Talk about timing.

In our special report on Latin America last May, we told you about several projects in that long-simmering hotbed of entertainment technology: themed environments in Rio, concerts in Chile and Puerto Rico, numerous architectural projects from Montevideo to San Juan. No sooner did the issue come out, then Latin music exploded on the music scene: Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Luis Miguel, Marc Anthony, Santana. La Vida Loca, indeed.

Latin culture is everywhere these days, so it should come as no surprise that the bulk of our Latin American roundup this time around is as much a North American phenomenon as it is South American. We'll take you to Brazil for a look at the new Sega GameWorks in Rio, then we'll cross the border and show you the new Mexican Cultural Center in San Jose, CA. And then we'll transcend borders with a look at Marc Anthony in concert. This Puerto Rican heartthrob should be no stranger to readers of this magazine, having starred in the ill-fated production of The Capeman on Broadway. He's currently touring the country promoting his new album and big hit "I Need to Know." You can find out all you need to know about this amazing conflux of cultures by turning the page.

GameWorks, the entertainment venture formed by DreamWorks SKG, Universal Studios, and Sega Enterprises, has teamed up with Grupo Multiplan, the largest developer of shopping centers in to Brazil, to introduce its brand of urban entertainment to that country. The flagship venue, a 34,000-sq.-ft, multi-level neo-arcade, opened November 4, 1999, at New York City Center, an urban entertainment destination in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Jointly designed by architects CSB Arquitetos Ltda. and San Francisco-based Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz, New York City Center features a 16-screen multiplex, novelty stores, and themed restaurants, and is located at BarraShopping, said to be South America's largest mall.

With only 159 shopping centers serving 165 million Brazilians, the country is ripe for a retail revolution. By branding its New York City Center concept throughout Brazil's major cities, Grupo Multiplan is bidding to become the vanguard of entertainment retail, with GameWorks an integral part of its formula.

Exporting GameWorks to Brazil required only slight design modifications, thanks in part to Brazil's strong European influences, the ever encroaching global village, and, surprisingly, the Brazilian national government's January 1999 devaluation of the rael, its national currency. The latter caused Grupo Multiplan to put the project on hold for six months. "The pause in the construction schedule actually worked to the project's advantage," says John Leggitt, GameWorks director of architecture, who worked closely with Grupo Multiplan's Paulo Baruki on the Rio project. "During that time we were further refining the design and business model back in the United States. What emerged was a product that was even better suited for Brazil."

Ever since the first venue opened in Seattle in March 1997, the Gameworks concept has been evolving dramatically; Leggitt dubs the latest version "GW Release 3.0." Attracting deep-pocketed 20-somethings to fill its venues during the evening hours doesn't require the intense theming and sensory overload that was the hallmark of the earliest venues, Gameworks discovered. Many of the initial scenic details, such as the brick walls, faux aging, exposed piping and kinetic lighting, were found to be unnecessary and even distracting from the main product and revenue generator: the games. GameWorks Rio typifies the new approach. The retro-industrial look is toned down. The colors are rich jewel tones and the lights are dimmer, to create a more refined, nightclub ambiance. The space is broken up to concentrate similar types of games into distinct, themed zones, and to provide low-key areas where guests can take a breather before heading back out into the high-energy spots. And the fast food format has given way to a luxurious, sit-down restaurant.

Grupo Multiplan, which first approached GameWorks at the end of 1997, applauded these changes. The more opulent feel accentuates the idea that GameWorks is not just another cheesy video arcade, but rather a club where guests can hobnob over the latest high-end simulation experience. In Brazil, arcades don't have a good reputation and are perceived as attracting unsavory social elements. Gameworks Rio counters this by stationing formally dressed greeters, who welcome guests at the door, and positioning the high-class restaurant so that it is the first thing visitors encounter. Its dark mahogany floor, hand-blown glass fixtures, and patio off to the side give the requisite touch of class. Through glass panels, diners can view the action inside the gaming zones, but soundproofing ensures that the noise doesn't encroach upon their leisurely Epicurean experience.

Some of the games were adapted to fit local tastes. Because stock car racing is wildly popular among young Brazilian men, GameWorks Rio offers a sizable 6,000-sq.-ft. Racing Zone, bedecked with black-and-red checkerboard carpeting in which a full-scale replica of a Brazilian stock car dangles from the 28'-high ceiling. The centerpiece is an eight-passenger stock car racing simulator. To create an exciting, high-energy atmosphere, 12 ETC Iridium AR5 washlights are attached to a circular truss, 4m in diameter, that hangs from the ceiling. Integrated by an ETC Expression 3 lighting controller, which is linked to the Crestron show control system via a media interface, the truss works as a gigantic, illuminated pinwheel and is a throwback to the kinetic lighting art that was the one of the signatures of the Seattle flagship venue. The live Play Jockey can initiate various lighting sequences from a remote controller, activating the four High End Systems TechnoBeams(R) when a competition begins, or jazzing things up with the four High End Dataflash(R) high-intensity strobe lights.

The Sports Zone gets less emphasis in Rio than in previous venues: "Skiing, snowboarding, and tennis are more a common part of the lifestyle of the average American than they are of the average Brazilian," says Leggitt. Reflecting Brazil's national obsession with soccer, it included a soccer simulation experience, and GameWorks also reports that its Virtual Striker, a bowling game, has been well received there.

Playing to Brazil's intense love of music is the Music Zone, with games for dancing, playing air guitar, and drums. A sumptuous salon with wood paneling, lush draperies, leather-clad chairs, and Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Asteroids, and Pong caters to women's preferences for classic games and comfortable surroundings.

Cultural differences are also evident in the choice of some construction techniques and materials. GameWorks employed local vendors and products whenever possible, not only because Brazil's import laws made it cost-prohibitive to do otherwise, but also to support Grupo Multiplan's existing relationships. Ambra Plan is its construction arm and AQ Projetos do Instalacoes Ltda. served as the contractor, with structural engineering services provided by Guiper Engenharia Ltda. One exception was lighting design, where Los Angeles-based Moody, Ravitz and Hollingsworth (MRH) was brought in to work with Rio-based LD Studio. Eileen Thomas of MRH worked closely with her Brazilian counterpart, Monica Lobo, to ensure the integrity of the GameWorks look. LD Studio oversaw the fabrication of the custom-made lighting fixtures, working with Brazilian manufacturer Lumini to create the retro-industrial RLM dome fixtures. "These fixtures have become popular here, but faded away in Brazil around the turn of the last century," says Dawn Hollingsworth, a principal with MRH. "It was rewarding to work with local vendors and introduce a new design vocabulary. They did a top-notch job."

Because Brazil uses more European-style construction methods and materials, there were some challenges. "They're much more used to working with prefabricated concrete blocks, clay tile, and brick," says Leggitt. "It was the first time that the construction team had ever worked with steel studs and drywall. It took us more than once to get it right."

Another striking difference is the relative abundance of natural materials at affordable prices. It was far less expensive to use real mahogany and marble, for instance, than synthetic reproductions. Because of the different voltage system (220V instead of 120V), installing the ceiling fixtures was also a breeze,according to Jeremy Windle, one of MRH's associate lighting designers who worked with Estadio da Arte on the show control integration. "The ceiling panels have Unistrut mounts built in," explains Windle. "It meant that in certain areas, such as the bar, you could just pop the fixtures in. The installation took no time."

Show control turned out to be a bit more complicated. While US-based Soundelux Showorks provided the sound and video, Brazil-based Estadio da Arte integrated the master control system. "In a country that has always has a surplus of labor," explains Leggitt, "there's been little incentive to automate tasks. While they're used to integrating the audio and video in restaurant environments, working on a project the scale and complexity of GameWorks, which also required integrating the lighting into the system, wasn't something they had done before."

In the end, GameWorks succeeded in recreating its signature look in the heartland of Carnival and developing relationships with local vendors with an eye to further expansion in the region. With 12 facilities currently operating in the US and another international destination in Guam, GameWorks has selected Brazil as the linchpin for its expansion into Latin America.

GameWorks' blend of high-tech fun and festive nightclub ambiance might prove to be a potent combination in Brazil. The country's top international tourist destination has long been Florida, where prior to the economic crisis, the Brazilian middle class flocked to Orlando's theme parks. With the decline in the value of the rael, Florida is feeling the pinch, and Brazil's international tourism industry has slumped, but domestic tourism is thriving. According to the national business newspaper Gazeta Mercantil, local tourism generated US $38 billion in sales in 1998, and Brazil's national tourism commission, Embratur, asserts that over the next few years, private investors will spend US $6 billion in domestic tourism projects, including 300 new hotels and 10 major new theme parks. There is talk of opening the next GameWorks in Sao Paulo, Brazil's capital city, where Grupo Multiplan plans to open its second New York City Center.

It's no secret that the Spanish-speaking community in California is growing all the time in numbers and political power, so it should be no surprise to see that power transformed into bricks and mortar. Take the case of San Jose, CA, where the Mexican Heritage Plaza opened in September 99. Billed in its promotional literature as a "regional resource and national model for intercultural programming," it is designed to offer visitors a wide array of possibilities, including performances, exhibits, classes, community festivals, and social events. Designed by Del Campo & Maru (Martin Del Campo, principal in charge and Mark Knoerr, project architect), the Plaza's many facets include a 4,000 sq. ft. exhibition space for the visual arts, two classroom spaces, a glass pavilion for strollers, a central plaza (like those found in most Mexican towns), and gardens which can be used for both moments of solitude and for parties and fundraisers.

Of course, there is a performance space as well, for which Auerbach + Associates provided consulting services (Steve Pollock was principal-in-charge and Adam Shalleck was project manager). The flexible theatre is designed for two different scenarios. In its proscenium mode, 530 seats are placed facing the stage; in arena mode, 450 seats are arranged around the performance area (the stage extends into the middle of the house). The concept is, says Pollock, "a multipurpose theatre, designed from a perspective of non-Eurocentric performance," a decision arrived at after numerous interviews revealed that potential users included mariachi bands, Aztec dance companies, Mexican theatre companies, and performers from numerous Hispanic cultures based in Mexico and Central America.

Thus the proscenium configuration allows for traditional theatrical presentations; however, Pollock says, "Most folkloric dance forms are circular, as opposed to European dance forms, which work on diagonals." So the variable depth forestage and arena configurations are designed to accommodate various forms of indigenous entertainment. "They can present arena productions, as well as dance performances with musicians placed in front of the proscenium arch." The key here, the consultant notes, is direct communication with the audience. "The viewing distance is short--you're never more than 25'-30' away from the performance. It works like a large studio theatre but with a lot of the hallmarks of a fixed seating environment."

Among those hallmarks is a rigging system by Stagecraft Industries of Portland, OR and Concord, CA, that consists of 46 single-purchase counterweight linesets; one pair of single-purchase, counterweighted tracked lighting ladder sets; a straight lift fire curtain; and a tracked, double-purchase multicable pick system. For the arena setup, there is an ante-pro tension grid, also supplied by Stagecraft Industries. (The company also supplied a full complement of masking draperies, a decorative main border, and cycs).

The lighting system for the theatre features a Strand 520 console and four full racks of Strand CD80SV dimmers (there are 350 circuits), with a package of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, plus L&E Far Cycs, Strand fresnels, and Lycian followspots, all supplied by Musson Theatrical of Santa Clara, CA. The total lighting package comes to 250 units. As for lighting positions, says Pollock, "In the front of house, there are positions in the catwalks and in the tension grid. Onstage, there are galleries with multi-conductor receptacles, so that basically any batten over the stage can be used as a lighting position. There are also torm positions, floor plugs, and the like."

The sound, video, and communications system, supplied by BBI Engineering of San Francisco, includes a Crest GT-40 x 8 console, Crown CT Series amps, EAW speakers (UB-12 monitors, JF-260e and JF200-e arrays, JF-80 sidefills, SB-180R subwoofers, and an MX-200i loudspeaker controller), a Sennheiser system for the hearing-impaired, and a Clear-Com intercom. There is also a production video system: "The client was very interested in the ability of users to archivally record their work and for up-and-coming artists of the community to be able to do demo tapes or disks," says Pollock.

The auditorium features a palette based on earthtones, and variable seating platforms supplied by StageRight. Pollock notes that seating in the rear half of the auditorium is terraced with a 10" rise per row. There are also side boxes that wrap around the auditorium, adding to the room's sense of intimacy. "There can also be seating onstage, for the arena mode," the consultant adds. The hardwood stage floor is designed to be resilient for dancers, and is fully trapped.

"More than anything else, it was a matter of learning and understanding the client," says Pollock, speaking about the project's unique demands. He adds that the experience of working on the Mexican Heritage Plaza was helpful in dealing with another, somewhat similar project, the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, located in Albuquerque. (Antoine Predock is the design architect, with Flatow, Moore, Shaffer McCabe the architect of record). This facility includes a 700-seat multipurpose proscenium theatre, a 150-seat flexible black box space, and a 300-seat cinema, as well as rehearsal spaces and support facilities (this project is scheduled to open at the end of 2001). However, even here there are cultural nuances that the required the consultant's attention. "The big difference in New Mexico is they're Hispanic, or Eurocentric, in their point of view," says Pollock. "They have a strong tie to Spain; the Mexican Heritage Plaza is more Indian in its derivation." Nevertheless, each project is testament to the vibrant power of Spanish-speaking culture in the United States.

At first glance, Marc Anthony's success seems beyond meteoric, almost as though the singer was shot out of cannon into his newfound celebrity. Not only did fans listen when his self-titled crossover album was released last September, but so did his promoters who, in an unprecedented move, simultaneously launched an HBO special and a 23-city concert tour in February and March.

If it seems like a lot of people had faith in this 31-year-old singer, already one of the most respected Salsa stars of his generation, they did. His crossover debut into the English-language market was supported by the powerhouse team of Tommy Mottola and Jeb Bryan of Sony Records, tour producer SFX Entertainment, HBO producer/director Marty Callner of Cream Cheese Productions, lighting designer Allen Branton, production designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe and set builders Tait Towers. Their collective mission was to translate Marc Anthony, well known in the Latino market, to a broader audience and build a TV and touring show, both new ventures for the performer.

"One of the things that Sony revealed to us is that Marc had never been on any kind of extended tour per se," says Branton. "He had had these huge successes with the Spanish-speaking albums and he has historically played sold-out performances in Mexico and Latin America. He also played the Garden two years ago and sold that out, but they were really just isolated personal appearances. The whole idea of having a touring production with its dedicated lighting, set and sound is something they had never contemplated because they just hadn't really toured in the sense we think of it."

Add to that the idea of broadcasting the show to millions of TV fans via HBO, and the pressure was on to introduce the singer with the highest production values possible, but in a way that would support and not overshadow Anthony's onstage personality. "We all talked about who we thought Marc was, because we were all trying to work that out for ourselves," says Branton. "I think everybody seemed to feel that he was really a romantic figure in the classic sense, like a young Frank Sinatra. I agree, but I find that really ironic because for his contemporaries--Ricky and Luis and all of those characters--that's their identity, 'Latin sex symbol,' but somehow they work a hell of a lot harder at that than Marc does."

Set designer Rodgers adds, "If Marc is our Sinatra, Ricky is our Elvis." Rodgers should know--he also designed the set for Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loca tour. Mottola saw the set designer's work, and requested that he submit designs for Marc Anthony's show. The set designer was flown in to meet with "the young Sinatra" at photographer David LaChappelle's studio where he was being shot for HBO promotions. "It was important for Marc to tell me the difference between him and Ricky Martin," says Rodgers. "He loves Ricky and respects him, but he said, 'Ricky is an extrovert and I'm an introvert. I'm music and Ricky is music and performance. I'd be happy without any scenery whatsoever.' I said, 'Enough said.' "

While Rodgers set out to conceive scenic elements supportive of the singer's style, Branton began work on looks that would present him in the right light. "We wanted this to be about a star, a real star, capital 'S' rather than someone who you try to hide inside of some hokum. Even with some quote-unquote light show elements on the more up-tempo numbers, we still wanted to make it about him. He is the focus all of the time."

What was unusual, even for a veteran lighting designer like Branton, was the double bill of having to design a touring concert and TV show at the same time. "Normally when you get these projects to adapt for TV, there is a show existing," says Branton, a master of translating live shows for broadcast. "So you come in and deconstruct or alter things that are unfriendly for television. It's fairly straightforward. If we light a show for TV from scratch, that's a whole other approach. But to try to create the tour and then put it on television almost before it's been seen by an audience and then take it back to the live audience is a fairly odd sequence of events."

That said, Branton, along with programmer Christian Choi and operator Chris Nyfield, began building the show in Hartford, CT, where it was rehearsing. One of the first issues to contend with was scale. The HBO special was to be staged at Madison Square Garden while the touring show would travel to smaller venues. Each required their own light plots. "If you are in a proscenium theatre, a typical 2,500-seater that's 50' wide by 30' high, you end up with a picture that is really constrained and your show is inside it," Branton explains. "When you go into an arena, like the Garden, and you want to have grand pictures on television, we end up with a show that's more like 60' high and 80' wide, so we just add more scenic elements, more lighting, plus the typical television audience package. The Garden version is probably three times the size of the touring version, but the heart of it is the same."

Vari-Lite Production Services supplied the lighting, with supplemental equipment for the HBO special from BML Stage Lighting. Equipment for the HBO special included: 17 Vari*Lite VL5(TM) wash luminaires, 25 VL5B(TM) wash luminaires, 40 VL5Arc(TM) wash luminaires, six VL6(TM) spot luminaires (wide), two VL6(TM) spot luminaires (narrow), 13 VL6B(TM) spot luminaires, 10 VL7(TM) spot luminaires, 81 High End Systems Studio Colors(R), 64 1K PAR-64s, 14 ETC 45-degree Source Fours, five Robert Juliat short-throw followspots, four Strong Super Trouper followspots, two Flying Pig Whole Hog II consoles, two Reel EFX DF-50 foggers with turbo fans, eight CM Hoist 1/2-ton motors, 14 CM Hoist one-ton motors, and three CS 800 Motor Controllers.

"I wanted the VL5s for the color temperature," says Branton. "I like having a certain amount of incandescent light in a show because it allows you to take it to a warm place that you can't if everything is an arc source. I've been using the Studio Color more because it is a good light and the features and effects are good for a show like this."

On the control side, it was the first time Branton used a Flying Pig Systems Whole Hog II, primarily because of the skill of programmer Choi. They met when Branton designed the Cher HBO special and Choi was the programmer. "I had always used the Vari*Lite and the Icon boards, which everybody really loves," says Branton. "I hadn't used the Whole Hog on my own shows, although I had seen it on a lot of television adaptations for years, because I basically found it difficult to edit with. I found it took too long. When we did Cher together, Christian was the first Whole Hog programmer/operator I had met who basically just blew through all of those obstacles," Branton says.

Choi's finesse came in handy while having to simultaneously juggle looks for the road and TV. "Once all of the fixtures for both packages were patched on the Hogs, I had to visualize that they were actually there while programming the tour," he explains. "I was carefully aware while building palettes, groups, and focuses, to always include the phantom system. This way, every time I selected a group of lights in the tour rig, I was also selecting the additional phantom fixtures that pertained to that hanging position. When we eventually did get to Madison Square Garden, I would just have to focus the additional system and all of the looks would update with the additional lights."

In addition to Choi, Branton also credits his lighting crew, which included assistant lighting designer Kevin Lawson, lighting production supervisor Michael Goodwin, operator Chris Nyfield, who ran the show on the road, crew chief Wayne Boehning, VLPS tech Candida Boggs, gaffers David Oaks and Brian Stark, technicians Greg Brooks and Rob Simoneaux, and production manager Toby Fleming.

While the lighting team fine-tuned its design, Rodgers submitted three set sketches to Anthony, who chose a design called "the halo," a forced perspective square hung over the stage. Tubular shapes with automated lights at the top and bottom, which Rodgers calls "stalactites," hang through the center of the halo and, for the HBO special, out over the audience. "Essentially, Marc is an interior, soulful guy, so I thought, let the set design show these sources of inspiration, points of light, that are floating inside a symbol of Marc Anthony, the symbol of the halo," says Rodgers whose team from Tribe included design manager Mike Rhodes and art director Joseph Kale. Joseph Arias was the tour stage manager. Rodney Johnson was the head rigger and Ian Tucker was the head carpenter.

To construct the set, Rodgers traveled to Lititz, PA, a town put on the map by the set-building company Tait Towers, and met with owner Michael Tait and general manager James "Winky" Fairorth. "I was a little nervous, because Michael is such an icon, but we did a lot of drawings and went in prepared," says Rodgers. "You can draw to your heart's content, but you are not going to draw what Michael Tait knows and what his instincts are for the way things should be built to tour."

In what Rodgers calls "a stroke of genius," Tait stepped in to help engineer a touring solution for the stalactites. "We originally thought, let's get some trusses--a 6' truss, a 4', a 2', and a 1'--and build skins around them and then Allen can put lights around the trusses," Rodgers explains. "You won't really see the lights, but the sources in these skins and at the very bottom, depending on the size of the truss, could have six clusters of lights or two lights that could provide backlighting and environmental lighting.

"Well, Jake Berry, the grandfather of production management, called and said he didn't want to travel with all the trusses, so Michael Tait came up with a brilliant idea. He said, 'Let's keep the light on the bottom, one light on the top of each tube, and eliminate the truss and make each tube a fabric that's structural on its own. And I said, 'Ferrari.' "

Rodgers wasn't thinking cars, but fabric. In particular, Ferrari, a polyurethane developed by the military and used for space-age materials, which he had used on the AT&T Olympic Pavilion in 1996. Tait completed the process by designing hoops that fit at the top and bottom of the tubes and would hold, depending on its diameter, anywhere upwards of six lights.

"Voila, you have six tubes that compact to the size of a refrigerator box," says Rodgers. "Jake Berry was happy. I was thrilled. But we weren't finished yet. When we got to rehearsal, Allen Branton came up with another stroke of genius: that we should encapsulate or close up the tubes, which would allow the lighting instruments inside to hold light like a lava lamp. So we called up Winky and he made close-out plugs for the top of the frames."

Three-foot and 4' stalactites with VL7s and 6' versions with VL6Bs created a "forest of hard-edged fixtures over the stage," according to Branton. For HBO, a row of stalactites was rigged on a diagonal out over the audience to create scenic elements in the air. For the shot, conceived by HBO director Callner, a cameraman tracked down from the top of the arena, over the audience, and to the stage through the stalactites. "We put those there so he had something to ride through," says Branton. "That whole song was basically done on that one shot for six minutes, which is a fairly radical thing to do directorially, but it really worked."

While Rodgers wanted more stalactites sprinkled over the audience to bring them closer to the set and Anthony, they were cut for the touring show. Other scenic elements added for broadcast and cut for the road included additional staging and a 300' Austrian curtain built by Rose Brand and rigged by Ocean State.

Scenery that continued on tour included four freestanding curved shapes, or "squigglies," which Fairorth cut out of Styrofoam, then coated in fiberglass resin. The onstage squigglies added feminine form to the masculine shape of the other scenic elements, while the stage design itself gave a spiritual feel to picture. "The set design where the band was laid out was centered around a cross made of frosted Plexiglas loaded with lights underneath," Rodgers explains. "Marc is big in personality but small in stature, and we wanted his first appearance to be very powerful. So when he enters at the top of the cross, which is elevated about 30", and Allen backlit him, he looks impressive. And then when he gets down closer to the audience and you see the real scale of him, for me at least, you realize just how amazing he really is."

Marc Anthony will resume touring in LA in June.