Thanks to a true collaboration from a variety of creative individuals, Sting's current Sacred Love, playing in a plethora of venues — from theatres to arenas and beyond — is tailored not only to the music, and not only to the artist, but also, to a certain extent, to Sting's longtime crew.
Production designer Bruce Rodgers of the Venice, CA-based Tribe Inc. began work on the touring production in the fall, while collaborating with Sting on a concert special in Chicago's Bryant Park. “Originally, it was a pretty high-concept set design, and, in my mind, it was going to be the greatest show Sting had ever done,” he says.
Before presenting his ideas, Rodgers showed them to Sting's longtime crew, including production manager Tam Fairgrieve and stage manager Jimmy Bolton. They had a bevy of suggestions. Rodgers listened to their input, and rethought the design. “I came back the next day and applied everything they told me I needed,” he reports.
The tour's environment is based around six risers, ranging in size from 4'×4' to 8'×8' and assorted fascia envisioned by Rodgers and built by All Access Staging of Torrance, CA. “The risers are completely black. The drummer and the percussionist, who play behind Sting, have a scenic Plexiglas fascia on the front of their risers that look like an industrial, London-gaslight scenic technique,” Rodgers says. The Plexiglas fascia is also echoed in the trussing. “Overhead, we do a little bit more of this technique over the downstage truss that's then back lighted,” he adds.
The most dominant aspect of the set are the 8'6"×16' LED walls; there are three on the theatre tour. Others will be added as the tour progresses to larger venues. “Part of my job was to establish the three monolithic walls,” Rodgers says. “When we get to the arena shows, we'll introduce four additional 6'×4'6” cubes that fit in between the existing walls.”
The new design would work in all of the venues Sting is playing (which can be unconventional) and would be easy to tour as well. “I probably could have shown my original design to everybody but the crew, and I think they would have been thrilled and ready to go for it,” Rodgers says. “Because I showed it to the crew and asked them if we could move it around the world, they said certain things would be difficult.” The result is a streamlined set that makes a visual statement, but isn't labor intensive.
The next component of the Sacred Love visual picture is the video content shown on Rodger's LED walls, which were created by Jim Gable and Ann Kim of Graying & Balding in Los Angeles. The pair have worked with Sting in the past, most notably on the Emmy Award-winning A&E special that took place at Sting's Tuscany home.
Gable and Kim's initial idea was to concentrate on the new material. “For the tour visuals, we didn't want to interfere with his longtime fans' imagery and perception of certain songs,” Kim notes. Although songs like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take” still use visuals, Gable and Kim looked at them from a different standpoint. “We tend to take a background role, or even a textural role for many of his old songs,” Gable says.
The pair concentrated on creating video for 15 out of 20 songs in the show, with the emphasis on the new material from the Sacred Love album. “We wanted to make the new songs on the album stand out separately from each other as well as from the rest of the show,” Gable adds.
Gable and Kim first looked to the world of dance for their imagery. “The thing that Sting wanted from the beginning was to have a dance element in the show,” Gable confirms. Of course, touring with dancers wasn't especially practical, so they found another option: “We'd film the dance routines and make them work on the screens as a large theatrical element,” he says.
The imagery in the video goes far beyond texture and dance. “For some songs, like ‘A Thousand Years,’ we use abstract imagery to set a mood and create a living backdrop behind Sting,” Gable says. In songs like “This War,” the visuals are much more literal, as Russian and Chinese images from the recent past appear. “We actually used period poster propaganda from the last century for inspiration,” Kim notes.
During the song “Never Coming Home,” there's a brief IMAG moment of hands on a piano — that is the only IMAG in this leg of the production. “One of our goals was to get way from the culture of video directors on the road shooting what looks like a local-access rock and roll show every night,” comments Gable.
To bring their visuals to the audience, Gable and Kim turned to Breckinridge Haggerty of Diagonal Research and his NEV 7 system. “The video concept for the Sting tour called for a lot of pre-recorded material, and minimal use of live cameras,” Haggerty says. For the Sting tour, Haggerty has three NEV 7.2 systems, which deliver content and mix cameras for the video walls, with an additional system to be added when the show is reconfigured for arenas. Also included in the system are three NEV 8 controllers, one of which runs a 32 × 32 SDI matrix router. Interestingly, all of the NEV systems are controlled remotely by a GrandMA lighting console at FOH.
The NEV7 System allows Gable and Kim to send out multiple signals. “We have a total of four full-resolution streams going out simultaneously that are all working in sync with each other,” Gable comments. As part of the their video package, Gable and Kim are using 12 Omega hard drives. “The reason we have so many is that we use them as key elements; we do a lot of mixing, and we have the individual layers interact with each other,” adds Gable.
PUT ON THE RED LIGHT
The lighting design of Stan Crocker worked in conjunction with the video system. “From the beginning, we were bouncing ideas off of each other, and it was very collaborative,” he says. Crocker's color palette, which ranges from saturated to subtle, was intimately tied to the video. “Video dictated the color palette a lot of times,” he adds.
The lighting rig is based on two 40' and two 12' straight trusses, along with five 8' trusses upstage on Vario-Lift motors. “The Vario-Lifts give you limitless looks,” Crocker comments. “You can make it symmetrical, take it high, take it low, make it a total floor light show one minute, take it totally up in the air the next. Now that I've used them, I can't imagine not having them on a show.”
Crocker's gear is dominated by Martin Mac 2000 Profiles and Washes, which are used on the articulating upstage trusses, and the downstage truss, where they provide key light for Sting. “We also ended up with a dozen Mac 300s scattered around the floor, and they did a great job lighting the scenic fascia, and giving us eye candy when we needed it,” he says. “They have a smaller job to do and they do it well.”
One of the show's biggest lighting events happens during “Hole in My Life,” which features a giant white light. “The trusses come down into a dome effect over the upstage area and it's just ‘bang’ on white light,” Crocker says, “I loved programming that one.” Crocker and lighting director Seth Robinson programmed the show on a Martin Maxyyz console.
Sonically speaking, a Clair Brothers System powers the Sacred Love tour, and monitor engineer Vish Wadi is running an analog console. “I don't like digital boards — they don't sound natural to me,” he says. Therefore, Wadi, Sting's longtime monitor engineer, is working off a Midas Heritage console. “I'm also using a bunch of dbx compressors, and some Yamaha 990 reverb; I don't like anything too fancy.” In contrast, FOH sound man Jim Ebdon is using a DiGiCo D-5 board.
Wadi uses Clair 12 AM floor monitors, which is a low profile monitor that utilizes a high-frequency compression driver coupled to a patented asymmetrical horn. The 12 AM also features a 300W custom 12” cone transducer for mid-bass and low-frequency reproduction. Working alongside the 12 AMs is an in-ear system. “We're using Senheiser Evolution Series 300 ear monitor transmitter receivers in conjunction with Feature Sonic ear monitors,” he adds.
For Wadi, the most challenging part of the tour are the venues. “You have issues in arenas, and you have issues in theatres,” he remarks. “Some theatres are dead, some are live, and there's plush seating as well. Plus you have to keep the monitor volume at a certain level so that you're not messing with FOH.”
Sting played US theatres until the end of March. The tour then reconfigured with new elements and is now primarily playing arenas in Europe. Look for the tour to head back to the US for an arena tour later this summer.