Lighting designer Al Gurdon had designed the lighting for several awards shows and events at which Madonna appeared prior to taking on design of the MDNA tour. This year's Super Bowl Halftime Show, however, was the first time he designed exclusively for The Material Girl. "The offer to light the tour came from that," Gurdon says.
Gurdon's lighting design for MDNA necessarily develops around very specific needs of the show, especially taking into consideration the extensive choreography, the overall stage (designed by Mark Fisher and built by Tait Technologies), and the show evolution. "However, because the lead in time for this show was a lot shorter than normal, it was necessary for me to second guess a lot of this, as the show was still being developed long after the lighting design needed to be finalized," Gurdon says.
The performer herself, however, is always his starting point. "Everything is evaluated in relation to the requirement to 'look after' the star," the designer says. "Beyond that, her shows are very theatrical, everything being there for a reason, and everything telling a story through costume, choreography, staging, and video material. The lighting treatment needs to be sympathetic to all of these aspects of the show, but underpinning everything is the music. The lighting needs to reflect and underpin the dynamic energy of the music, and sometimes that will trump any other consideration."
Gurdon notes that the production progresses from what he calls "gore-spattered Tarantino movie, through Broadway burlesque, torch-song cabaret, to euphoric anthem," all of which require necessarily distinct lighting. "Our aim was to create an exciting spectacle while always maintaining precision, drama, and glamour," he adds.
Gurdon's rig includes 156 Clay Paky Sharpy units--"for their unparalleled efficiency ratio of size to intensity"--arranged in clusters to be used individually or grouped. Ninety-two PRG Best Boy 4000 Spot Luminaires were chosen "for their flat field, dynamic zoom range, flexibility, and fast and precise shuttering system." These are used with 20 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Spots primarily for keylighting.
Twenty-eight Robe Robin 1200 LEDWash lights are used in the audience and in limited positions on the stage. "I chose them for their brightness and zoom range," says Gurdon, adding that he felt there were limited opportunities to make use of LED lighting in this particular design. "I like the lighting rig to be functional and non-invasive. Some LED units seem to be a bit too visible as modern lighting fixtures, which isn't always the right look. For example, the Sharpy clusters were perfect to simulate the shafts of light coming through the window of a virtual gothic cathedral, but an LED unit would have looked completely out of place. I use certain lights again and again as workhorses for specific jobs and will adopt new technology only if it offers something better in its workhorse function than what I have used to date, rather than for intricate features which are often of little interest to me because they seem to be more about lighting as an end in itself. The Robins were great for audience lights, for their instant color-changing, and their brightness. They had a few quirky features which seemed quite cool for one moment, but which I would be unlikely to use very often."
The MDNA lighting rig, supplied by PRG, also includes five GLP Impression 120 RZ LEDs, nine Robe Robin 600 LEDWash units, and 38 Philips Vari-Lite V:3500 Wash units. Followspots include four Lycian M2s, six Strong Lighting Gladiator IIIs, and three Brite Box units. Control comprises three PRG V676 consoles, one V476 console, and 11 PRG Virtuoso Node Plus units, as well as three City Theatrical SHoW DMX systems and 11 PRG Series 400 Data and Power Distribution Racks.
Gurdon also makes use of five Hungaroflash T-Light 88 units and 100 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobes, he says, "for lighting accents and dynamics when moving lights would look wrong." Additional effects include 12 Reel EFX DF-50 Diffusion Hazers, three Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass units, five Le Maitre Stadium Hazers, 16 Jem AF-1 Fans, and an Ultratec Special Effects LSX-II Fog Chiller. Check out Gurdon's plots here.
Use of color--primarily from Lee Filters--ranges from frosts and neutral density graduated filters in the FOH followspots, to more varied colors in the truss spots: L201 (Full C.T. Blue), L200 (Double C.T. Blue), L204 (Full C.T. Orange), L136 (Pale Lavender), L176 (Loving Amber), and L182 (Light Red). The Martin Atomic 3000s use L287 (Double CTO), L15 (Deep Straw), L182 (Light Red), L27 (Medium Red), L130 (Clear), and L200 (Double C.T. Blue), also adding colors from Rosco, including R82 (Surprise Blue), R358 (Rose Indigo), R342 (Rose Pink), R50 (Mauve), and R91 (Primary Green). Check out the full equipment list here.
Mike 'Oz' Owen programmed the lighting, and Mark Cunniffe was the lighting director during the beginning of the tour. "Oz and I have worked together for many years and, to a large extent, developed a shared aesthetic: principally, avoiding lighting 'for its own sake,' and effects that draw attention to the technology itself, having a strict approach to creating an integrated color scheme," says Gurdon. "Mark handled fantastically the onerous task of cueing a very complex and precise followspot show and adapting this scheme to the variable conditions and positions in different venues." Kathy Beer is lighting director for the remainder of the tour.
"This show was more like a two-hour piece of complex theatre than a traditional rock show, and the followspot cueing is extremely complex, and critical to the process," says Gurdon. "A big challenge is keeping complete uniformity and consistency on Madonna herself, when working across relatively large ranges of distance and some extremely long throws in the stadia. Adapting to the different conditions in each venue to produce a consistent balance across the entire tour has been a demanding job in itself."
Gurdon adds that a challenge during programming and rehearsals was keeping pace with the continuous musical adjustments and timecode changes, as well as "finding the balance between glamour and drama."