Formed by the performers and technicians of the Central Show at the Millennium Dome as their year's work there came to an end, The Generating Company is a circus-based performance company that over the last year has managed to balance the demands of pure performance and the need to be commercially viable. A large part of this success has been due to the show Storm, which has enjoyed a number of successful performances, most recently at the Barbican Theatre in London, but which also formed the centerpiece of last year's launch of the new Audi A8 sedan.
As Storm's lighting designer, White Light North's Jack Thompson explains, “We first created the show at the Circus Space in Hoxton, then we converted it to a proscenium arch format at the Theatre Royal in York in late 2001, and we then toured that production. Lots of people saw the show and enjoyed it, including BB Promotion, one of the biggest producers in Europe, who wanted to turn it into a European extravaganza.”
Before that could happen, though, BB was approached to produce a 35-minute show to launch Audi's new A8. They decided that Storm would make a good basis for this show, which would play in seven venues across Germany — Frankfurt, Cologne, Berlin, Hannover, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart.
For the Storm team, including producer Paul Cockle, artistic director Matt Costain, set designer Mark Fisher, and Thompson, this meant adapting the show to the shorter running length, then adding on a reveal of the car at the end. Thompson specified a largely automated rig, supplied by White Light North and The Moving Light Company, that included 18 Martin Professional MAC 600s, six MAC 2000s, 12 MAC 500s, four MiniMAC Profiles, 12 PAR-64s with scrollers, and a selection of 2kW fresnels, Strand SL Zoom profiles, Cantata PCs, and PAR cans all driven from 72 ways of Avolites ART dimming. Control was from a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II programmed by Jim Beagley, while Dave Mathieson served as production electrician and Keith Johnson the production manager. “Those guys and all the crew made the Audi show possible,” says Thompson. “I couldn't have done it without them, and wouldn't have wanted to do it without them.” The production toured the complete lighting and rigging package, allowing it to cope easily with the wide range of venues it visited — including an old flower hall that was only 7m (23') wide with no facilities for hanging anything.
First brought into The Generating Company by Paul Cockle, who had been the company's production manager at the Dome, Storm allowed Jack Thompson to draw on his long experience of lighting dance, movement, and circus-style performances gained while working for DV8, RaRaZoo, and with Circus Oz at the Edinburgh Festival; it is this last company that he credits for most of his circus education. “It is a completely different art form to lighting for a conventional theatre performance. You really have to understand what it takes to leap off a trapeze — that you have to be able to see the bar to catch it. And you have to light much more space — not only the stage but the full height above it, while still ensuring that the audience is only watching the one person they're supposed to be watching.”
Thompson has also enjoyed working with set designer Mark Fisher, who “has great ideas and such a wise head. He'll just sit in meetings listening to what everyone has to say, then suddenly come out with a pearl of wisdom!”
The pearls of wisdom paid off on the Audi tour, where the company was greeted with universal acclaim. Audi was also happy, both with the entertainment and with the reveal that the lighting technology then gave to its car: “The MD of Audi thanked me, saying that we'd made the car ‘shine like a diamond,’” Thompson recalls, attributing this to the color temperature of the MAC 2000s and MAC 500s with which he lit it. Nonetheless, his favorite units in the show were the MiniMACs. “They were on a bridge upstage, lighting the musicians and doing a high shot with gobos. They were the only lights we could find that were small enough to fit in there, and they looked absolutely fabulous.”
Following the Audi tour, Storm returned to its conventional, independent show format for a season at London's Barbican Theatre. Here Thompson adapted his rig slightly, with High End Systems Studio Colors® replacing the MAC 600s and control moving onto a Strand 520i console, all again supplied by White Light North. Despite the work involved in getting the show, and the complex logistics introduced by the show's nature (“Everyone needs time, but it's hard to actually get time because once you've finished having notes the riggers are resetting everything for rehearsals or the next performance,” Thompson recalls), it opened to popular acclaim and enjoyed a successful run. Though the show's immediate future is unclear, there is talk of further tours of the UK or Europe.