Pat Benatar and husband, guitarist, and songwriting partner Neil Geraldo get a lot of mileage out of one production design. Lighting designer/director Lane Hirsch has been touring with them on and off for the last three years with more or less the same very versatile design, tailoring it to fit the vastly different spaces the tour encounters every night.
“When I first started working for Pat, they had palm trees with twinkle lights like you use at Christmas and a 10'×10' backdrop of a sunset,” Hirsch explains. “John Malta, Pat's manager, wanted me to come up with something different. We had done a show where we had seen long, thin panels uplit with moving lights. He said, ‘Why don't we try something like that?’ I called some places in L.A. and I found some panels but they were pink and old and musty and they were charging us, like, $200 a night. I said, ‘Let's buy our own;’ we made them and I used spray adhesive and glittered them myself. The first year all we carried was the four 30' panels and I lit them like crazy. The whole set cost $1,000 and it toured a whole year.”
The next time around, Hirsch evolved the set a bit, adding more layers to accent with lighting. “I got the idea of using ribbons, because some of the ribbons at these craft warehouses are amazing. Then I thought it would look good if we made some diamonds. I brainstormed and priced various materials and submitted a design. At first they went to another design company, but the pricing was ridiculous, like $10,000 a month to rent. I said I could build the whole thing for $5,000.” Hirsch made the diamonds from 3'-square wood-framed art canvases tilted on point, with screw eyes and custom-made safeties to link them together. Each side is covered with a different fabric; one side has silver sequins, the other has holographic rainbow squiggles. They are attached to rotating motors at the top.
“You can have them at any height from a 15' trim to a 30' trim because the diamonds are all detachable,” he says. “Some days it's a two-diamond day, sometimes it's a six-diamond day.” The strips of silver Mylar ribbon, hung just in front of the scrim panels, are also variable length. “If it's a 15' trim you just roll up the bottom; the same with the white scrim. Everything is adjustable in height, plus it's very lightweight. It's easier to hang and store and put in the truck.”
The semisheer white shimmering panels and reflective silver ribbon strips alternated with the diamond columns is a very simple yet elegant look. There are seven floor-mounted intelligent lights — three wash luminaires to color the diamonds and four automated spots for patterns, rotation, and color on the sheer white panels. The rest of the rig consists of PAR bars and ACLs for big color washes and punches of backlight and a few truss-mounted moving-mirror luminaires for gobo sweeps.
Lighting at each show is supplied locally. “It's pretty much a roller coaster ride,” Hirsch comments. “One day you're at an outdoor fair, the next you could be in a 10,000-person arena or a small casino. I advance the shows the best I can; everyone gets faxed the same plot, but every company is different. Some seem to have it really together and you get there and everything's perfect. Some days the trusses are still on the ground, there's lamps all over the place, gels all over the floor. You just never know. I stick to priorities: Let's get all the backdrop pieces up; let's get the washes going. Then you work on the bells and whistles at the end. You need your basic washes before you get the moving lights to work.” When programming, one thing the LD is particular about is, “I like my shows to look really clean. I don't like the moving lights to snap through a bunch of colors or gobos from look to look. When you start running short on time, even if you only get so many looks, you want them to be clean without any glitches.”
Hirsch starts the show “like the first impression is everything. There are lights for the opening bands but when Pat Benatar comes on it's like, ‘Holy Smokes!’ Everything lights up. And each song has a particular color and look to it.” Previous Benatar tours have featured varying set lists, but this time “she stuck with the same list. That made it easy for me, especially with programming; I didn't have to guess how many looks I needed. In previous years there were a lot of song changes, but this year they really stuck to it. I think it's because of the new drummer, Billy Ashbaugh, the guy from NSync. But one of the problems that created is, Billy's a very powerful drummer, so we had to put up Plexiglas [around the drum kit]. When the spotlights hit the Plexiglas it comes right back out into the audience's eyes. I try to pick outside spots so that they cross the stage. Any time the spots are in the center of the room I have to cross them so that the one I would normally put on Pat would go over to Neil and I'd take Neil's over to Pat.”
Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo recently concluded their summer tour, but are putting the finishing touches on a new album. Hirsch has a website at http://fastlaneh.tripod.com.