"You Oughta Know," the first single off her multimillion selling Jagged Little Pill record, may have painted Alanis Morissette as the poster woman for jilted lovers and the queen of angst, but by all accounts she is actually one of the easiest rock stars to work with. Now, isn't that ironic?
Well, not really, because she apparently channels any rage she might have into her music. Andy Proudfoot, who has been Morissette's lighting designer and production manager since her breakthrough in 1995, reunited with the performer late last year to begin putting together the tour supporting her latest record, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. In describing the creative process for the Junkie tour, he uses a word scarcely heard in the concert industry: calm.
"That's one of the qualities that I really like about her," Proudfoot says. "She's got her notions about how everything should be, and loves brainstorming with you in the design stage. She's quite capable of taking your own ideas to places that you hadn't thought about. She's also a very bright lady--quite belies her 25 years of age. My impression is that at the end of the day, if no one had bought this record or if no one was interested in it, she would still have made it. It's just her attitude. She's quite single-minded that way, but also committed to what she thinks is good. I dig that."
On that happy note, Morissette and company embarked on a global warm-up club tour in January. "We did 12 shows in the States, but then we repeated those shows just about everywhere," says Proudfoot. "I took one truss with eight High End Systems Studio Colors(R), eight Vari*Lite(R) VL6(TM) automated spot luminaires, 24 PAR cans, and 24 ETC Source Four PARs. Then I added my little worklights, which were four 60W lightbulbs with silver reflective worklight dishes on the top of them. I hung those on the rig, too. I was just trying to make it intimate. We also had a weird downstage truss that did the diagonal from the downstage corner out right across the house 40' [12m]. Alanis always wants to see the audience. But she doesn't want to see the same person in the audience all the time. She wants to see different people in different bits of the audience. And it becomes pretty tough to do that without having nearly every instrument you've got pointing out in the house--unless you're going to run a big film or TV sp ectacular audience lighting rig every day."
Even when the tour progressed to arenas, Proudfoot's rig didn't expand to that scale. As both production manager and LD, he had to strive for the perfect balance between aesthetics and budget. "I thought up all sorts of bits and pieces that I might have liked to add, but then what if the sound engineer comes to me and says, 'Well, how come you're the lighting engineer and you get all these extra bits and pieces and you spend all this money, and I just get this?' I live in fear of that, so I have to be really hard with myself and say, 'No, I don't need those lights.' " He laughs. "I'm suffering for my art, because I'm the production manager.
"Actually I'm probably just a control freak," he continues. "I really enjoy it, and my theory is that if you get enough people around you who know what they're doing, you let them do it. The people on my crew are all quite brainy, as well as being good people. It's when you just can't let go of it that you get into a problem."
Proudfoot has worked closely with Ted Fowler, owner of Vista, CA-based Ed and Ted's Excellent Lighting, the main lighting contractor for this tour. "Ted appreciates people who work, and he looks after his folks. We bid the tour out to a few different companies and although his is not one of the larger companies, he was completely competitive pricewise. He's been reinvesting in his gear as well, which is a real plus. We had a good relationship from doing the last tour with him and it's great to have him along on the road as well."
"I feel I'm a big part of this tour, because we've been with Alanis since day one, and this time we're supporting her in Europe and Japan as well," Fowler says. "That just clinches my part in the family. We've moved the company into a larger space, so I feel a lot of loyalty to these guys. Plus, Andy's a really good designer, so it's been a real pleasure."
While the lighting rig does boast a Vari*Lite package of 42 automated luminaires, just under 200 conventional lights, and 15 Diversitronics strobes, it isn't exactly huge by modern rock standards. "The bottom line is that we have a rig that can go in at eight in the morning and be on the ground by noon, and focused by whenever we choose to do it. It's a five-truck tour, which still denotes a fairly decent-sized show. It comes in and goes up relatively cleanly. It's almost a non-event when it's up, because everyone is anticipating a lot of problems. The rig is 36 points, but it looks far too simple to be that many."
But it boasts something none other can. At LDI98 in Phoenix, Proudfoot went hunting for the moving lights he wanted. "On the last tour we went with High End equipment, which was all very good, and its availability was pretty good throughout the rest of the world, but it wasn't total. So I turned up at the Vari-Lite booth, and I was looking at the new VL6B(TM). The problem I had with the VL6 was that it didn't spin its gobos, but with the 6B they solved that."
Proudfoot talked the company into giving him its five prototypes of the luminaire. "What's quite humorous about this is that before the tour kicked off and the equipment shipped at the very start, they sent me a list of the gobos I needed for the VL7s(TM) and for the VL6s. Then they came back on the phone rather sheepishly, saying, 'Well, we have a little bit of a problem with the gobos you specked for the rotating wheel in the 6Bs. Because these lights are prototypes, unfortunately the gobos that are in them are glued in.' Those were the only five lights that existed, and everybody wanted them, so I just told them I would deal with it. And it's been great; we've cut a little swath of history with the lights. We exorcised its gremlins. They actually painted a darker picture to me about how they would perform and behave than they really did. They haven't been totally faultless, but we've had completely clean shows with them--with basically a prototype light, without even real software. I never intended to us e them as massive key lights, so we wouldn't have been in trouble even if they hadn't worked all the time. But they've been really good."
Proudfoot has found that the VL7s have stood up equally well. "I've only had one fall out in one show out of 40, and I have 16 in the rig. That morphing feature on the VL7 (and the VL6B) is really good. They seamlessly roll from one gobo into another--it's so necessary to have that feature. And the VL5s are wonderful units--you can drop a brick on one and it would be fine. The best part is continuity of the system as a whole. You can get support from Vari-Lite anywhere in the world and that really appeals to me."
Proudfoot had originally tried out three different designs for the lighting rig, noting, "Obviously, budget affects it, but Alanis was open to doing what would look good. In the original design, we had a regular rectangular shape and truss over the center of the stage, with two small, stubby satellite arms up to the side. It was as simple as that. The whole idea was to put it in, set it up, and get going really quickly every day. We'll put more moving heads in than we did last time, we'll put far less PAR cans in than we did last time, and take it from there."
The design continued to expand based on Morissette's desire to be out in the audience and see them. "We took various truss configurations out into the house with different kinds of moving heads on them, but at the end of the day she didn't really want to do that," Proudfoot says. "It wasn't dictated by budget, but more by her desire not to have too flashy a show. She was very conscious of not wanting to go out and have all bells and whistles and everything going off all the time, but rather have the music speak more for itself."
Correspondingly, the lighting's energy is different on this tour. "On the first tour, there was lots of energy off the stage--the musicians were younger, and their whole vibe was much more rock-oriented," Proudfoot explains. "This time, the energy in the music is different so you can't hammer it to death on the lighting foot. It has to be caressed out; you have to work with it, but, equally, you have to rock at certain times. So I kept that in mind while we looked at instruments to put in the design. With the conventionals, we went with a Source Four PAR can. When you want to rock it out, you can't do it with a Source Four PAR, versatile though it is. But I decided I liked its subtle effects, so I went with it. There are occasions when I miss that PAR can blast, but on the whole it's working for me. There are 132 in the rig, so there is plenty of coverage. I still believe that the moving light is not a replacement for a PAR can at the end of the day."
Proudfoot also handled the show's set design. "Obviously, there are images that suggested themselves when I first listened to the album because in Alanis' spare time between the first and second albums she spent some time in Cuba, and also a lot of time in India. So while there's definitely that Indian vibe, it was almost too obvious to go there. Her brief to me was, 'Let's not get anything that is overtly identified with any particular religion.' It just had to have an exotic feel to it. We looked at loads of images, and I went through an awful lot of art books. We were looking at some Moorish art, and I found this little picture of what's called a jali. It's a frieze that you might have on a building, and basically it's a giant gobo. I wondered if we could make that a complete piece that I could blow light through and if its construction would allow it to move apart. Once I saw that, I had how it would look completely worked out in my head."
Proudfoot then met with Morissette in Australia, and she immediately approved the design. "The simplicity of it was not lost on her--she didn't specifically want to have a massive light rig with hundreds and hundreds of PAR cans and moving lights," he says. "She loved the concept of having the jali in the form of the Tree of Life, and its ability to break apart to reveal a videoscreen."
All Access Staging constructed the Tree of Life screen. "I told them first off that I wanted it to come apart from the middle outwards--I envisaged a concertina effect where it collapsed onto itself as it went offstage to the side--the panels kind of folding against themselves," Proudfoot explains. "We talked about it and decided that even if we could have made it work, getting it to work every day would have just killed us. So we went with a simple biparting. They did an absolutely stunning job, because it looks really good and it's easy enough to put together."
For the video, Proudfoot went for a 30'-wide by 22'-high (9x7m) rear projection screen. "I like that it opens up from behind and it's like a painting rather than something that's clearly projected onto something. We brainstormed loads of video images and Alanis went out for two days with Steve, our video tech, and shot film--just wacky images. On the previous tour, a lot of the video was beautifully shot, but it was little stories by itself. Alanis and I talked about it, and decided that this time the video would be complementary rather than a total key feature. So the pieces that we shot were not intended to be stand-alone pieces that would dominate the song. Unfortunately or fortunately, we're dealing with a 30' screen, so the image is going to be huge. But it's not compelling to the point that people's attention is distracted by it."
Originally slated for use in about half a dozen songs, the video is now in about 13 of the 20 numbers in the set. "Alanis' creativity took off--she loves doing anything with film," Proudfoot says. "Whether the jali was closed or open we can run the images. If we run a face behind it, you could just barely tell it was a face. But with elements like fire or water you can definitely tell that's what it is even through the screen. Before we even actually came up with anything for set or lighting, I had said, 'Let's make the show really elemental. Let's reduce it to fire, water, air, and earth, and structure the songs around that.' And Alanis loved that approach. So lighting colors and gel colors were selected around those themes as well."
Proudfoot also created the stage's unique flooring, which he considers to be an integral part of the design. "There's a really elaborate painted pattern, which continues the paisley theme we have in the soft goods and also the scrims we had made for the PA. It's like a standing carpet--it's stunning. It's not an early 1960s paisley; it's meant to be more earth-like. I created them from some scans I had, then manipulated them on my laptop, blew them out, and color-coded them. I sat with Alanis, and we ran these different images. Pretty soon we derived the design, and she's really happy with it. The moment Alanis walked on the stage the first day in production she loved it. I was really touched. It's not often you get to that point where the artist walks in the first day of production and doesn't want to change anything. So we hit it really lucky by trying to keep it simple."
Simple though the design may be, it's been changing a little bit here and there since it went out. "Alanis wanted to add an acoustic section, so now we drop in a kabuki towards the downstage edge for these three songs," Proudfoot explains. "I then added another four VL5s, because I decided I need the PA scrims lit. Obviously, the moment I drop soft goods in, I black out all my upstage lighting, so we flew up a little 30' truss. I put six VL6s on it, and used them with a few of the downstage VL7s to light up the goods. For the three or four songs she does, it works. She tries to bring this club vibe into the arena, and it works pretty well.
"I never wanted to subscribe to the theory that the more lights you add to a show, the better it's going to be, because it isn't always like that," Proudfoot continues. "But when we put these six 6s in, suddenly we had this bottom ring of VL6s, with this big ring in the middle and also this little ring of VL6s on the top, which danced above everything--that was a really good element. So I use those throughout the rest of the show, and then we do a truss move in for the acoustic section and drop the kabuki and use those six VL6s without doing any big moves. It was a discovery for us."
The designer has also moved the position of the downstage truss to accommodate Morissette's never-ending request for more audience lighting. "It's flexible. From a purely stagehand viewpoint, I'm very pleased with myself for making a rig that comes in and goes up relatively quickly, and loads out in two-and-a-quarter hours."
Beginning next month, Morissette will be co-headlining with Tori Amos on the 51/2 Weeks tour. While Amos will go on first, both performers will have individual stage sets and play full-length concerts. Both acts will use much of the same lighting system; Proudfoot will continue to run the lighting for Morissette; LD Simon Sidi will handle the lighting for Amos' set.
Lighting and set designer/production manager Andy Proudfoot
Lighting crew chief Ted Fowler
Electrician/dimmer beach Dana Thomas
Electrician/systems engineer Robert Jones
Vari*Lite programmer/Artisan operator Jim Fitzpatrick
Vari*Lite technician extraordinaire Mel Dorough
Tour rigger Tom Cusimano
Set carpenter/rigger Sal Marinello
Video director/operator Steve Falconer
Video supplier PSL
Main lighting contractor Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting
Additional lighting Vari-Lite Production Services
set construction All Access Staging
Conventional lighting equipment (2) Jands Echelon control desks (132) ETC Source Four PARs (22) ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (8) bars of ACLs (16) Wybron PAR Colorams (6) Wybron 8-light Colorams (6) 8-lights (8) 4-lights (15) Diversitronics strobes (1) Lycian Starklite 1.2k truss spot (2) ETC 48-way dimmers (35) Columbus McKinnon one-ton chain hoists (13) 10'x12"x12" black truss sections (12) 10'x20"x20" black truss sections (9) 8'x30"x30" standard PRT truss sections (11) 8'x30"x26" automated PRT truss sections
Vari*Lite package (16) Vari*Lite VL7s (4) VL6Bs (8) VL6s (14) VL5s (6) VLMs (1) Artisan control desk (1) all distro and cable