The “brand new state” celebrated in the signature song of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! hits the century mark this November. The 46th state incorporated into the Union has much to commemorate as it reaches triple-digit status. It has the largest Native American population in the country, from which its name (meaning “red person” in Choctaw) is derived. Its frontier past is rich with history; the early-arriving “sooner” settlers, for example, claimed its open lands before it was lawful to do so, but the term was rehabilitated when reapplied to its University of Oklahoma football team. The oil boom and “Dust Bowl” bust, the inspiration for John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, are part of its history. Notable Oklahomans range from Oral Roberts and Ralph Ellison to Sam Walton, Reba McEntire, and Brad Pitt. And, of course, it has that classic show tune, which dates from 1943 (and from which the headline of this piece is taken) as its official anthem (Woody Guthrie's “Oklahoma Hills” is the state song).
Images from the state's past, projected on buildings throughout downtown Tulsa, were at the heart of the Oklahoma Centennial Extravaganza, the most ambitious component to date of a year-long celebration of the heartland state. On November 18, the city skyline was ablaze with projections, lights, lasers, and pyrotechnics, as a soundtrack that included an “Oklahoma!” sing-along segment thundered to the delight of a crowd of 40,000, plus many more glued to their TVs and radios for the half-hour event, which began at 7pm. For the designers and suppliers, however, the production was the culmination of six months of labor, which added a technological twist or two to the son et lumiere format.
The Extravaganza was produced by Carrier, OK-based performance multi-visual producer Celebrate Productions, Inc., for the Oklahoma Centennial Commission. Celebrate's executive producer, Gary Caimano, is an old hand at these types of events, having gotten several Olympics celebrations off the ground. Tulsa-based Jeff Olsen of Omni Lighting was co-associate producer of the production (with Celebrate's Steve Frantz), and his company supplied the luminaire package; Omni's Al Hornung was the LD. Omni previously illuminated Tulsa for its own centennial in 1998, but this was several orders of magnitude greater in size and complexity. Leading the teams from their companies were Walt Meador of Laser Rental, Inc., in Joplin, MI; sound engineer Lance Klaurens of LKP Concert Productions in Tulsa, OK; Jack Calmes of Syncrolite Entertainment Technology in Dallas; James Burnett of pyrotechnics supplier Western Enterprises, Inc., in Carrier, OK, which brought its Close Proximity pyro, designed to be shot off rooftops without incident; and Charles Halliburton of Tulsa's Avcom Productions, Inc., which provided the video imagery and visual animation. LKP Productions also provided the sound gear and radio and TV interface.
“The big addition was Avcom's full-blown video projection,” says Olsen. “We had to select a building, then find a location we could project from. We did a lot of testing of the projectors and the lighting gear months in advance. One of the main buildings we wanted to use had a white surface, but much of it was tinted dark windows, which would eat up the image. We had to apply a film material to the outside of the windows so the image could be seen properly.” The video image projections on selected buildings, four in total, reached as large as 104"×187". “The performance was superb,” Olsen says.
According to Kevin Martin of Omni Lighting, video gear to cover 495 windows included Digital Projection International DLP HD35 projectors, EIKI 10,000-lumen projectors, a Sanyo 5,000-lumen projector, and a Dataton Watchout System as the originator of video. More than two miles of fiber-optic cable was used, including a redundant path. The laser system consisted of five High Power NdYag lasers, two High Power SP 171 White Light lasers, and two Medium Power NdYag lasers. All systems were synced with SMPTE via phone lines from the Watchout System. The laser systems were placed in buildings at an average height of 150" above ground level.
Where the lighting was concerned, “we lit from 14 locations,” says Hornung. “This was my largest outdoor challenge ever. A lot of it just sweeps through the city to hit as many buildings as possible. The skyline was very much the stage.”
A full complement of Syncrolite SXB8/2s and High End Systems Cyberlights were employed to brighten the night skies, as were members of Omni Lighting's new Omni Light moving-head line. Its 575s and 1200s were used for “glitz and glamour” gobo pattern projection and color washes on buildings, while its 4,000W CMY Xenons were placed atop buildings and brought out for beams in the skies and to shoot across buildings. The main console in the control center was an Avolites Diamond IV with five backup consoles at each of the major sites where lighting was initiated.
“My basic brief was to lay down a wash where everything was happening, to accent it with beams and movement, and not to override what the video and fireworks were doing,” Hornung adds. Additional lighting gear from Omni included a slew of PAR64 1,000W fixtures, aircraft landing lights with Wybron Coloram II scrollers, ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, 2×2 4-light spot banks, Lycian followspots, and Leprecon Dimmer Racks with 2.4kW Dimmer Modules. Additional control was via an Avolites Diamond II and Pearl 2000 and one each Jands Hog 500 and 1000.
LDI 2006 in Las Vegas played a hand in the Extravaganza. It was there that Olsen came across Wireless Solution of America, the US subsidiary of Wireless Solution Sweden AB. Wireless' W-DMX product, used at last year's World Cup and Winter Olympics ceremonies, fit the bill for a wireless DMX distribution system that could span the center of Tulsa and was provided to the project by distributor Creative Stage Lighting.
“It's easy to set up,” says Wireless Solution of America president Hans Lau, explaining that having only weeks separating the Las Vegas and Tulsa events was no obstacle. “It's a point-to-multipoint system that supports up to 16 universes of DMX, and there isn't a whole lot you need to know about radio technology to get it up and running.”
It worked pretty much as advertised, according to Olsen. “A big challenge going in was getting the signal to the locations where we had Syncrolites,” he says. “A lot of the equipment was line-of-sight, and that was good, but we had locations that were further away and behind buildings or on parking garages. We were able to get the signal to most of those; a couple we had trouble with, but by juggling things around, we got it to work. Without wireless — we used four universes of DMX channels — we would have been so limited in what we could do.”
The only element of the production that could not be planned meticulously was the weather. Four nights of rain during setup plagued the production, Omni Lighting's biggest-ever outdoor gig, Olsen says. “We were covering up dimmers and wires and DMXs and consoles — you name it — in the cold rain, but it blew through, and for the show, we had really nice weather.”
The clear night skies provided a perfect natural backdrop for the event, which was filmed and is available for a future documentary. The unblemished execution was in essence a reward for the cooperation that came from local citizens and entities. “Everyone was so helpful. The building owners, engineers, and electricians did all they could to help us out by running electricity to vacant floors so we could project lasers from them, for example, and letting us put pyro on their roofs,” Olsen relates. “PSO, the local power company, came in with bucket trucks and ran four miles of fiber-optic cable from our control center to each projector location and even put new transformers on poles for us — amazing.”
The Oklahoma Centennial Ceremonies will end in the state capital, Oklahoma City, November 18. “The overall concept is to get people to come out and be proud of our state,” Olsen says. Judging by Tulsa, it's working.
For a spectator's view of the Oklahoma Centennial Extravaganza, read more from Bill Koehler of Creative Stage Lighting Co., Inc. and see additional photos at www.livedesignonline.com/stagingrental.
The writer blogs about entertainment at Between Productions (www.robertcashill.blogspot.com).