What is in this article?:
- Preaching to the Converted: Tina Turner Roars Back on Tour
- The Massive Load-In
Tina Turner tours like the best of them. The rock-and-roll veteran is out there strutting some pretty fantastic stuff on her current 24/7 World Tour 2000, which began with a grueling schedule that most young performers would find too punishing. Six of the 14 trucks that carried this big tour from city to city on the initial US leg of one-night stands were dedicated to a sophisticated set with myriad moving parts.
Designed by British architect/set designer Mark Fisher, whose credits range from the Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, and Pink Floyd to the Millennium Dome in London, Turner's set is an encompassing environment that adds extra punch to the power of her performance. "She wanted something that was modern, cool, sleek," says Fisher. "Several conversations took place over sketchbooks before we were clear about what she meant by this."
Fisher says the end result is "hugely complicated and one of the largest arena shows to ever go out and tour back-to-back," adding, "It has been described as a stadium tour in an arena." The designer developed Turner's initial idea of "cabins" and access ramps for the six-piece band into an "apartment building," which consisted of a double set of risers with visible staircases and a front drop that creates six compartments for the musicians. The staircases stretch to 25' above stage level, for a vertical as well as horizontal appeal. Backstage, this height is echoed with platforms that hold lighting equipment and fog machines, including four Le Maitre Neutron Pro units and two F-100 Fogger MK2 units.
Fisher also came up with the idea of splitting the set in two for what he calls the "volcano" reveal for "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," in which a red flame backdrop replaces a sculpted silvery black drop in use for most of the show. The drops were added to make the set "look pretty," notes Fisher. "Tina was going for spectacle." Tait Towers in Lititz, PA, built the set, under the expert guidance of Michael Tait and Jim "Winky" Fairorth.
Dave Perry, whose studio is in Birmingham, England, created both backdrops. He worked from Fisher's designs, using an assortment of fabrics, including voile, gauze, lame, and satin, to get the desired effect. "We create the shapes, then stitch the fabrics together to get a three-dimensional depth that catches the light; that's our specialty, really," says Perry. "There are no set rules or techniques. We create each design on an ad hoc basis, with an air-brushed [painted] enhancement on the fabric after the drops are made."
The set split into two pieces twice--once for the volcano effect and once again for the unplugged portion of the show--with the video screen dropping between the two sections. During these moments, the video screen continues to move and also splits into two parts, adding an incredible visual impact to the production. Video director Christine Strand used all of the screens to add another layer of visual interest throughout the show.
Fisher describes the action of the set for the "Grapevine" reveal: "The band apartments split open, creating a 20'-wide gap ablaze with gold and red pyro and revealing the video screen upstage. An 18'-long ramp rises out of the floor as soon as the apartments are clear. It meets an upstage entry platform (above Turner's backstage quick-change area) behind the curtain. Tina and the girls are standing on the roof of the quick-change, upstage of the video screen. The screen splits open and they shimmy down the ramp."
Meanwhile, the screens continue to move. "At the end of 'Grapevine,' they lift up high as two separate screens to do the video for 'Private Dancer,' " explains Fisher. Also during this song, the backup singers perform downstage on specially designed chairs that they can stand on. The chairs (built by Brilliant Stages in the UK) have wheels on back legs to make them easy to move around the stage.
At the end of the show, a 2'-wide section of the stage floor lifts up as a 60'-long arm rises into the air and swings out over the audience, with Turner perched in a "pulpit" at the end. "She has used cantilever arms before," explains Fisher. "I first did one for her in 1990 [called "the Claw"]. So this much-improved and much longer arm was a hard sell, just because she had done it before and did not want to repeat old gags. But in the end, the video animation persuaded her that this one was very different. Which it is; she can sweep out over almost half of the arena floor with it."
Hydraulically powered, the arm is fixed cantilever-mounted on a car, which runs on a track under the stage, and counterweighted by 7,000lbs of lead, which prevents it from falling over. "The car can drive from one side of the stage to the other while the arm turns around on top of it," Fisher explains.
The hydraulics for the arm were subcontracted by Tait Towers to Donnie Wright of Beyond Imagination in Newburgh, NY. "We usually do our own hydraulics, but this was a very tight span and we needed a specialist," says Tait.
The initial leg of the tour (which opened in Madison, WI) included a series of four back-to-back, one-night stands in cities that were within driving distance of each other (after four nights, there were three nights off). The normal load-in time for the production is six to seven hours.