Continuing our discussion with Jonathan Goldstein regarding his production/lighting design for the North American leg of Alicia Keys’ Set The World On Fire Tour, including lighting provided by Premier Global Production, video by Chaos Visual Productions, scenic and automation by Tait, previz at Volt Lites, and soft goods from Rose Brand. (Photos courtesy of Starlight Visual).
Live Design: What were the challenges in the design process?
Jonathan Goldstein: Well, from concept to reality, there are always elements that begin to prove difficult or impossible to create under the restrictions of any production. When you have a creative director who is highly conceptual, it’s important for someone in my position to help introduce restrictions and realities in the early phases of design. The original concept of this show was based around strictly projection and theatrical scrims as projection surfaces. In the end, the scrim concept was wildly reduced as it was not fleshing out correctly once we got to production rehearsals. We were able to salvage the concept of what the scrims were meant to do but had to re-approach the positioning and usage of the scrim set throughout the show. We actually use the effect to reveal Alicia at the top of the show. It’s a beautiful fly-through of New York City while the band plays a ballad version of the Jay-Z/Alicia song, “Empire State of Mind.”The visuals resolve through an apartment window, and then we see Alicia through the scrim in silhouette framed by the visuals. It’s really a moment.
LD: Was there time for preprogramming?
JG: One thing that we were able to do on this show was keep the show from concept to final design inside Cast’s wysiwyg software. Since we had a ton of scenic and video automation cues, I was able to actually script them out and visualize them right in wyg, which meant I could have the creative team at my studio and go over all the cues in the showin real time with the music from top to bottom. This was huge for us to have all this info prior to even getting into production rehearsals. We also spent one week pre-visualizing at Chaos Visual Productions. That’s when we really got into the lighting elements of the design. We took the system over to rehearsals and put it up on a large flat screen, and we were able to show the stage management team all the cues so that they could go and program with the automation techs during the day when we weren’t around. Pre-viz was a big part of this show. The system was provided by Volt Lites out of Valencia, CA.
The Lighting Design
LD: What about challenges once you got to rehearsals?
JG: One challenge in rehearsals was that, due to high demand in the LA area, the production was forced to get a stage that was not the appropriate scale for an arena design, so we struggled with achieving trim height, which resulted in light levels not being appropriate once we hit an arena. We knew this once we started lighting the show in rehearsals—that we would have to compensate for lack of light once we saw the proper trims. It’s difficult because you have to show the artist and management in rehearsals the feeling, so if you overnight it there, they will feel lighting is too much, while if you put it in an arena, it would feel to empty. It was definitely tricky.
LD: Getting into the details of the design, talk a little about how the video and lighting work together.
JG: The visuals and lighting really share responsibilities in this design. Some moments, lighting drives the emotion, and other times the visuals take the driver’s seat and make the moment memorable. There are some really musically powerful moments that lighting is able to achieve—some big aerials and such. Other times, it’s just soft and colored to match or complement the visuals. I used [Philips Vari-Lite] VL500 tungsten units in this design for that reason. It’s the light that has no beam, so it just really creates a nice wash without creating beams of light in the haze, which could be distracting coming through the video displays.
LD: In addition to the VL500s, what other fixtures do you use in this design?
JG: I went old-school theatrical on this design for the lighting: the VL500 tungstens, VL1000 Tungsten ERS units, plus 1kW Fresnels. I worked with Jesse Blevins, the lighting director/programmer, early on to get him on board with the concept of the lighting. It was the show with no show, remember? Therefore, the show with no lighting! Kidding, of course. I consider Jesse an associate more than just an extension of my brain on the console. We collaborate; it makes the final operation of the show better, instead of me just barking orders. He gets into. He dances a lot, which can be awkward, but it’s just something I have to deal with.
More to come, including Goldstein's video setup for this tour.