(It's been a busy year for Peter Morse. After designing the Christina Aguilera portion of the Justified and Stripped tour, he's back with a country music legend: Shania Twain. Sharon Stancavage finds out the details.)
Sharon Stancavage: How did you get involved with Shania?
Peter Morse: Dan Braun, who's worked with Q Prime Management for a number of years, has been talking to me off and on for the past year or so. We're friends, and I guess he saw the opportunity to work with me on this. They put me together with Shania. I sent in some video information, and it just evolved.
SS: Is this your first time out with her?
PM: I did her summer shows, which culminated with the NBC TV special. That's what I was originally hired for — to do those dates, which were a couple of concerts in the UK, and then she came to Chicago for the taping that aired a few months ago. Following that show, Shania said that she wanted me to design the tour.
SS: What were your first ideas for the show?
PM: Originally, they wanted to go back to do something similar to the Chicago show, a stadium show with lots of lights. Mutt Lange, her husband, is very involved with the music, so I knew the musical tracks would be very complicated. Shania requested that the lights move with the music, so I chose mirror lights that would allow for the movement to properly reflect the accents in her music. When she decided to go in the round, things changed.
SS: Your current gear list doesn't include any mirror-based fixtures. Why?
PM: From my experience in the round, I've found it's important to have fixtures that can cover you as close as possible to 360Þ. This is especially important with an artist like Shania, who hasn't worked in the round before. We weren't sure how she was going to work the stage. The stage itself isn't round; it's actually oblique. It's 80' long by 40' wide, so it's longer than it's wider — it's more of an oval. To put mirrored fixtures up would severely limit their use. They'd be good for only about 180Þ. That would be fine, if I knew precisely how she was going to stage the show. But I didn't, so I went with a fully yokeable system.
SS: What are the unique challenges of working with Shania, as opposed to someone like Christina Aguilera or even Madonna?
PM: Shania and Mutt devise the show. They can change their mind at any time and they do. Nothing is etched in stone, things can change; staging changes, ideas change, and basically the tour is a work-in-progress. I doubt that any three shows would be identical. She changes where she goes and what she does every night. On paper, she looked at it, and said ‘Here's where I'm going to work.’ But the minute the crowd came in, it was definitely a whole different attitude. She immediately began to work with the crowd, which she does brilliantly. She works with the audience considerably more than most artists I've worked with. She loves to jump down into the crowd; she loves to pull them up on stage and have impromptu moments with them. When you're dealing with a lighting design and a lighting system that necessitates programming and thinking ahead and making everything flow, you have to leave yourself a back door on all the songs on the way they connect and where they go; it's not as locked-in as one would like. Yet that's the fun and excitement of it.
SS: It would seem to me that if the music is very complex, that it would be equally complex from a programming standpoint as well.
PM: Musically, it's intricately programmed. Lighting-wise, it is also. Again, we try to reflect all of the accents and moods of the music, which is what Shania wanted. Cueing is very intensive and detailed.
SS: Does her spontaneity have an impact on your cueing?
PM: We cue so that we can use the cueing and still follow her, so she can do what she chooses to. Spotlights help us a lot. Theoretically, you can take everything away. As long as I've got spotlights, I have a show. Bottom line, the show is her charm, her beauty, the way she works an audience, the way she enjoys being part of the audience. So thank God for spotlights, because that's the only way you can work around this type of a challenge. For the most part, the lighting goes on. When she does end a song differently one night to the next, and some of her endings are built around her position on stage, that presents a challenge. You either grit your teeth, close your eyes, wince, and get through it, or you try and make it right. Sometimes we get a little cold water in the face if she ends up somewhere that doesn't work from a lighting standpoint. We make our notes and fix it for the next time. But that freedom, how to do the songs and who to perform to, that's her choice. That's the magic here.
SS: Usually when I talk to designers, and they're dealing with artists who have a more spontaneous show, they end up relying on a variety of stage washes.
PM: I don't like to do that because I feel no two songs should look alike. The easy way to have done this show, having the information that I have now, would be to build as many generic looks as possible and just bang through it. Except, in my mind, every song has it's own distinctive sound musically, so we have to reflect that with the lighting. So much energy and effort went into the sound of her songs that I feel we just need to pay due respect from our end of technology.
SS: How many spotlights are you using?
PM: Right now, we have eight in the rig and we use four in the house, but we're thinking of adding two more in the house.
SS: What color do you have in your spots?
PM: Very basic. The rig is 5600 daylight, so I keep the spots a bit warmer than that. I generally use a 1/8 CTO and try to run them roughly at 4500.
SS: Tell me about your footlights.
PM: Most often, you'll see the traditional MR 16 ministrip lights, especially in television, since they're color-corrected and they remove the shadows under the chin, eyebrows, and nose. But Michael Tait (who worked with set designer Mark Fisher) and I both knew that we didn't want to put striplights around the stage — plus, there's not a straight edge on the stage — it's continually curved. Michael suggested that we find a standard line voltage household light with the right color temperature in it, from somewhere like Home Depot. He wanted to find something that was really low-profile with the right beam spread, and suggested cutting portholes for them so they'd be built into the stage. Well, we came up with a bulb and a fixture that you can barely see that's either side of the yokable floor lights, and it just fits beautifully. They're Sylvania Capsylites®, and it's remarkable because the way they're cut and the way they're angled in the floor, when he first put them in, I said ‘Michael, I'm not sure she's going to be evenly covered.’ But he researched the angles and it was a perfect spread all the way all away around.
SS: Do you have any unit that's a workhorse?
PM: In this design, the [Martin] Mac 2000 Wash light.
SS: Do you like it?
PM: Anybody who knows me knows that I haven't been a Martin fan. Over the last couple of years, I've fallen in love with the Martin Mac Profile. It's the ongoing battle between that and the [High End Systems] x.Spot® Xtreme. They each have their place and the x.Spot Xtreme is a great light as well. I chose the Martin unit for this particular application.
SS: Who is your programmer and board op?
PM: Eric Wade is the programmer, and my board operator is Ryan Nicholson. Ryan will take over the lighting director duties once I leave. Then I'll come in every few weeks to check on things, especially with the rate of change we have. In fact, Eric might be coming in with me.
SS: What else do you want to talk about, Peter?
PM: This is one of the tours I wish I could stay out on. I'm always glad to have other work, but it's such a wonderful atmosphere, it's such an easy working environment with Shania and Mutt. She is a workaholic. In rehearsals, she had up to three run-throughs a day. But they're genuinely good people, and they care about what they're doing. That infiltrates everything we all do.
Shania's UP! tour concluded earlier this month in Vancouver.
|42||High End Systems Studio Color110|
|26||High End Systems PC Beam110|
|40||Martin Mac 2000 Profile111|
|24||Martin Mac 2000 Wash111|
|36||Vari-Lite VL 2202112|
|88||Coemar CF1200 Wash113|
|70||Color Kinetics ColorBlast114|
|8||Lycian M2 Truss Spot115|
|8||360Þ underhung truss spot chair|
|32||Tomcat 10' Swing Wing Truss116|
|8||Tomcat 5' Swing Wing Truss116 100' 20-1/2" box truss|
|4||Mars 400 Power Distribution Rack117|
|2||High End Systems Wholehog II110|
|2||High End Systems Wholehog110 Overdrive|
|1||High End Systems Wholehog Expansion Wing110|
Light & Sound Design
Eric Wade - Programmer
Ryan Nicholson - Console Operator
Russ Felton - Crew Chief
Marc “Chainsaw” Wuchter
Circle Number On Reader Service Card