CITY LIVE VAULTS TO THE TOP OF SYDNEY NIGHTSPOTS Sydney's newest live music venue, City Live at Fox Studios, opened its doors during the Olympic Games with a lineup of international and domestic acts. The club, a two-level purpose-built structure, is situated near Bent Street among the shops and restaurants of the Fox Studios district.

City Live finally metamorphosed into reality after several months of deliberation by the developers. The Fox Studios site officially opened in November 1999, but numerous design changes and management deals delayed final construction and installation. The original designer of the club was Bazmark, the company headed by acclaimed Australian director Baz Luhrmann (noted internationally for the films Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet), with Noel Staunton acting as executive producer. The Showcorp Group of Sydney won the contract to design and install the lighting, audio, and video facilities.

Says Colin Baldwin, the Group's managing director and senior design consultant, "From the outset we were very excited about the prospect of designing and fitting out what was the most talked-about new live gig in the city. I always planned for the venue to have the best production elements and user-friendly facilities, given the budget limitations. The real dilemma which concerned me from the start was how to balance and deal with the various forces (architects, builders, and venue management) and deliver a world-class installation that international artists would be happy to use.

"Compromise became a daily reality - sometimes we won and sometimes we lost," Baldwin continues. "I wanted to bring to this project my years of experience in what a live venue should include; it's not just another nightclub. It was frustrating for me trying to convince certain people why we need things done a certain way - why you need that much power, certain rigging points, so many patch points, and why the stage lighting should be separate from the dance floor lighting." (One of his proudest moments, as it turned out, was convincing the powers that be to provide separate access to the stage for artists.)

In considering the installation, Showcorp engaged two of Australia's most respected technicians, Mark Lang of Leading Edge Entertainment, and Roger Hind of Theatrics. "Initially Roger consulted on the dimmer patch and data specifications, and once we were given the go-ahead, I wanted someone who could deal with the day-to-day issues that would arise between the builders and our installation team," says Baldwin, "and Mark has a wealth of experience in cable reticulation, audiovisual design, and rigging."

"I came into the project fairly late in the scene," says Lang. "Showcorp has a lot of experience in event design and management and live entertainment, but limited experience in dealing with builders. That's where I came in - I've done numerous jobs such as Sydney's Star City Casino and Crown Casino in Melbourne, as well as plenty of nightclubs. I thought it was an exciting project to do, although it was clear that a considerable amount of hours would have to be put in to bring the project home in time."

LAST ON THE DANCE FLOOR Lang points out that with an installation such as City Live, the building game is structured so that the lighting and audio installers are always the last people with access to the site. "Unfortunately, 99% of the time the opening date never changes, so if any other contractor is running late, it cuts into our time. Therefore, it was quite a challenge to get the job done in time. Assembly of equipment racks and off-site cabling was done at the Showcorp warehouse before being brought to the site."

The height of the ceiling, which is nearly 10m (33'), also proved a challenge, he says. "We had to use scaffolding while they were still trying to finish the floor. Sometimes we just had to work nights so that the other contractors could work during the day."

The live performance stage is approximately 40' wide and 20' deep (12x6m). There is a large void in the shape of a peanut that opens both levels of the room. There were several design problems that had to be addressed before the final equipment specification.

First, it was decided to relocate the control room from behind two pillars under the first floor slab at the front of house to an open space under the void in front of the stage. Next, Baldwin had to decide how to light the stage and dance floor with no rigging points or mountable structures. He decided to install lighting bars that run around the entire peanut-shaped void plus as many bars as possible from the first floor ceiling.

"In addition, we rigged as many bars as we could fit over the stage under the slab, which were limited to 3' from the back wall of the stage," Baldwin says. "We also decided to install three moving trusses that run parallel to the stage; these can be positioned at various heights to assist with live performance and dance floor lighting. There was no real brief as to what the lighting was to achieve. I always envisaged the lighting as being two separate systems - the room and dance floor area being separate from the stage lighting. However, both systems are able to join forces when required."

Supplying the main lighting action are 24 Martin Professional MAC 250+ moving spot heads positioned on the peanut void bar, trusses, and stage and ceiling bars. Twelve Martin MAC 300 moving wash heads are also positioned on various bars and trusses. Dedicated to the stage area are 48 PAR-64s plus 32 PAR-64 raylights used for the dance floor.

"I've been a Martin MAC man since the Showcorp Group bought its first moving heads," says Baldwin. "I favor their worldwide acceptability and reliability, and our good relationship with its Australian distributor, Show Technology. I also like the product, but Martin is still open to criticism and suggestion. For example, when they first brought out the MiniMAC, it didn't have a mechanical shutter, so I suggested to Show Technology that it would be very easy to slow down the strobe effect gate, so you could get a fade effect. The message got relayed to Martin, there was a software modification, and the next batch of MiniMACs could mechanically fade. Martin is very flexible with lighting designers who want to change or modify its equipment."

Adding some extra sparkle to the dance floor area are four Aquarius effects projectors from Universal Lighting & Audio, and an Oracle Laser Systems 100mW LED laser. "I fell in love with the Aquarius projector the first time I saw it," says Baldwin. "It's a modern oil wheel effect, and when you put a bunch of them together you get a great kaleidoscopic liquid look. You've got to see them to believe the effect.

"I enjoyed the peanut shape the room has because it gave me total flexibility in being able to mimic the shape with the lights," he adds. "It provided obvious placement for the equipment. Unfortunately, the trusses ended up at right angles to the stage, which is not ideal for concert lighting applications. We were directed by the designers to relocate the trussing due to sightline and projection problems. Obviously there is going to be some criticism about the lack of front lighting positions; however, the designers and venue management made the decision."

The lighting rig runs from two control systems, a Jands Series 416 console that looks after the stage lights and two-thirds of the moving heads, and a Martin LightJockey software package for the dance floor and room effects. The LightJockey system can also access the stage moving heads when the venue is in dance club mode.

"The management instructed that only one operator would be required to operate the lighting and audio on some nights, so we installed the Martin LightJockey software platform so that sequences and cues could run without an operator if required," says Baldwin. "It also gives the flexibility to control all of the room and dance floor lighting on an audio track-by-track basis. For the stage lighting, I decided on the new Jands Series 416 console because it provides two control platforms - the traditional two presets of faders, masters, and chasers, plus a basic moving light control area which can control up to 20 moving heads."

Show Technology Australia supplied the Martin products, and ULA the Aquarius projectors and Le Maitre Star Hazers. Jands Electronics supplied the Event 416 and JND-FP12A digital dimmer racks. Hoisting Equipment Specialists supplied the Kito chain motors, with Concert Lighting Systems supplying the trussing.

Curving around the top back area of the stage is a large projection surface for the various lighting effects and the Sony PX20 LCD video projection. Also installed were a DCR VX2000 digital video camera, a SLVE Z66 VHS player, a PVM 145e cueing monitor, and four KVXF25M30 60cm (24") color monitors. A Kramer VS606 vision switcher was installed to control various video sources including projectors and cameras and to feed vision to the VIP lounge.

Programming the light show should have taken about a week. Aldo Fabrizio was brought in with the difficult task of creating Baldwin's vast list of sequences that had to be programmed before the opening. After 36 hours, Fabrizio had performed his magic, and the show looked great for opening night, when both Fabrizio and Baldwin operated the lights in front of a packed VIP audience to christen Sydney's Olympic champion on the club scene.

Australia-based freelance writer Catriona Forcer is the former lighting editor of Connections magazine.