Shania Twain's "Rock This Country" Tour
Projection, Lights and Staging News
By Nook Schoenfeld
October 15, 2015
It’s been a dozen years since Shania Twain has hit the road on tour. She picked up right where she left off with a gorgeous production design for her current “Rock This Country” tour. In 2004, she stopped singing to heal her throat and stayed silent up until she took up residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 2012. Ten months before that run of 105 shows, the artist met with show director Raj Kapoor to come up with a production for those distinct shows. A good relationship was formed and, once again, the singer looked to him and his company for a vision on this tour, which launched in June and wraps later this month.
Shania’s original thought was to take the basic look of her Vegas show, along with some of the physical elements, and take it on the road. But as Raj was keen to point out, it’s a whole different crowd at a casino show than at an arena show. Raj explains, “I went into our first meeting for this tour and told her I had planned the tour and wanted to throw everything away. She had played it for two years and deciding not to renew her contract at Caesars. I thought we needed something totally different, totally fresh.” Kapoor went on to explain that it wasn’t just for the audience; it’s also for her. He wanted her to feel excited, that there was a sense of newness to it.
“To me, that meant surrounding her with some different people and changing the members of the team.” Raj adds, “We were getting rid of the dancers, we weren’t doing the live horses, we cut the string section and ended up replacing half the members of the band. It was about creating new energy around her, and that was the goal of the show.”
Raj had a good idea of what he wanted for a set and knew he needed to incorporate lots of elements into her performance, especially some things like video, that the artist had never utilized on any previous tour. He reiterates what he told Shania. “I want to use lighting in a big way, I wanted to use video in a big way, Things we couldn’t do in a Vegas theater setting, like big pyrotechnics, I wanted to incorporate them. Let’s make it a big rock ‘n’ roll show.” Most of the elements in today’s shows are exactly what Raj pitched to her in that first meeting. Kapoor then turned to Mark Butts to team up for the production design. They had worked together on several projects in the past that had gone well, and Raj asked him for a large lighting design and concept that would go with his vision of the show. Mark rose to the occasion with his concepts and was awarded the design. Raj says of the LD, “I love Mark’s lighting aesthetic. We have a great back-and-forth dialogue, and I’m learning so much. I want to get more involved with the production design of the show as well, so I’m really loving co-designing shows with a lighting director.”
Last November at LDI, Kapoor stopped by the Clay Paky booth and got a look at the new A.Leda B-EYE K20 wash fixture. He envisioned having a big block of these fixtures for Shania’s show. This worked out perfectly for Butts, already a fan of the fixture. He designed six large square truss pods containing 16 fixtures each. These Pods stretched across the mid stage of the roof and moved on programmable winches. The B-Eyes were certainly put through every function one could use in a wide variety of cool effects and chases. I never saw the same look twice with them. The pods were moved at opportune times — sometimes live, sometimes resetting their position in darkness. During the acoustic part of the show, when the band gathered downstage on stools, the pods flipped over backwards and lowered to the stage. Mounted on the back were various sized vintage Skypans. Old Mole Richardson scoop lights normally reserved for film shoots were set in a warm glow to accent the softness of the music. It created an industrial accent while the video wall upstage added to the scene by displaying what looked like an old train station or abandoned building.
Butts stayed with a design that called for huge blocks of the same type of fixture. Upstage and downstage he placed 10 identical 8-foot sections of Tyler GT truss in a row that contained alternating Sharpy washes and Mythos fixtures from Clay Paky. These trusses were cantilevered, and the air looked like a symmetrical wall of lights from below. The stage deck had more Clay Paky Sharpy fixtures lining the side perimeters as well.
Upstage was the true pièce de résistance of the lighting rig, the mammoth wall of Sharpys. Twelve individual vertical columns (torms) held 10 Sharpys each. These 30-foot torms hung in a row across a slightly curved overhead truss. In all, 120 of these Clay Paky fixtures made for a zillion different cool looks. The Sharpy torms were mounted to a structure that hung from SGPS/ShowRig Whirlygigs. These are special designed robotic winches that travel along a slightly curved truss and have the ability to move sideways, up and down or pivot 180°. On the back of each torm were 30-foot-high 5mm video tiles. The torms could spin around to become a video wall at any time. The Whirlygigs gave Raj and Mark a plethora of choices for each look in the show. At times there would be wall of video in the center and rows of Sharpys fixtures offstage of them. At other times, the video would split into halves with the light fixtures in the center being utilized.
Butts had two weeks of previz time prior to the actual two weeks of full band rehearsals. He locked himself in a room at the VER complex with David Mollner, another programmer, to start work on the grandMA2 full size console utilizing an MA 3D visualizer setup. VER supplied the entire lighting package for this tour as well as the audio and video. Mark explained the process. “Before we programmed a single cue on the grandMA2, Raj gave us a full storybook that contained his ideas for every scene/song in the set. He had control over the video screen positioning, truss trims, color schemes for songs. There was no guesswork on my end, he had a definitive plan, and we were able to dive right into work.” Raj adds to this by saying, “It was important to have everyone on the same page and for Mark to know what video content was being created and the colors we were thinking of, since this whole show has ebbs and flows surrounding certain highlights. I like to be super-efficient when I’m working and give everyone basically a map to work from.” This worked out perfectly for Butts, because he was able to program all of the video, riser and lighting truss moves directly into his visualizer, up to the seconds it took for the set piece to move.
Butts, a world-renowned lighting programmer for years, has certainly designed his share of shows. Designing a show of this magnitude wasn’t a problem at all, but stepping away from the console and having someone else program while he dictates took a while to get used to. He states, “I’ve been in the programmer seat when an LD starts instructing me how to program the cues he wants to see. It’s uncomfortable. I instinctively knew that I did not want to be that guy, so I chose to sit back and let the programmers set up the console and program their own way.” Butts had brought in lighting director Andre Petrus, a Nashville programmer, to program and direct the lighting for the tour. Unavailable for the initial programming, he took over programming duties from Mollner once full production rehearsals started up. Andre concurs, “Here I am, sitting in front of a great programmer, wondering if my own chops were good enough for Mark. I would be doing something, and he would jump up and say ‘Hey, wait a sec,’ and I would stop in my tracks, thinking I wasn’t programming what he wanted to see. It turned out that he wasn’t trying to tell me how to program a cue; he was just interested in seeing the keystrokes I used to get the look he just requested. Then, at times, he would subtly reach out and do something himself on the console that would just blow me away. On occasion, he would offer tips, and I learned a ton programming this show.”
"Learning to speak to programmers in a language they would understand was something new to me,” Butts declared. “Andre stepped up in a big way this time. His programming and directing skills are quite evident in this show. He’s just killing it. But it took me some time to develop a vocabulary to communicate my desires. I’m used to looking down and up constantly while I program, and never had to concentrate on explaining what I envisioned in words that someone else would understand.”
The lighting rig is composed of 97 percent Clay Paky fixtures. We asked Butts to explain how that decision came about. “I did not start out the design process thinking solely Clay Paky fixtures were what I wanted, but I can’t say I’m upset with the choice. I wanted big banks of the same type of fixture. We went with the B-Eyes as our wash/special-effects kind of fixture, because there are so many uses for them. What can I say about the Mythos, they are just fantastic fixtures. For the upstage wall of light, the Sharpys made the most sense. They are small and economically perfect for this application. The Sharpy washes fill holes, light scenery and could be used as key lights.” I will note that Mark had eight ColorBlaze 72 strip lights from Philips Color Kinetics on the floor working as a front wash.
Several vendors were contacted to get potential bids for their production services. In the end, VER was awarded the contract as they came up with a good, solid price for the lighting, video and audio needs. One of the things Mark requested was the final say in choosing the touring crew. VER offered up some names of people that were available. Angelo Viacava was chosen to assume the role of crew chief, and everyone is satisfied with the crew out on tour.
Kapoor is the producer of the show and chose to utilize his own company, Raj Kapoor Productions, to build the media content. He collaborates with Mark Allen, who works for him full-time, and is the art director for this show. Anything content-wise basically runs through Allen, but he never has to deal with the client. “All the creative ideas, budgeting, meetings I look after, but Mark deals with the day-to-day back-and-forth between the artists creating content. We do everything on a forum, so as the art progresses, the director, the artists and me are all on the same page and viewing the same comments. So everyone knows what the plan of attack is moving forward.”
All of the content was played back through the use of three d3 4x2 media servers. These were chosen because of the quick, easy way in which they could spit out multiple 4K media files into different video wall layouts seamlessly. Once Jackson Gallagher loaded the servers, he programmed them to be run from the same timecode the lighting guys utilized. This freed Jackson to be the video director, calling the camera positions and cutting the live shots. Besides having a couple of FOH camera positions, Gallagher made use of two roving handhelds, a jib and multiple robocams to capture the I-Mag images. He cut the camera shots through the use of a Ross Carbonite switcher.
The video wall itself made up a 40-by-30-foot (WxH) wall when all the tiles were together in one solid configuration. VER has exclusive usage of the new 5mm Revolution RS5 Outdoor/Indoor LED Display Modules designed to handle the rigors of outdoor and indoor use.
While the artist was occasionally displayed on the upstage video tiles, the camera images Gallagher cut were prominently displayed on three screens located high above the trussing downstage center. Angled directionally towards the audience the images were front-projected from Barco 20k projectors set up on platforms in the arena.
The stage itself is 60 by 44 feet (WxD) and contains plenty of bells and whistles. Assembled at the far end of the arena during load in, it rolls into place approximately four hours after the initial trucks are dumped and the lights, video and PA are flown out of the way. Supplied by SGPS/ShowRig (Show Group Production Services) out of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the stage has trap doors for various stunts from the lift utilized in the center of the stage, to the holes that open to reveal pyro elements to shoot out of. Both of these are utilized for the opening of the show as Shania enters the stage under some pods of light that were lowered almost to the ground.
One walks into the arena to see a giant red Austrian drape masking the downstage edge. Shania’s logo is projected on the front via a single Vari*Lite VL3000 spot. The only non-Clay Paky moving light fixture utilized on the show. As the opening music starts and the drape ascends, flashes of light accent the rhythmic beat. After a minute or so, the pods start rising out of a cloud of low-lying fog with lights emitting from the Clay Paky B-Eye-equipped pods. As they rise, a ribbon lift under the center raises the performer up simultaneously until she is a good 10 feet above the stage.
Downstage left and right are circular structures that allow the performer to get close to the side audiences. A long thrust extends out from center, with another circular platform at the end. The platform is made of Plexiglas, with eight Sharpy lights mounted directly underneath it. The outside perimeter of the circular platform spins while the artist stays in the center. Shania spends a large part of her set working the runway, and the crowd eats it up. Speaking of being out in front of her people, Shania spends a song being driven around the arena floor in an LED lit, Plexiglas shrouded chariot. Nicknamed the “Pope Mobile” by the crew, this elevated cart allows Shania to be seen and often touched by her audience as the seemingly invisible crew members and polite security usher the vehicle from downstage right to downstage left, via the front of house mix position. I watch as the crowd almost lifts the artist from her ride in desperate attempts to get a selfie taken with her. To my eyes, it borders on a harrowing experience, but the performer seems perfectly comfortable being close and personable with her public.
Speaking of getting closer to the audience, a visual highlight of the show happens when, out of darkness, the spotlights illuminate Shania as she is straddling a saddle downstage center. I watch as the downstage thrust transforms itself into a crane of sorts. As she starts her monologue, the arm of the crane raises her up high and starts to slowly take her on a 360° ride over the audience’s head. Butts chooses to let the lasers shroud the stage in all their splendor. As the only light source other than the spots and audience light (so the artist can view her fans while singing from the perch). Raj points out that, while he had the idea for the crane gag, it was Shania herself who asked “If I can’t have my horses on stage this time, maybe I can ride in a saddle?” Raj loved the idea and turned to Eric Pearce at SGPS/ShowRig who, after a lot of back and forth, made it all happen. The custom saddle was fabricated by Skyhorse Saddles out of Durango, CO.
The band themselves work on a series of different sized risers whose configuration changes effortlessly between songs. Driven by SGPS mobilators, the risers move robotically into pre-assigned positions on stage. The risers themselves are outlined with sexy LED tape, which is bright enough to make out the musicians’ shapes on the riser without fully illuminating them.
The Whirlygigs move the video and rear lighting wall into different configurations, forming a nonstop sequence of different looks on the stage. The video elements seamlessly take a new form of shapes, sizes and location for every song. At the same time, the midstage B-Eye Lighting pods have the ability to move into place. SGPS/ShowRig supplied the cable drum system that enabled the pods to move during the show. Each of the pods were connected by four points, so the programmers could manipulate the truss structure in any angle they could imagine. While the lighting and video are all synced together and controlled by intricate timecode, the moving elements are all controlled via computers by highly trained techs. They utilize the Raynok control system to operate and control the parameters of every move. Raynok Software is scalable and can be programmed to control a virtually unlimited number of axes while also monitoring all related I/O’s and the Emergency Stop System in real time. Christina Cohan mans the controls from FOH so she has a clean sightline to all the action as well as the emergency stop button that can be pushed at any time to halt all movement — something she has never felt the need to do on this show. She takes her commands from stage manager Steve Nimmer, who calls the show cues from his lair under the stage.
Special effects duties were handled by Pyrotek Special Effects’ Las Vegas location. Pyro played a predominant role from start to finish. Propane dragons were mounted under the stage decks, billowing out flame balls high into the air. Fluid operated flame projectors spit five-way streaks of flame in the air at times. Several perfectly timed gerb effects were shot from holes in the stage as well as the front of the band risers. Multiple confetti machines ensured the audience was pelted with the material at the end of the show. Low laying fog appeared at key moments in the show to add a mystical element to the stage look. At one point, the upstage video wall was closed in a solid configuration and the video content displayed rolling fog cascading down behind the performer to match the real life stage fog.
Pyrotek were also called upon for their expertise in the laser department. A total of 18 units were used on the show. Six high power 20W Kvant full-color lasers were placed around the corners of the stage. These shot major beams up into the rafters, avoiding the public’s eyes. The overhead trusses held 16 Pyrotek LDP10-AS series audience scanning full color laser projectors. Each laser projector incorporates the Pangolin Professional Audience Safety System (P.A.S.S.) controller to monitor and control all audience scanning effects as well as full diverging lens. This, along with their meticulous calibration and field measurement procedures, ensures both a safe and legal audience scanning show. PASS is recognized in the U.S. by FDA CDRH and throughout the world as a solid safety system for audience scanning. Pyrotek is one of a few special effects companies worldwide that can legally perform audience-scanning shows with an FDA CDRH Audience Scanning variance
The Austrian Drape is spectacular in that it is made up of three sections. This allows the rag to take on a shape of its own at times. For the acoustic numbers, the designers use the drape to transform the arena into a theater-like setting with a proscenium opening. The side drapes act like curtain legs, while the main drape across the apron is set at various heights to form a curved opening reminiscent of Radio City Music Hall’s grand drape. At one point, the rear video wall also displays the image of a well-lit curtain during a portion of the show. They cleverly have media that shows the faux fabric appearing to draw open to reveal another scene at the start of a new song.
In conclusion, the whole show never got stagnant. Each change in song brought about a fresh, often exotic look to the production. A talented staff of technicians, ensuring that there was never a dull moment to the show, tightly executed the stage transitions between numbers. The U.S. tour continues through this October, and it appears that everyone out there, from the artist on down, is having a great time on this show.
Shania Twain’s “Rock This Country” Tour
Show Director/Production Designer: Raj Kapoor
Lighting Designer: Mark Butts
Programmer: Mark Butts, David Mollner
Lighting Director: Andre Petrus
Video Director: Jackson Gallagher
Lighting Co: VER
Lighting Crew: Angelo Viacava (crew chief), Tyler Trofatter, Eric Marshall, Chris Lanning, Zach Svoboba
Video Co: VER
Video Crew: Patrick Eaton (crew chief), Michael Muscato, Eric “Austin” Stengle, Sean Green, Michael Boggs
Staging/Automation Crew: Chris Lohden, Shane Bandy, Andrew Johnstone, Will Gurski, Jake Murray, Christina Cohan, Mike Burgess, Tim “Squid” Fincannon
Pyro/Lasers: Pyrotek Special Effects
Pyro/Laser Crew: Gregg Pearson, Nick Zangari, Mark Jones, Brian Van Trigt, Amanda Pindus
Tour Manager: Chris Littleton
Production/Stage Managers: John “Bugzhee” Hougdahl, Steve Nimmer, Sean Robinson
Riggers: Danny Machado, Bob Powers, Rick Wilmot
Electrician: Carlos Oldigs
2 grandMA2 Full consoles
96 Clay Paky B-EYE K20s
52 Clay Paky Mythos
130 Clay Paky Sharpys
68 Clay Paky Sharpy Washes
1 Vari*Lite VL3500 Spot
8 Chroma-Q Color Charge Plus
8 Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72s
8 4-lite Moles
4 DF-50 hazers
1 VER Revolution RS5 5mm LED display (40’ x 30’)
3 d3 Technologies 4x2 media servers
3 Barco 20K projectors
4 Barco ImagePRO II
1 Lightware DVI matrix (16x16)
1 Ross Carbonite switcher
1 tvOne multiviewer
1 Brainstorm SR-112
1 Evertz multi-frame unit