To All Those Bemused by the Situations You Find Yourselves In
Alex Reardon has been Duran Duran's lighting designer for five years. LD asked him to relate his experiences touring with the band in Eastern Europe earlier this year.
As the well-oiled pop machine that is Duran Duran heads into the frozen wastes of Eastern Europe, I find myself reaching for the warmest clothes humankind has yet to come up with. Of all the barking mad ideas--Russia in February--brilliant! We're doing a little scamper around Zagreb, Croatia; Kiev, Ukraine; Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia; and Tallinn, Estonia. I am of a split opinion as to how this is going to run. My "Have a laugh against all the odds" sense is primed, but my "You're going to put a safety on all that, aren't you?" sense is also running perilously near the red, and that's only after 10 days of e-mails, faxes, and phone calls trying to describe how to outrig a MAC 500! Ho-hum, “ours is not to reason why…....” I get the feeling that we should all march into the first gig singing "We Shall Overcome."
Virgin Atlantic rules! Of course they do, we all know that, but Aeroflot--phew! They don't have inflatable emergency ramps. Well, actually, they've got one; the rest of the emergency system includes knotted ropes (fine for us lampies/truss monkeys, but good luck you corpulent backline tech!), and a “cloth gutter,” which is kind of like the inflatable exit ramp, but it takes two people to hold the bottom edges out from the plane. My question is, who are these people, and how do they get there to hold the ramp for the aforementioned backline tech? Hmmm. Oh, yes, how could I forget the skylight in the toilet? It's all true.
For those of you interested in the boring statistics of the whole thing, it will be 12 flights for five shows, and I've lost count of the phone calls and e-mails. The interesting part of this little adventure is how these former Soviet bloc countries are trying so hard to emulate Western European and American production values. From the Soviet primordial soup have emerged some companies and people that are busting themselves to accommodate.
As an example, take the fine fellows in Zagreb. They spoke just enough English to let me know that they had everything in hand. Actually, I knew as soon as I walked in: Lights in the right places, hung the right way, and a dimmer guy with a patch sheet in his hand. I set up the Hog and everything worked the first time. How often can you say that? This was a good thing--I don't take well to jet lag. The audience were beyond outstanding. Sometimes there are shows when, even if you're not into the music, you can't help but get into it from the enthusiasm of the crowd. Gary Oldknow (projectionist to the stars) leaned over to me during the show and shouted, "It's like the Ayatollah's funeral." There were more than a few people going insane. Not bad, not bad at all. So, if you're ever in Croatia, remember, "zavezitc svoje pojaseve doksjedite," or “fasten your seat belt while seated.
Kiev--really boring gig. Fairly nice concert hall, but somebody please get hold of the person that controls the air conditioning. At every well-planned-out opera venue or concert hall there tends to be an air-conditioning system that keeps the audience nicely chilled throughout. Chilled audiences sit still and don't have a very good time. I've faced this before: What usually happens is that the venue says, "Don't worry, the air will be turned off for the show," the show happens, the air goes cryogenic, production managers scurry about, and surprise--the only person that can control the air has gone on holiday, gone to prison, gone to the moon. Well, in my mind, it's time to rid ourselves of the oppressors, we must rise up against the yoke of air-conditioning tyranny. Hang on, I've been in Eastern Europe too long....
St. Petersburg is the most spectacularly beautiful place to visit. We had a morning off, so on went the thermals, scarf, hat, gloves, and everything else I could possibly wear. We got two taxis for about 75 cents an hour and bustled off into the frosty waste. After two or three amazing churches and a frozen tourist-trap gift market, we headed into the Hermitage, a huge and utterly beyond beautiful museum, and bumped into the band being given a guided tour by the head of PR.
Now, there are those of you who will go to places like this, away from the normal, and get utterly wasted on cheap vodka, spend your PDs on things that could give you a lot more than a nasty rash, and never ever see anything of the places that this weird job takes you. For once, try and get out, see the place. Don't get me wrong, when the promoter waves his (or her) hand towards a club full of fun and frivolity, it takes nerves of steel (or a good woman at home) to walk away. If you get to St. Petersburg, walk away. Getting drunk, etc., can happen anywhere, but places like this are worth the early night--trust me.
I'm back in the comfort of my little apartment on Venice Beach. This couldn't be any further from the frozen tundra, but the efforts of those working and living in the former Soviet Union have left an impression. So, if you are a tour manager frightened by horror stories from maybe five or so years ago, make sure the heads of each department do a lot of prep work and get over there. It'll still be hard work, but it's worth it to get out of the routine of sheds, arenas, or whatever, and to see some sights and taste some flavors you'll remember for a very long time.
Yours through the frosty glaze,
Alex Reardon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos were contributed by Duran Duran projectionist Gary Oldknow, who has a website at www.deepvisual.com.