount of visual interest to the stage. "They're rarely used as a source of illumination, but as a point source, a scenic drop that comes alive."
The tour, which opened Down Under in spring, had a streamlined production period, so the choice of fixtures was initially limited. "McFee wanted me to design a system around available gear in Australia, and the major vendors there, Jands and Bytecraft, can really provide what you want. But if you only have four weeks' notice, it depends on what tours are already out." In the end, Ramus used a Jands system, as well as a variety of custom fixtures. The bulk of the rig in Australia consisted of 60 Vari superscript *Lite[R] VL5s[TM], 20 Vari-Lite VL6Bs[TM], and 25 Vari-Lite VL7s[TM].
Ramus used the Jands Echelon to program the rope light, while Hackett worked on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II with an expansion wing for the rest of the rig. "It worked out quite well in Australia - I was able to play continuously with the rope light, add changes, work on segues, and really evolve the show." Once it started touring in the US, Ramus made some console changes. "We merged the two shows onto the Hog II with the expansion wing, and now Motley can run quite a flawless show on one console."
The automated instruments on the rig also changed on this side of the Pacific. "We went to High End Studio Colors and Martin MAC 500s from Bandit Lites in Nashville," Ramus explains. "I had 60 VL5s in Australia, and I wanted to bring the numbers down to about 40 wash units, but I didn't really want to lose the punch. So I went with the brighter Studio Colors which have performed excellently, and the MACs have also stood up well with very few problems."
The current rig has a plethora of trussing, including a front truss with a 40' (12m) trim height, two angled midstage trusses that trim at 32' (10m), four small back trusses, and an upstage cyc truss that trims at 24' (7m). There is also a 30' (9m) roll drop truss downstage, which has three roll drops made by Brilliant Stages in England. "The roll drops have been flawless, as is common with Brilliant gear," he comments. There are also four 30' vertical towers upstage, which are filled with instruments including egg strobes and MACs.
Unconventional units are used as well. "We developed these special ACL beacons by taking a police beacon and putting in an ACL bulb. We then adapt the motor to run on the voltage - the end result is a much brighter police beacon than one can buy off the shelf," Ramus says. The rig also contains 15 Terrastrobes, "a relatively old fixture that we've been using forever. It's a 10" long linear strobe, similar to the Diversitronics, but it's smaller." They aren't the only strobes up there: "In the towers, there are six 30' strings of egg strobes, which strobe every foot, and they live in the towers, making load-ins that much easier."
There are also 30 DWE bulbs in a four-light vertical configuration found onstage. "These small fixtures are mounted in and around the set so that you can get random chases in one light coming on everywhere, and when you put all of those fixtures on, it becomes a massive look," Ramus adds. "The system, put together in typically meticulous Bandit style, also has two Lowel-Light Totas for the ubiquitous shadow gag, which happens on the roll drops, providing some relief from the often manic rope light."
One of the biggest challenges of the tour is the venues themselves. "We've done a lot of different versions of this rig, and what version you see depends on which venue you go to," Ramus explains. "From Radio City Music Hall to county fairs, from sheds in America to clubs in Europe, the crew has done really well being so adaptable." [TV viewers may have seen the band perform at the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Sydney.]
Consequently, the plot itself has flexibility built into it. "If the trim height is too low, we can do a lot of things," Ramus says. "The rear trusses can be brought all the way downstage, which sounds ridiculous, but we basically take the offstage rear trusses and move them right down in front of the PA, to free up the rope light panels. We can also just take a row of the rope panels out, or we can just stand them up around the place if we have a 10' ceiling, and they're still really bright and look great."
Savage Garden ended its US tour in September. Concludes Ramus of the look, "It doesn't try to blow you away with technological gadgetry - it's actually very low tech, but it provides a beautiful and fun setting to a show."