If you can't make a brilliant entrance in your own show, when can you? Louise Mandrell, formerly of the Mandrell Sisters, is now based in her own theatre in Pigeon Forge, TN, where she packs in crowds nightly. (The Pigeon Forge area, home of the theme park Dollywood, has also developed into a kind of mini-Branson, MO, with a number of stars performing in their own venues). Mandrell has been in residence there since 1997. For the latest edition of her show, set designer Rick Stetson and LD Susan Rose created an opening effect that's hard to top.

Stetson describes it: “First, there's a daytime cloud scrim downstage, then there's a slow change to a nighttime look, and the National Anthem is sung. After that, the scrim flies out, and you see a star curtain; it spells out the name ‘Louise.’ A 3D star flies in, and dots the ‘I’ in ‘Louise.’ The star turns around slowly, and there's Louise.” This leads into her opening production number.

The drop was custom-made by New York-based Rose Brand, with sales rep Tom Coulouris facilitating the purchase for Stetson. The curtain is made out of a 22oz. Black Encore velour fabric (it is, of course, inherently flame-retardant) with a backing made of a basic black poly chintz. The curtain, which is an enormous 24' tall and 64' wide, is illuminated by 19 QFX 150 illuminators. Rose Brand also supplied a number of other fabrics to the production, including a 23' × 50' gold/white metallic knit stripe, a 25' × 70' terracotta banjo cloth, and a series of 20 rain curtains; Stetson irregularly cut the bottoms of the latter items to create a series of legs.

Susan Rose says that the star drop effect is programmed into her Flying Pig Systems Wholehog console, along with the rest of the show's cues. She adds that, although Mandrell is typed as a country star, her show provides far more variety. “She sings, dances, plays musical instruments,” says Rose. “She does country, pop, big-band, and Latin music.”

Rose adds that her rig is largely automated, with 26 High End Systems Studio Color units and 16 Clay Paky Stage Scans, along with approximately 100 conventional units, mostly ETC Source Fours, with 36 Chroma-Q scrollers. The automated units are necessary, she says because “every lineset is full, with so many drops and set pieces, and there are so many focus points, that it would be too hard to do it all with a conventional rig. Also, I can use the Stage Scans for my gobos, effects, flashy, rock and roll stuff, and also sometimes for specials.” She adds that the gear was originally chosen by LD Mike Swinford, who now lights concert tours for Kenny Chesney (see June 2003 Lighting Dimensions); all gear was purchased from TLS (Theatrical Lighting Systems) In Huntsville, AL.

Rose and Stetson have both been part of the Mandrell family for some time. “This is my fifth season with her,” says Rose. She adds that she began her career as a singer, but, by 1994, “I was working as a spot op at Opryland. In the afternoons, I was really bored, so I started playing with the light board, which was an original Wholehog. I have a knack for picking up computerized things and when the board op left, I was the only person who could run it. By default, I started doing shows there. I met other LDs who taught me things. Soon, I was getting more work on lighting boards, then I started programming. Later, I wrote a Hog quick reference guide and used it to teach classes. Before long, I was getting email requests for it. It was on the Light Network and it's been translated into German, French, and it's going to be in Croatian! It's now on the Flying Pig website. Then I helped start the WYSIWIG retreats with Dave Irwin. I also program Pay-Per-View Wrestling on Wednesday nights, working with LD Jeff Bornstein.”

Stetson says, “I've worked with Louise for many years. I did the concept designs for her theatre, as well as her first production there. My partner, Michael Summers, and I have a custom-design company called Creative Design Associates. Our projects range from theatrical productions to themed-enterainment environments to corporate events”

He adds, “There are quite a few scenic elements in the show. The band moves up and down stage. There's a big Vegas number with chasing lights, a gospel section with stained glass windows flying in. This year, she added a great steel drum number, where she comes up on a lift. For the finale, we do a tribute to the 9/11 heroes with a huge flag; actually, there's something for everyone.” He adds that the fiber-optic curtain is also used in the theatre's daytime show, featuring Mandrell and the gospel group Integrity. He also points out that the Mandrell production evolves over time. “The cast and crew are kept busy fine-tuning and adding new numbers, to keep the show fresh and exicting,” he says. “Also, there's a two-month Christmas show and a Valentine's show in February.” Whatever the time of year, Mandrell can be expected to perform in a stellar manner.