Producing the Parnelli Awards

4-the-show-7

Backstage at the Parnellis.

Increasingly, I am getting to create special live events, and none are more special and exciting to me than the Parnelli Awards, which I’ve had the honor of producing for nearly 10 years.  This is a special event that is unofficially called “the Grammy’s for Roadies” – it honors those live event personnel who work behind the scenes to make concerts, special events, music festivals, and corporate events happen.  The Scenic Set Designer for Adele, the monitor mixer for Rascal Flatts, the Lighting Designer for Guns ‘n Roses, etc., are honored for artistry and technical skills. Big and small sound companies, lighting companies, and even the truck companies who take the gear from city to city are honored as well.

Basically, one night a year we turn on the mic and shine the spotlight on those who have spent their career avoiding both!

3-show-rehearsal-1

Technical Rehearsal – Here I am going over notes with Jessica Hird, voice over artist.

Speaking of turning the tables … PLSN, which I am senior writer for, decided to do an article on producing the Parnellis. This involved another writer interviewing me, and believe me I’m rarely on that side of the interview pen. The article turned out well, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at an event that honors those behind-the-scenes.

The show is a big project – I’m involved with hiring talent, working with production people (video, lighting, audio, etc.), and making sure the show runs smoothly. I also produce and write six to eight videos, including three documentaries on our lifetime achievement winners (I’m particularly proud of this one on Danny O’Bryen). As this article points out, I am fortunate to have culled from the world of production an amazing team of people who put on a great looking, funny, exciting show.

4-the-show-11And it was exciting – guitar genius Adrian Belew (David Bowie, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads, among others) was the host. I was able to get Tom Petty to come and surprise the crowd, and he spoke eloquently and humorously  about his long time Tour Manager, Richard Fernandez, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Me, directing the show.

Me, directing the show.

It’s a blessing to be able to apply my wide variety of skill set to a special event like this – everything comes into play: writing, editing, creating videos, working with other creatives, and producing something with many moving parts. My play writing experience, my comedy writing, even my musicianship, all come into play. I’m in talks with others to work on their show, and look forward to doing more of this kind of work for a wider variety of clients. It’s a completely fulfilling experience!

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Effectively Blogging for Businesses and Organizations

St._Louis_Art_MuseumThe St. Louis Art Museum recently reached out to me, saying that they wanted to look into doing their blogs differently. “They come off too much as press releases,” they said. When I looked into them, I found them filled with good content and well-written — but yes, they could be more engaging.

Press Releases, which I also do a lot of, are top-down pieces. The company/organization is relaying information. Social Media is a conversation. When I blog for businesses, I always adapt their tone (and this is where my play writing experience comes in handy), but write in a way that gets a reaction. This assignment was plumb – they gave me a great topic and provided me with the headline: “Tale of Two Kitties.” The reaction was off the charts, much higher than their typical blog post. Within a week, last I checked, on the FB page it got over 400 likes and over 50 shares and more comments than usual. From the blog, it got over 500 likes.

I love ghostwriting blogs for anybody – at the other end of the spectrum, I take care of a St. Louis-based insurance broker, too. Another client of mine is the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. I make sure every blog I write has plenty of links, thus increasing its SEO (my own blogs are no exception!). If I can help with your company or organization’s blog, I’d love to have that conversation – please contact me.

You’ll find the art museum blog here, though I’m including it here in my blog. For the Facebook intro, I wrote:

While we acknowledge we’re a bit late to the whole “put a cat on Facebook” phenomenon, our ancient Egyptian Cat has quite a tale to tell. This 14-inch-tall bronze feline was acquired in 1938 at what many citizens and politicians thought was an outrageous price. Sure, editorials and letters came flooding in and there were protests at City Hall, but she brought in record crowds and even a Hollywood invitation. Our gallery talks and the Webster University Film Series are part of the tale, too.

And here’s the article – enjoy!:

A Tale of Two Kitties

Cat; Egytpian, Late Period (664-332 BC).

Cat; Egytpian, Late Period (664-332 BC).

It was the best of times (exciting new acquisition), it was the worst of times (the Depression). Both wisdom and folly were in ample supply when the Museum purchased Cat, an exquisite Egyptian artifact created during the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (664–525 BC). Sculpted in bronze and originally intended to contain a cat mummy, this 14-inch-tall feline was purchased from a private collector in 1938 and would become a popular work in our permanent collection.

But we were in the throes of the Great Depression. So why would then-curator Thomas T. Hoopes pay $14,400 for what one newspaper called a “costly bric-a-brac”? (Perspective: gas was 10 cents a gallon, bread was nine cents, and you could get a new house for less than a third of what Cat cost!) Other headlines included “It Isn’t the Cat’s Whiskers!” and “Black Cat Crosses the City’s Path.” Newspapers from New York to Paris weighed in.

The Associated Press  reported that the price tag “…stirred up the rumpus among unionists, persons on relief, women’s clubs, the city administration and the art museum.” One letter writer suggested the Saint Louis Art Museum sell the entire collection and display members of the Art Commission, charging 25 cents to see them. Another letter writer pointed out that, unlike acquisitions by the Saint Louis Zoo, at least this cat didn’t require feeding. A writer even posed as Cat to pen a letter to the editor  defending herself. But it was no laughing matter when union laborers picketed City Hall in protest, and there was a bill put forth to cut Museum funding. It did not pass.

On the tail end of all that is the “best” part of the tale: A whopping 51,323 cat-curious citizens visited Cat the month of her debut, the second highest attendance by month at the time.

Picture of Dorian Gray with Cat_2

The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dir. Albert Lewin. Perf. George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, and Peter Lawford. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1945. Film.

Eventually, Cat caught the attention of Hollywood, too. Screenwriter and director Albert Lewin asked to borrow it for his 1945 film, The Picture of Dorian Gray. “I have seen the Egyptian things in the Louvre, and also in…Cairo, and I think this cat is one of the most beautiful of all,” he gushed.

Museum officials decided Cat was too fragile and not ready for her close-up, but allowed Lewin to create a slightly taller replica to star in the film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel. When Dorian wishes he could stay young forever, it’s the cat that dispenses the curse. The movie would win two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. And currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago is Ivan Albright’s painting of the horrific, cursed Gray that is featured in the film.

While Cat might not have found the level of fame of, say, Grumpy Cat, she is an exemplary example of the popular votive figures created in honor of the Egyptian goddess Bastet, a deity associated with motherhood and a guardian of pregnant women. We hope when you visit her in Gallery 130 you’ll agree that the $14,400 was well spent. To learn more about ancient Egypt animals, attend our gallery talks on Thursday and Friday, June 16 and 17.

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Ghostwriting Your Digital Media Content

blogI recently wrote an article on my LinkedIn Account on how despite the constant changes on the digital media landscape, writing articles/blogging that position you (and your business) as the “expert” is still the foundation of almost any campaign. The blogging created needs to be consistent with your brand and your message, and those articles need to clearly be the source of authoritative answers.

What I’ve been increasingly doing for companies (and individuals) of all sizes is exactly this. Writing articles and posting on their site, then spreading it out on social media, primarily Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, has been effective in building and retaining customers and clients.

ghostwriting

Is there a ghost in the machine? Maybe there should be.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is not hard. Many independent contractors, small businesses, and larger companies can often find someone in-house to do this. But what I see is while most people write fairly well, even really well, the “is it good?” question becomes “is it authentic?” By that I mean “real.” If it’s not, maybe you need a “ghost.”

Even more than a digital marketing professional, I actually feel I am first and foremost a ghostwriter. My years writing plays and television and (unsold) movie scripts has really given me a “good ear” for words. I’m able to recreate the proper tone and even linguistic mannerisms whether I’m writing for a professional lighting designer, a company in the medical field, or even an insurance broker. It’s all key to creating engaging, captivating copy that effectively targets the desired audience.

The other part of it comes from my 15 years as a professional journalist writing for a wide variety of publications. I understand the importance of good, accurate, correct prose. Also I have worked with some pretty tough editors in my days, and I love the back-and-forth that happens with a client as we work together to get the final product right.

Let your voice be heard.

Let your voice be heard.

It’s actually refreshing and enjoyable to bring in these various skills to the digital media table. Also, I feel strongly that getting the tone of the language exactly right is mission critical to branding. Yes it’s noisy out there, but what is going to work for you is being you, and the best way to do that is have someone ghostwrite your content. Generic sounding copy that could in fact be on any of your competitors site will fall on deaf ears. Let your voice be heard.

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Research + Story = Engaging Travel Copy

Writing about a place (or a subject) you're unfamiliar with requires thorough research and the ability to tell a story.

Writing about a place (or a subject) you’re unfamiliar with requires thorough research and the ability to tell a story.

I’ll level with you: I have not been around the world. But I have a client who consistently turns to me to write engaging copy about beautiful destinations I have never been to. This is a gig I got through one of the local creative staffing agency, and the assignment is to take a sheet of facts about an available trip and write it up so their clients would sign up for it.

My work persuades.

They love my work. Now, it’s true, Paris, London, Ravenna, even Dubrovnik I’ve been too, and that helps a bit; but what helped me even more do an amazing job on this assignment is I’m first and foremost a professional storyteller. I don’t just put facts in order, I create something so compelling, that the reader can smell the salt in the air and the soft sand between their toes.

Also helping me be a successful freelance writer here in St. Louis is that I’m great to work with. I ask questions. I take chances. I turn the assignment in early, and I’m eager to revisit it based on my client’s notes. (Though in this case, I hit it out of the park on every bit.)

If you’re a creative, then I don’t have to tell you, that doing something like this in “only 250 words” makes an assignment more challenging. But I love it. My research is so thorough that my first drafts on these travel tours was typically 1200-1500 words. But succulently I prune and deliver exactly what the client wants, exceeding all expectations along the way.

Take a trip with me and check out this sample – but don’t blame me if you’re suddenly packing your bags.

Travel Copy – A World Awaits Copywriting Sample

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The Parnelli Awards

Concert Promoter Kevin Lyman

Concert Promoter Kevin Lyman

As a writer/content provider for all things, few things I do are as rewarding as the Parnelli Awards. Last weekend I finished producing and writing the 15th annual award that honors those who work in the live events, and it was an astonishing success. The host was Vans Warped Tour’s Kevin Lyman, and those who work behind the scenes in concert touring (lighting directors, audio engineers, set designers) and other live events received their awards.  There were three lifetime achievement awards given out, to, including one to Chris Lamb, who has made the world tours of the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and most recently, Jennifer Lopez, happen, among scores more through his career.

I write all the articles and the three documentaries on our honorees, and head a team that writes the two hour show.  I head production meetings and handle everything from how much rigging needs to go into the room to where certain people sit at the show (I’m surprised they don’t ask me to also bus the tables ….).  I handle a thousand moving parts, working with professional event people and the occasional ornery presenter. The challenge is these people have purposely chosen a life backstage, away from the limelight, and here I am, pushing them in front of a live mic in front of a sold out crowd of 700 of their peers.

Parnelli Awards 2015 Crew Shot

That’s me, kneeling, next to host Kevin Lyman and all the crew who make this show happen.

How do I do that?

First, let’s back up: While today it’s the most prestigious award show in this business, it naturally started out small.  While I wrote for the magazines that sponsor it (PLSN and FOH) since their beginning, this show started as a dinner where they gave out one award.  In 2003 it expanded and I was asked to write a documentary on that year’s lifetime honoree, the unflappable Chip Monck, who among his lighting skills is likely most known to the general public as the guy who warned you against the brown acid at Woodstock. My role grew to writer, and then producer, and the show continues to get bigger and better.

John Andrews, CEO of QSC, was a presenter at the 15th Annual Parnelli Awards

John Andrews, CEO of QSC, was a presenter at the 15th Annual Parnelli Awards

It’s an odd thing to say that one was born to run award shows, but that is certainly my case.  All my life skills and experiences come into play: play writing, interviewing, producing, organizing, working with people, listening, graphic designer (I do all the power point slides that run the show), public relations, digital media, people skills, speech writing, technical knowledge and experience … and of course, writing in the voice of the person at the mic.

For those who have to take the mic and aren’t professionals – in fact are fearful of it – I’m able to interview him or her on the topic, and get their words on paper.  Then I mold it, and we work on it together.  I build up confidence and take good care of them throughout the process.  I get a lot of kudos from people who go from “no way!” to “wow that worked out really well.”

The only regret about the Parnelli Awards is that I only do it once a year – now that I have it down, I’m anxious to apply these skills to other similar situations, because despite the stunning amount of work, I really have fun doing it, so do everyone who works with me.

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Writing About Success

indexI just had coffee with a fellow writer here in St. Louis who is part of a recently founded but fast-growing one act play festival. It’s pretty exciting, because one of America’s greatest writers is attached to it, and a wonderful local theater group is involved. No wonder it’s in its eight season.

But I was reminded of a feature called “The Write Stuff” I wrote last year for a new online magazine called LineUp — the now famous Austin Film Festival. It was a great freelance assignment.

But what I really loved is I got to write the whole story – from the very beginning, when co-founder Barbara Morgan put this thing on in 1994 … without even having ever been to a film festival.  In my candid interview with her, this really smart, hard scrabble woman reflected that maybe she and the others involved back then made it work because they didn’t “know” what they could or could not do.

Writing about successful businesses for more than a dozen years, I’ve learned this: While breaking some rules is almost always part of a successful launch, maybe not even knowing the rules is even better.

These stories I write have another aspect in common: Focus.

Morgan credits the success to maintaining a laser-focus on the mission, which is: to further “the art and craft of filmmaking by inspiring and championing the work of screenwriters, filmmakers, and all artists who use the language of film to tell a story.”

But being successful was only part of the picture. Another inspirational and impressive point about this story is how they managed their success. The Austin Film Festival got bigger and better.  Morgan attributed this to carefully staying “on mission”:

“There are times when some outside forces have had good intentions and tried to encourage us to expand our mission one way or another,” Morgan says. “We’ve tested a few things that have not worked for us, and we’ve always come back to our mission. I think it helps that I’m fairly myopic, and that keeps us on mission!”

This was a wonderful assignment for me, because I do find it inspirational. I sent this to my fellow writing thinking some of it might be useful as they grow their festival, which already seems like a wonderful organization.

In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick around some ideas for a new one act play ….

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Digital Marketer: Who’s Doing the Talking?

Social Media MarketingI took on a new client this month – I’ll be handling his digital marketing strategy. He’s a great guy running a successful small business here in St. Louis – just admittedly not “tech savvy.” I’m setting up and running his LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, doing some ghost writing for a book he wants to publish, and will be an extra creative in the room for whatever else he needs marketing/public relations-wise.

We’ve hit it off swimmingly (I love helping people like this), and it was interesting why I got the account after he interviewed half a dozen or so.  He said everybody else came in, sat down, and talked, talked, talked. They did all the talking, telling him how they can get him thousands of “friends” and set up Twitter so it seems like he’s tweeting every hour, etc. Sounds like they rattled off a lot of buzz words without even figuring out what he knew about digital marketing and the social media landscape.

“You asked a lot of questions about my business,” he said.

It’s true. For the first two meetings he did all the talking. A journalist at heart, before I start providing content for a company, I want to understand it. I learned how this particular insurance broker works, how he’s attracted business in the past, and what he wants to accomplish. I took every marketing piece he had home and studied it, and came back with more questions.

See, in the faced-pace world of digital marketing, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. For example, it became clear that Twitter is not going to be that useful for his specialized business, and LinkedIn would actually be the best ROI. I will be developing a YouTube channel for him and get his webinars to be both higher quality and gain more viewers.

So if you’re interviewing a consultant to help with your digital marketing, and he or she leaves, ask yourself this: Who did most of the talking?

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Oldest Theater Embraces New Technology

Feature on Walnut Street Theatre_000001 I love the theater, I go quite frequently, and even have written a few plays myself here in St. Louis. So it’s not surprising that as a freelance writer I enjoy writing features like this one for Stage Directions Magazine. It’s a great magazine run by a terrific editor that goes out to mostly independent, college, high school, and community theaters.

What a story this was: The Walnut Street Theater is the oldest continually operating theater in the country. And so when a theater that at one point counted Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe as patrons has to upgrade their technology (and they wisely do it often), it has to be done with great care.

Getting to the heart of this story involved a bit of research and a couple of long interviews. The challenge is always getting to the full story, with as many details as possible (in this technology magazine, that’s what the readers want), yet be relatively brief. Feature on Walnut Street Theatre_000002

My approach though always includes making it engaging, and getting those I interview feel comfortable so I can capture their voice.  I’m please at how this one turned out (you can read the online version here). And I know what how I’ll be spending at least one of my nights the next time I’m in Philly ….

 

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The Effective Advertorial

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000001 As a freelance content provider, over the years I’ve developed  strong opinions about the advertorial — I know what works and what doesn’t; I know when it can be effective and when it’s not the right medium for the message.

Here’s a case when it’s the right call. Martin Audio is a high-end professional pro audio company based in England, and they have created an amazing system in the MLA. (How high end? Let’s just say you won’t be picking these up for your  local hi-fi store any time soon.)

I worked with the client and configured the layout, picked the images, and conducted fresh interviews that were included up the testimonials (more on this in a moment). Usually less is more, but on something like this, that is really aimed at a narrow but extremely important audience, a lot of information should be provided, and a call to action for the potential client to get even more information.

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000002 Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When faced with a challenge like this, rather than rely solely on the information provided by the client, I like to ask, “who is using and loving your product?” That peer-to-peer recommendation is increasingly important across the today’s social media environment, and it’s making it more so in print pieces. Notice in addition to shots of festivals, I included shots of the people using this amazing new sound system. It makes it all the more real. (Speaking of social media, I will recommend that parts of this be used in all the client’s social media platforms in small pieces over the next year and maybe even beyond.)

The fourth page includes even more pro audio technical details and that call to action to look into it further as this is a specific audience that eats up technical details down to the decibel.

Martin Audio 4 page advetorial brochure_000004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there’s that first page … Steely Dan in concert. They are well-known for their reputation of incredible high standards, and while I could have put a bunch of acts on this page (they are listed on page four), I wanted to send a message that this is a prestige system that only the best of the best want to use.

It’s more copy-heavy then I would typically recommend, but again, the stakes are high as is the thirst for technical information, which brings me to my final point: No matter what the medium, before I write a word I always work to understand the mindset of the audience, and never waiver from keeping what he and she want to learn from the well-placed advertorial.

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Making the Technical Article Accessible

One of the more interesting challenges I have is writing for technical magazines, and creating content that breaks down the technical aspects for the readers in an engaging manner. I’ve learned over the years of writing for a variety of magazines and providing content for St. Louis websites that educates and informs does not have to be dry.

ushereistandAnother skill I’ve developed is researching and writing about a subject or event when you’re not able to be there in person. By a few short succulent interviews, and/or just good old fashion researching, I’m able to make the reader believe I’m right there at the event (and I take them with me).

This recent technical article on an Usher concert is a good example of both of these points. It was a fun piece to work on, and while a technical article, it tells a story, something I do for magazines and (increasingly) web content.

This ran in Projections Lights & Staging News recently, and you can see it here online.  But I also include it in this post because  … well it turned out fun.  And that’s what I’m about: fun.

Production Profile

Usher “UR Experience Tour”

A dynamic genre-bending artist. Hydraulics, custom trussing, split 7mm video screen, and a whole lot of spankin’ brand new gear. Usher is in the house.

The “UR Experience” tour, originally scheduled to support the singer’s eighth album, UR, just finished its first run in the States. The sold-out high-energy tour had many highlights. One of the new songs off his yet to be released album, “Good Kisser,” had Usher behind the drums. Another was his ballad, “Climax,” which had him riding a hydraulic lift to animated video. Then there was the “unplugged” segment, which proved to be another visually stunning moment in the show. The New York Times called the show one of “superhuman precision, control and stamina,” and the same can be said of the behind the scenes design team that put together the lighting, staging, video and pyro. Usher’s music demands flexibility. “In terms of the variety of styles he’s covered, the whole production look couldn’t be specific to just one [genre],” Baz Halpin says. “You have these sexy ballads, you have these big James Brown-like numbers. The look of the show can never be mechanical — there has to be subtle moments.”

Built to Suit

Designer/show director Halpin supported a number of top-tier artists in 2014, including Katy Perry, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Cher and, on the way to 2015, Usher. On working with Usher, Halpin says that the artist is “very structured — a workaholic — yet one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Prior to rehearsals, the decision was reached to not pre-plan what the show would look like. So the creative team simply brought a “box of paint” — gags, gizmos, video, special effects, etc. — and let the show evolve during rehearsal.” Baz admits that he’s never quite worked on a level that was so spontaneous. They created the show in about two and a half weeks.

The Set and Video Elements

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings“We first designed a stage that would give us enough flexibility to create beautiful scenes. With Chris Keating and I working on a 60-foot by 40-foot stage that we then cocked off center 40 degrees to give it a pointy look,” he laughs. “I dug it, but the crew didn’t care for it, because it was difficult to set up … but so be it!”

For flexibility with video, Halpin used 770 Video Blades distributed by VER and built them into the scenery all over the stage. Then there were two 16-by-24-foot LED walls. But the next phase was how to create all the content necessary while still being flexible. He brought in multi-media company Geodezik and Control Freak Systems. The video screen was Screenworks’ new X-7 HD 7mm LED product, which Halpin calls “stunning.” They split it in half and put it on two tracks. “The tricky part was, it wasn’t a straight truss, but a hinged truss, and it was almost a flat ‘Z.’ That was difficult to pull off, but Tait Towers created some widgets for it. In the end, the hinged screen itself is seamless and beautiful.”

Control Freak Systems controlled video with PRG MBox media servers, and Wade says the graphics were visually stunning. Their impact was amplified by being precisely linked to the music, with single sounds or a full audio mix triggering video imagery.

Among the special effects on stage, Halpin made room for some 8-by-8-foot hydraulic lifts, as well as another one that brings the drum kit up at one high point. Pyro included flame cannons built into the stage and a dragonhead prop that spews fireballs. Pyrotek looked after the pyro effects on tour. The video blades seem to move around the stage as the set evolves. At times, it seemed as though just some blades were illuminated, giving the stage a distinctively different shape.

For Halpin, a favorite part of the show is a bit of a camera trick: As Usher sings downstage, there’s an image on the screen behind of a scantily clad woman in a chair, and at a climatic moment in the song, he appears to lift her out of it. “That’s one of those ideas you come up with at 2 in the morning!” It was just one of the sleight-of-hand visual tricks used during the show.

New Gear, Trusted Sources

Texas-based lighting designer Eric Wade has built up an impressive resume in his 30-plus years in the business, supporting artists including Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton, Alicia Keys, Barbra Streisand, and many others. His visual work with Usher goes way back, spanning close to 14 years.

“Baz left some space for lights in the center, but for this part I wanted something unique, different from regular trussing.” Wade says. He would design a set of four square pods positioned in a way that makes them diamond-shaped. “I wanted something different but could still go up quick,” he says. He and the team designed a pod-like structure and had it built from scratch. In addition to looking cool and being capable of maneuvering on stage, the pods were designed so they could break down into sea containers efficiently. VER supplied the lighting gear for the tour.

Each pod has 16 MagicPanel R LED matrix fixtures from French lighting manufacturer Ayrton. These fixtures come fitted with 25 15W LED RGBW sources and toss out an overall brightness of 115,000 lumens and a center beam intensity of 1,350,000 candela. The unit can do continuous double rotation on pan and tilt axes, and each pod’s 5-by-5 matrix of these fixtures allows for a lot of possibilities. The brand-new unit had just become available in the U.S., Wade says, noting that he got the first batch that came over.

Along with the MagicPanels, each pod is equipped with four Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures and four Solaris Flares. Wade says the combination allows him to do different things — and he takes full advantage of the setup with every song. “I can move the pods into position, and then out, for completely different looks,” he says. While playing with it during rehearsal, in one of the early songs, Wade wanted the pods directly over Usher’s head for the dance break, to great effect. Inspiration for that came from a rare couch-potato moment: “My sons and I like watching the television show ‘Falling Skies,’ and on it they have this spaceship called a ‘beamer.’ When I moved the pods into that position, I laughed, because it looked just like [the ship]!” Back on stage, during this bit Usher throws his hands in the air, and seems to push the pods, “forcing” the “ship” to leave.

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings

Many of the 200+ GLP Impression X4S fixtures that were used on this tour, along with nearly 100 Solaris LED Mozart Pixels, were hung on a dozen vertical ladder trusses. “Baz had a twin wall acrylic that covered the fixtures,” Wade notes, “but it’s removable,” and halfway through the show, the covers come off. “Before they are removed, they create a nice flare for the beginning of the show and almost look like big windows upstage. Then, for the acoustic set, they are dropped and it’s a new visual component for the audience.” Tait’s Navigator system controlled movements for eight of the 12 ladders, which moved laterally as well as up and down. The Navigator also controlled movement for the lighting pods.

Other new fixtures joining Usher’s “UR Experience” tour included Solaris Flares, distributed by TMB, and Elation Professional’s Sniper 2R fixture. “Of course, the Flares are an exceptional fixture, but I’m glad [Elation’s] Eric Loader talked us into using the brand new Sniper for this tour too. The light beam has fast scanning abilities and acts as a laser instrument. It is absolutely fantastic,” Wade says.

While some have noted that, for such a high-stakes tour, the Creative team seem to have taken a chance with so many new fixtures filling out the rig. Wade agrees, but adds that all were from manufacturers known for making reliable products. “I’m very particular about whose new gear I use, and all these lighting components are from companies that are top notch,” says Wade. “Like the Mozart — I don’t think I’ve replaced one in the 12 weeks of touring.”

“Mark Ravenhill of GLP is the type of company rep that if I ever had a problem with a light, he’s all over it. His company has more than 200 fixtures out here. It’s the same thing with Eric [Loader] and the Snipers. At first, with the Sniper product, we had a problem, but [Elation’s] John Dunn came to a show with a software solution and got it where it needed to be.” Wade went on to praise Elation in general, particularly Loader. “Some companies are lacking that old-fashioned customer service and support, and if you can’t rely on that, you don’t take out one of their new fixtures.”

Keeping It Interesting

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings

On the road, there were further tweaks, mostly artist-driven. “Usher is notorious for changing the show as it goes,” Wade says. He’ll change a song by cutting two verses and adding a hook, for example, and when there are 700 time code cues, that sends the crew scrambling to adjust and write new cues. It keeps it all interesting and makes for a show that is continually evolving. “That’s why it’s ‘UR Experience’ — because everything is a little different.” People will see the show in Dallas and then in L.A. and notice differences as Usher continually strives to make the show better. “It’s fun!” Wade says.

“My absolute favorite part is the acoustic section,” Wade continues. “For two songs, we change the entire look of the stage, including bringing the pods into a smaller area and bring it all down. It’s a nice change and something we’ve never done before, and it turned out beautifully.”

Crew

Production Designer: Baz Halpin

Lighting Designer: Eric Wade

Lighting Programmer: Eric Marchwinski

Production Manager: Harold Jones

Control Freak System Operator: Steve Foster

Content Creator: Olivier Goulet w/ Geodezik

Video Director: Chris Keating

Video Engineer: Rick Popham

LED Technician: Angelo Bartolome

LED Technician/Camera Operator: Tyler Hubbell

Projectionist/Camera Operator: Chris Small

Blade Specialist: Paul Bange

Blade/Camera Operator: Tom Evans

Gear

Lighting:

2 grandMA2 consoles

216 GLP X4S fixtures

90 TMB Solaris LED Mozarts

43 TMB Solaris LED Flares

64 Aryton MagicPanel-R LED matrix fixtures

25 Aryton Magic Blades

56 Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures

55 Martin MAC 2000 XB Wash fixtures

15 Martin Quantum Wash fixtures

7 Martin MAC 700’s

16 Clay Paky Sharpys

10 Clay Paky Sharpy Wash fixtures

12 Elation Sniper 2Rs

1 Xbox One gaming system with NHL 2015

1 LG 48-inch monitor to play Xbox on.

Video:

1 PRG MBox media server

1 Screenworks X-7HD 7mm LED 19’.8” high x 24’.5” wide that splits

770 Blades 1260s w/processing

4 Christie 18k HD Projectors, (w/ spare), Lenses TBD

2 18’x32’ RP Screens w/frames

Camera Setup: (using Sony HXC-100s) HD flight pack w/ multi-viewer

2 FOH Cameras w/ 72x Long Lens

1 Handheld camera

1 Handheld in the Pit with 40’ of Dolly track

2 BRC 700s Robo Cameras w/ controller

1 DVD Record or KiPros for record

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