Pink: The Funhouse Tour
June 2009 Issue 118
Mark Cunningham & Louise Stickland head backstage at London’s 02 arena to get the lowdown on the creative vibe behind the fab funhouse production...
Alecia Beth Moore is a rock star and, boy, she’s knows how to get the party started. Known better by the masses as P!nk (the exclamation mark is well-earned), her latest tour and fifth album, both titled Funhouse, firmly establish her as one of today’s most spectacular live music performers.
Boasting an extravagant set designed by Mark Fisher and show direction/lighting by Baz Halpin, P!nk’s Funhouse is an action-packed visual delight from start to finish, complete with impeccable choreography and glittering costume designs... and even an on-stage pillow fight!
Much to the delight of her notably massive female following, the lady shows she has balls when she not only flies above the stage with the self-assurance of a circus trouper, but also tackles ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and comes out smelling of roses.
And unlike Bob Dylan, who we saw a couple of nights later, P!nk genuinely delighted in engaging with her audience at the O2 Arena on May 1. She’s most definitely a gal worth seeing.
Funhouse is production managed by Richard Young who scooped the Production Manager of the Year prize at this February’s TPi Awards 2009 after spending most of the previous year on the road with Radiohead’s green-conscious In Rainbows world tour.
Has the accolade made any difference to his career? “Yes, more people take the Mick out of me!” he laughed. “Seriously though, it’s given me more confidence and also something to strive for next year.”
Two years ago, Young was offered a festival tour by P!nk’s manager Roger Davies after three high-profile recommendations and was asked back when plans for the Funhouse tour gathered pace.
There were three sets of rehearsals. Band and choreography rehearsals in Sony Studios, Los Angeles for which a facsimile of the set was hired. After show programming at Bray Studios, the entourage moved to the Nikaia Salle in sunny Nice for a full three weeks of production rehearsals followed by a show.
Has he imported any of the pro-environmental standards that he put into action on Radiohead’s 2008 tour? “Apart from sensible things like catering department recycling there aren’t any specific green initiatives,” Young replied. “The P!nk tour is an opportunity to remind myself of previous methods and use it as a benchmark to see if we really did break new ground with Radiohead.”
One provider from the In Rainbows tour retained by Young is McGuinness Forwarding whose trucks now conform to the tougher Euro 5 requirements of lower emission levels. Meanwhile, P!nk’s bus supplier, Beat The Street has also upped the ante on its fleet emissions.
In contrast to the ‘obsession’ with LED fixtures on Radiohead, however, Funhouse is very much driven by more traditional means of lighting. “What we have here is a very exciting and dynamic rock show which is ultimately all about the artist,” said Young.
“So we have some practical elements to consider, such as big, bright lights to enable the audience to see P!nk at all times, and unfortunately the current LED technology cannot compete with the required brightness.”
Brilliant Stages, provided the spectacular staging from the ambitious designs of Mark Fisher of Stufish and, with lighting and show direction by Baz Halpin, the show was destined to be fast paced and exciting from the start.
Stufish’s Nicoline Refsing, who had worked with Brilliant Stages on Take That’s Beautiful World tour in 2008, contacted Brilliant’s Tony Bowern last December with the brief to prepare all for shipment by the end of January.
Brilliant Stages was able to design and build the set in just over a month in readiness for the tour’s departure in early February.
The set is based on a 1930s funfair for which Brilliant constructed a large, rear walkway edged with safety chains. Two metal slides lead from the walkway to the stage, forming a significant part of the choreography for the performers, along with zigzag access steps on either side for which the Brilliant team had to calculate intricate, precise angles and dimensions.
Video screens, supplied by XL Video, are located towards the back of the stage and supported by picture frames which were also the work of Brilliant Stages.
In the foreground, three risers are designed to look like ‘Waltzers’. “We achieved this by covering the front fascias of the risers with printed Scana-chrome, using artwork created by Nicoline, Mark Fisher and Ric Lipson at Stufish,” stated Bowern.
“The rails and waltzer edges were then powder-coated and distressed to create that old fashioned Waltzers-style and any further painting and distressing of the original artwork was carried out on-site by Jacqui Pyle.”
The fairground artwork also continued on to the floor vinyl and out along the walkway to the B stage, into which Brilliant Stages inserted two trapdoor-style decks. These were manually operated and lifted up to reveal a water tank into which P!nk is lowered on a trapeze.
Brilliant then created the huge heart-shaped bed with leopard-skin base which forms the centrepiece of several numbers, decorating the headboard with neo-psychedelic Scana-chrome artwork, and also supplied the unusual chaise longue.
“The chaise had to have holes cut through the back and base and be able to conceal several dancers who were then directed to put their arms through the holes to grope the singer!” continued Bowern.
Both chaise and bed were placed on castors with truck locks to facilitate fast deployment on and off stage and were upholstered by Karl Wilson of Elstree Drapes.
The whole was surmounted by a ‘FUNHOUSE’ sign rising above the stage and outlined with fairground lighting and LEDs.
Richard Young commented on his experience of working with Mark Fisher and Brilliant Stages. “I’d never worked with Mark and Stufish before, and it was quite profound! On one hand, Mark has such artistic vision and an acute sense of scale, but he also has a great understanding of what’s required from the budget.
“If ever we needed to trim certain elements for cost reasons, he came back with a set of practical options that retained the same visual qualities.
“It’s a fantastic looking set and the detail is amazing. Brilliant Stages are very good value for money. The set came in on time and it’s holding up very well on tour. I found Brilliant very flexible and willing to take onboard my input. It’s great to work with a company who listens to what you want, and then gives you what you ask for!”
Baz Halpin has designed P!nk’s lighting (supplied by PRG) and was effectively resident at the O2 Arena for four days in early May, with his other current client, Tina Turner returning to the venue — both artists are managed by Roger Davies and promoted by Marshall Arts.
The Coemar Infinity XL Wash appears to be Halpin’s lamp du jour. His rig also features Martin MAC 2000 Washes, Vari*Lite 3000 Spots, Atomic 3kW strobes with colour scrollers, PixelLines, 2-, 4- and 8-Lite Moles, ETC Source Four profiles and Studio Due Space Flowers.
Halpin also added some festoon drops — custom-made by Dave Smith at Specialz — to accentuate the show’s vintage look. The lighting spec is topped off by Lycian M2 truss spots and Xenon long throws, and operated by lighting director Trent O’Connor from a Martin Maxxyz desk.
Performer flying — by P!nk herself — is enabled by a winch system tech’d by Ian MacDonald and supplied by Stage Technologies through The Rigging Partnership. The responsibility was due to be handed over to a new company, Aerial Rigging Techniques, later in the tour.
Cameras, PPU, LED surfaces, media servers and projection for the European leg of Funhouse were all provided by XL Video UK. Video was always going to be an integral design component, for which the team wanted the contrast of both high and low resolution surfaces.
Upstage, a central section of 7mm F-LED flanked by two Barco MiTrix panels are masked by a scenic interface congruous with the overall edgy, off-kilter, carnivalesque ambience of the set and show. This creates an approximately 40’ wide by 15’ deep, six-part surface.
The light weight and high resolution pitch of the F-LED make it an ideal choice, this is the first show worldwide that the 7mm has been used on. The MiTrix sections are built as 6 x 4 panel frames, specially modified by XL Video to suit the shape of the fascia, complete with a custom cable management system devised to minimise the run distances.
Richy Parkin cuts the quintessentially quirky live mix, primarily sending it to four side screens, although it also appears across the onstage LED at strategic moments.
The account is project managed for XL by Jo Beirne and Phil Mercer, who commented: “It was a very brave decision by Baz Halpin and Richard Young to specify a brand new screen without even seeing the 7mm beforehand, particularly with a schedule as rigorous as this one — not only does it look right for the show, it’s also been bombproof!”
Playback content was created by Halpin and Olivier Goulet from Canadian company Geodezik. It runs for around 85% of the show and is all programmed into a Catalyst media server running on four layers, and triggered by Trent O’Connor’s Martin Maxxyz console. It’s treated and masked to fit the six different shaped screens via the Catalyst.
Ahead of the tour starting, Larn Poland joined Halpin and Goulet as video consultant, and together all worked on developing camera treatments for the show. These are very precise and designed specifically to reinforce the style and mood of the Funhouse narrative — an intelligently trippy journey into the unexpected and unconventional.
P!nk herself was also very involved in all creative elements of the show which wraps around her energetic performance.
In addition to the onstage screen, XL is supplying four side screens. The two downstage ones measure 16’ x 12’ each and are flown at 60’ high on their own trusses to cover the upper tiers of the arenas. The other two are flown side stage at 90° to it, covering the ends of the 270° format, each fed with a Barco R12+ projector.
BEHIND THE LENS
The cameras are five of XL’s Sony D50s. Two hand-helds are onstage and the stage left side of the pit, with one on track/dolly also in the pit, on the stage right side of the thrust — both hand-helds are with wide angle lenses.
Stationed at FOH is the fourth camera, complete with long lens, and the last one is a hot head clamped to trussing above the B stage, which covers all P!nk’s movements up and down the thrust and at the back of the stage. This gets some spectacular shots and adds a unique and totally different spatial dimension to the camera mix.
The camera treatments are all achieved using numerous inbuilt effects on Parkin’s Kayak 2.5 ME mixer, the feeds from which are then output to screen via the Catalyst.
Monochrome is used at certain points, specifically during ‘Sober’, flipping to colour — representing a burst of reality — when P!nk starts a daring acrobatic trapeze routine, after which the video reverts back to a dirty, flickering vintage image.
The mixer is programmed to do an overall film ‘field drop’ look with a subtle flicker to de-clean the images and introduce a slightly gritty, cinematic look to match the imaginative oeuvre of the show.
Other individual songs have their own special I-Mag look and feel, too. Engineer John Steele ensures that the cameras are calibrated to compensate for this, and to enhance the set and flamboyant costumes, rather than delivering clinical technical shots.
It’s a very busy show all round for the XL crew. The tight choreography means there are numerous cues that have to be spot on, and keeping up with P!nk who isn’t still for longer than a few seconds at a time, is probably the biggest challenge.
“Every show tests me and keeps me totally on my toes — it’s an extremely invigorating and satisfying way to work,” Parkin commented.
Concert Sound Clair is servicing the P!nk tour with Clair’s proprietary i-5 line array system, crewed by Aron Ross, Ben Byford and Andy Walker. While Chris Madden pilots the FOH mix with a Digidesign Venue D-Show console, Horst Hartmann is at the other end of the multicore, mixing monitors on a Yamaha PM1D with assistance from Simon Bauer.
The PM1D was the first digital console that Hartmann learned and it remains his favourite, thanks to its combination of reliability, audio quality and user-friendliness. “When I made the transition from using analogue consoles, I had all the usual doubts, so I approached Yamaha for some training and I found the transition very straightforward,” said Hartmann.
“I like the fact that it has enough physical controls, you’re not having to scroll through endless menu screens because you’ve got 200 channels but only 16 faders.”
Backing P!nk on the Funhouse tour is an eight-piece band (drums, guitar, bass, violin, two keyboard players and two backing vocalists) led by Jason Chapman, plus a troupe of dancers. On top of that there is both the main stage and a B stage in the middle of the audience, with an ego ramp linking the two. It therefor requires a complex monitoring set-up.
“P!nk is using both wedges and in-ears because she prefers to only have one ear in, although I do her mix in stereo and put it on the matrix in mono, That way if, one day, she decides she wants to use both in-ears then it’s all ready,” Hartmann explained.
“There are eight wedges for P!nk on the main stage and more on the B stage, plus sidefills for the dancers. It’s a very dynamic show and I have separate mixes in her in-ears and the wedges, I have to ride the faders for her mix throughout the show. The rest of the musicians have stereo in-ear mixes. I have to make occasional changes for them, but they’re not that drastic.”
With 110 inputs, 45 outputs and all the effects processing in use (no outboard is in the rack), the PM1D is certainly being given a workout on this tour. And because of the length and intensity of it, Concert Sound Clair has provided two DSP units with the console, A and B, providing 100% redundancy just in case. Should there be any problem, Hartmann can instantly flip to the ‘B’ brain and the musicians wouldn’t notice there had been a problem.
“It’s there just as a back-up and I’d be surprised if we had to use it,” said Hartmann. “The PM1D is incredibly reliable and the system is working absolutely fine.”
Although Richard Young had an existing relationship with Local Crew it was actually stage manager Brian Wares who recommended he use the company to source up to 80 crew (headed by Clint Stradiotto) at the busiest times.
Said Young: “We’re using Local Crew’s team right across the board for stage crew, catering assistance, production runners, fork-lift and vehicle drivers and more, having first brought them in at Bray Studios where there’s no on-site crewing affiliation.
“Working at the O2 you need a rigourous health and safety policy, as well as high training standards, and there was never any question about Local Crew’s ability to tick all of those boxes — they’ve been very professional.”
Other notable on-the-road crew include tour manager Nick Cua, tour co-ordinator/accountant Bill Buntain, production assistant Jil Aram, head rigger Dave Rowe, and backline techs Val Leiker, Michael Bernard, Mark Bennett and Tim Kennedy.
Catering is by Eat Your Hearts Out, travel is arranged by ET Travel and Bruvion, and freight has been handled by Sound Moves.
The Funhouse tour headed to Australia in late May where it will remain for a record-breaking 15 weeks. In Australia, video kit will be supplied by a combination of XL Video UK and its local Sydney-based partner company, TDC. Next stop will be the US and then back to Europe in September, when the tour will run through until late December.
Photography by Louise Stickland,
Mark Fisher/Stufish, Diana Johnson
& Mark Cunningham
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