The recently opened 24.5 acre Millennium Park on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue reflects the city’s original founders’ vision circa 1827: "Urbs In Horto" or "City in a Garden." For the opening celebration, a vast production was organized, although the design concept for the event was simple. Explains John Featherstone of design consortium Lightswitch., the lighting designer for the event, organizers wanted "Big, Bold, and Celebratory!"

The focus of the celebration was to be the 11,000-capacity outdoor Pritzker Concert Pavilion designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry–the architectural gem of the park and new summer home of the Grant Park Symphony. However, event planners did not want to contain the festivities to just the pavilion. Instead the plan was to create a celebration on a much grander scale, which would convey a larger message; as one civic leader put it: "Millennium Park will define Chicago to the entire world as America’s greatest City."

The Pritzker Concert Pavilion and the Grant Park Symphony. Photo: Upstaging Inc.

To accomplish this feat, Featherstone designed a fireworks display contained not just in the park, but spread throughout the city, with fireworks shooting from some of Chicago’s best landmarks. "[The lighting and fireworks] began in the Park, [then] leapt across the boundaries of the park, first south to the Art Institute, then worked its way back up Michigan Avenue hopping from building to building, finally energizing the buildings along Randolph Street behind the Pavilion," explains Featherstone. "This show was conceived as a dialog between the Park and the city, with beams of light emanating in the park energizing the fireworks on the buildings."

Fireworks were set off in a domino effect throughout Chicago to celebrate the park's opening. Photo: Angel Art, Ltd.

The complexity of an event of this scale required a lighting vendor with the resources to provide more than just lighting equipment, and Lightswitch turned to Upstaging Inc.. "Upstaging made perfect sense, since we needed a highly competent lighting company, who was familiar with the inner workings of the city, had a good rapport with the local IASTE, and would be our central nervous system to the entire event," Featherstone says. With the vast amount of open public space and this being the first show in the park, Upstaging Inc. had many variables to consider. The company decided that pre-production planning would be essential to the successful execution of this event. Upstaging assigned two of their most experienced crew chiefs, Mike Mahoney and Tyler Roach, to the project.

From a lighting standpoint, the festivities were broken into three areas: the Spectacle (considered the five block canvas), the Gala Tents, and the Pavilion stage. The event involved five semis worth of lighting equipment and spread out over 1.5 million sq. ft., which posed another significant challenge: the logistics of control data. "It seemed unpractical and unreliable to have miles of data cables running throughout the park and city streets to tie the system together," notes Tyler.

The solution was a custom designed wireless Ethernet / DMX network. Through continuous planning and testing Upstaging’s wireless system performed as designed. For the system to be a success, Tyler worked to cover a spectrum of parameters, such as transmission range, information security, no noticeable lag time, and most importantly sustained reliability. "It worked from the minute it was turned on", says Featherstone.

"Truly this project was a success for one reason", John Bahnick explains. "The experience and dedication of the people involved. The collaboration between the designer, the onsite personnel to the crew in the shop. The whole thing operated as one harmonious team."

Lighting Personnel:
Lighting Designer: John Featherstone
Assistant Lighting Designer: Avi Mor
Spectacle Programmer: Dennis Connors
Spectacle Programmer: Troy Fujimura
Spectacle Production Electrician: Jeff Johnson
Spectacle Technology Electrician: Lacey Taylor
Spectacle Assistant Electrician: Bryan Klunder
Spectacle 7K Technician: Jean Luc Quesnot
Spectacle 7K Technician: Martine Baratte
Spectacle Wireless DMX Tyler Roach
Stage Lighting Designer: Rich Locklin
Stage Programmer: Thomas Walls
Tent Lighting Crew: Mike Mahoney, Antoinette DeLeo, Sean Harvey, Brett Gardner
Upstaging Account Executive: John Bahnick
Event organizers: Jam Productions

Lighting Equipment:
1 840’ Tomcat 12" Box Truss
1 50’ Tomcat 20.5" Box Truss
54 CM Chain Hoists
3 Motion Labs Motor Control Systems
150 Etc Source Four 50°Lekos
99 Etc Source Four 36°Lekos
10 Etc Source Four 26°Lekos
72 Etc Source Four Pars
48 Par 64 Fixtures
18 Martin Mac 2000 Profile Luminiares
42 Martin Mac 2000 Wash Luminiares
44 Martin Mac 300 Wash Luminiaires
62 7K Space Cannons (X&Y Systemes)
3 Martin Maxyzz Control Consoles
1 Flying Pig Whole Hog II Control Console
1 Flying Pig Whole Hog II Expansion Wing
2 Flying Pig Hog 1000 Control Console
2 Etc 48 x 2.4k Sensor Dimmer Rack
2 Etc 96 x 2.4k Sensor Dimmer Rack
18 Dmx Opto Splitters
4 Dmx DataLynx
1 Custom Dmx Network