The following article by Catherine McHugh appeared in the January 2000 issue of Entertainment Design magazine...
Sting's Brand-New Tour...
Corporate sponsorship for concert tours is nothing new. Everyone from Budweiser to Fruit of the Loom has gotten in on the act, so to speak. As sponsor for Sting's current 'Brand New Day' tour, Compaq Computers did more than simply foot the bill. The company also provided its own high speed computers and got involved in the tour's design process by working with Nick Sholem, Sting's longtime production/lighting designer, to put together the tour.
"It was quite a cooperative deal, which is one of the best points of the tour," Sholem says. "It started with our production manager, Tam Fairgrieve, and I deciding that we would have two weeks to program the show on WYSIWYG. Tam arranged to get me space at SIR Studios in midtown Manhattan - the band was rehearsing on a soundstage in one room and I was in a smaller studio next door with all the computers and equipment set up there."
Before any of these details were established, Sholem had to dream up the show's lighting and set design. Conceptual discussions began in the early part of the year. "But then I disappeared on the road with Blondie and then Metallica, so I sent my lighting drawings to Nook (lighting designer Richard Schoenfeld), who made CAD drawings for me," Sholem says. "I then met with David Perry of PW Productions near Birmingham (England). I spent three days up there working with him, and he did full CAD renderings of different stage drapes and scenic elements. Kishor Patel, the drapes chap, helped me decide on drape lengths and widths and types of material. Once they had been drawn up, I took it all to show Tam to see if he was comfortable with it and with what was about to be spent."
Upon approval, Fairgrieve and Sholem met with Charlie Kail at Brilliant Stages to discuss the set's construction. "We have some risers and a walkway behind them, plus they built our big Japanese fans that open up," Sholem says. "Then I went to see Airstar, a French company that has opened up an office in Oxford, England about the balloons - or globes - with the internal lamps."
When all the drawings were completed, Sholem sent them to John Busing at Compaq. "Because we wanted to use WYSIWYG, Compaq put the WYSIWYG system together with help from Cast Lighting and AC Lighting, and then John hooked it up to a monster-fast PC. John owns a WYSIWYG system in his own right and he does all the big million-dollar shows for Compaq a half a dozen times a year. So he was able to take what Nook and Dave Perry had done, and with extra input from Mike Hosp at Upstaging, he married all the elements together and built the basic WYSIWYG scene of lighting and stage set."
In New York, Sholem gathered the team responsible for putting the WYSIWYG system together: Busing, board operator Steve Kellaway, Upstaging lighting crew chief Mike Hosp, and AC Lighting's Christian Choi.
"One of the nice luxuries/advantages we had was being able to match up the lights with the actual WYSIWYG instruments by having the lights there," Choi says. "That was very important because you need to know if the gobos and the colors match up, if the movements are correct, and if you've hung them correctly in WYSIWYG. So we had one of each fixture there. I also made sure that the rig's few custom instruments (such as the DHA Light Curtains) that Cast built got implemented into the drawings correctly, and that the channels were built right. You have to set the scroll colors in the Light Curtains, so I built the scrolls per number per Nick's specifications."
For Sholem, being able to see both the lighting instruments and the set pieces in the WYSIWYG system was a bonus. "It really helped because it allowed us to see how much room we had onstage," says the lighting designer. "In my original plot, the floor lights were all over the place, so we moved them around and were able to measure how large a gap the crew and band members would have to walk through. So we know the positions that we've put these lights in and they're quite acceptable, whereas before, people would have been falling over them and cursing my name."
The technicians did spend a lot of time implementing Sholem's different set pieces into the overall picture. "WYSIWYG allows you to take all of the layers of your drawing and organize them into scenes, which is much like a scene in any play or concert," Choi says. "They had several different aspects including the balloons, the fans, and the kabuki drops that needed to be in different scenes. Rather than build the drawings several times and have one drawing per scene, you can organize your layers into these scenes. John did an amazing job of organizing them so that they could be combined in any way. There were several scenes each with several different combinations of scenic elements in each scene. Anytime Nick wanted to see that side of the drawing, he could just select that scene and it would pop up right in front of him and he could start programming the lighting. No stagehands had to move anything for him."
Once the system was all set, everyone left Sholem and Kellaway in the studio to program the lighting. After one week, Kellaway and Sholem had programmed more than 20 songs - including taking Sunday off to go and visit the Statue of Liberty. "After the first couple of days of having the band next door, I told Sting to come by and see what we were doing; we were able to take them through the whole show," Sholem says. "I just walked them through all the different looks and fields and showed them how you can see all the different angles of the stage. They loved it. It was great to be able to actually show them - otherwise you have to show them drawings, which usually means nothing to a musician."
Meanwhile, crew chief Hosp had returned to Upstaging's warehouse in Chicago to sort out the system's nuts and bolts. "Having the WYSIWYG setup helped us, because Nick was able to move around lamps on the screen instead of waiting until we were in the shop," Hosp explains. "I knew exactly what he needed from me when he walked into the shop before production rehearsals. There was no trial and error - we could just put the disks in and see what he had been seeing in New York."
Because Sting was booked to perform at the Joint in Las Vegas to kick off the tour, Sholem enlisted lighting designer Mike Ledesma to handle those shows with the club's house lighting system. That allowed both Sholem and Kellaway three days to merge their programs with the physical system in Chicago.
While Sholem has a reputation for trying out brand-new lighting instruments in his designs, he didn't follow that pattern on this tour. Yet Choi believes that programming the entire show on WYSIWYG was quite a risk in itself. "It was really one of the first rock-and-roll tours to do the bulk of its programming in WYSIWYG. It's a great program but it really hasn't been used to this scale before. I applaud him for taking such a brave, bold step with this technology, because it was really putting a lot on the line." Choi says.
Sting is currently touring theatres in the US through December. The 'Brand New Day' tour will then make its way through Europe before returning to the US in the summer for a shed tour.
© Entertainment Design magazine