How does one get through a time schedule which states: “bump in Monday starting 3 am, tech rehearsal Act 1 Tuesday 12 o'clock midday, first public performance Thursday?”
We're talking about the premiere of a Best of Musicals Gala for Stage Holding in Germany in an 18,000-seat arena in Cologne, with over 200 moving lights, almost 400 conventionals, two video media servers, and a fairly comprehensive set for a two-hour show with 12 soloists, 28 dancers, a 30-piece orchestra and 20-voice choir performing 34 songs from 18 different musicals which was to be filmed for television.
With a view to our impossible setup time, we decided to inquire if we could rig our trussing in advance, hanging it above the rigs of the shows directly before us. As it turned out, the designers of the other shows were happy to utilize complete sections of our lighting rig, allowing us to pre-hang some trusses, shortening our setup time considerably.
In the meantime, I sat for five days with my two programmers at the Stage Holding Studios in Hamburg to preprogram the show. I've never been comfortable with visualization software and prefer to program blind, setting pan/tilt presets once we are in the venue. The studios proved convenient for the preprogramming as rehearsals were in the same building, so I could videotape sections of the show as they were completed. Working frequently on shows with very tight rehearsal and tech schedules, my DV camera and my laptop have become very important tools allowing me to see what I'm lighting before I get the performers on stage. Sometimes, considerable imagination is required, although over the years I've become quite proficient at understanding how a scene or number will look without ever having seen the completed picture.
We had one MA Lighting grandMA running all the lighting filling 11 DMX universes, with the other grandMA controlling the two nine-layer Pandora's Box media servers delivering video and images to four Barco video projectors. Two additional projectors, along with the arena's central video “cube,” supplied live close-ups and graphics such as show logos. One thing to remember when using the grandMA for more than eight DMX universes: it is necessary to have all of the network signal processors (NSPs) connected for configuration and patching. Otherwise, the console won't accept fixtures above the 4,096-channel limit. The grandMA also must be equipped with the extended networking functionality.
Once in the venue, we were scheduled to start focusing and setting moving light pan/tilt presets at 10pm on the first day. However, complications hanging the proscenium — a vast oval 32m (105') wide and 16m (52.5') high that was our main projection surface — meant we were not able to start until 6am the next morning. After that, it became a race to catch up to what had already been a very tight schedule.
The set was comprised of a scaffolding tower across the rear of the stage that creates four levels of boxes in which the dancers appeared at the top of the show. A 26'-wide staircase framed by two arches — with the orchestra and choir on risers on either side — were framed by the proscenium. A catwalk led from the front of the main stage to an octagonal satellite stage in the middle of the arena. There was a semitransparent curtain, which tracked from both ends in a curve across the stage concealing the band for some numbers. Additionally, there were various pieces that flew in such as the sun for The Lion King and a projection disk for the moon for Cats and Dance of the Vampires. The moon was simple but very effective. A Rosco stock gobo in a Martin MAC 2000 Performance fixture allowed the projection to move with the disk and to fade to red for the climax of Vampires.
The lighting rig was comprised of 86 MAC 2000 Profiles, 95 MAC 2000 Washes, 17 MAC 2000 Performances, eight MAC 250 Spots, six VARI*LITE VL1000s™, four Space Cannon Ireos Pro 7kW, nine Griven Kolorado CMY floods, almost 400 conventional lamps, and six followspots with nearly 1,000 cues for lighting and projection. I was really pleased with the soft edging of the Pandoras, which gave a perfect, seamless image across all four projectors without additional hardware or masking.
It was an interesting challenge to design the lighting for such a wide variety of material, ranging from classic musical numbers such as Hello, Dolly!, through atmospheric ballads like “Memory” from Cats, to the hard rock sound of “Rock You Like A Hurricane” from the Scorpions' upcoming musical Wind of Change. For a lighting designer taking into consideration the work and requirements of the director and set designer, it is very important to take the essence and feel of each individual musical presented, retaining the integrity of the piece while keeping an overall visual dynamic and flow to the entire evening. Stage Holding assembled a very talented creative team for the production and a cast of which most theatre producers can only dream.
After four days with a minimum of sleep, the premiere and subsequent four shows were enthusiastically received with standing ovations every performance. The crew from Procon Cologne and the rest of the team on and off stage and my associate and first programmer Joe Gruber all worked phenomenally hard to make this remarkable production a success.
The Lion King, Vampires, and Scorpions, oh my! The same set had to be repeatedly transformed to host scenes from different musicals.