Maxwell and Mary J. Blige Coheadline with Claypaky Scenius and grandMA2 Consoles

Courtesy of Paige Durborow.

Maxwell and Mary J. Blige are wrapping up their international King & Queen of Hearts Tour with a 24-date North American leg playing to packed houses. Daunte Kenner and Justin, the Production and Lighting Designers for Mary J. Blige and Maxwell, respectively, selected a large compliment of Claypaky Scenius moving head spotlights for the rig and grandMA2 consoles for lighting control.

“Because this is a co-headlining tour, it’s been a challenge for the creative department to create a design for two acts,” said Daunte Kenner, who heads DK Production Design in Chicago and has worked with Mary for a dozen years.  “Maxwell really serenades the audience with his sensual, classic approach while Mary is very energetic with tons of hip hop hits.  For such a diverse show where the lights and video are changing all the time we needed a very dynamic rig.  Although we share elements in the rig we worked very hard to eliminate duplicate screen and lighting positions.”

Justin, who heads Performance Environment Design Group in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is Maxwell’s longtime Production and Lighting Designer.  He handled the bulk of the drawing and CAD work factoring in shared elements and “must haves” specific to each artist.  Justin notes that while he and Daunte crafted distinctive shows for each artist they also met Maxwell’s mandate to “create a cohesive evening for the audience, the band, the production – everything had to flow.”

The design is based around six columns of ROE 7mm LED tiles on a tracking system; when they come together they form a cinema-aspect screen for a changing array of video content.  Maxwell prefers to use live action imagery, a lot of it shot and edited during rehearsals by Jules Schratter with help from Brandon Carter, while Mary opts for very colourful graphical content mostly created by Tyler Denges of DK Production Design.  The screen also showcases IMAG from live camera feeds and camouflages set changes.

Seven vertical lighting torms of the same height as the LED columns fill in the gaps when the columns are spaced apart.  Colours from the video content could be mapped across the lighting on the torms via the media server.

Upstaging, Inc. in Sycamore, Illinois supplied the North American leg of the tour with about 60 Claypaky Scenius fixtures and a pair of grandMA2 full size consoles.  “Scenius has been very popular and very busy since we purchased them,” reported John Huddleston, Director of stage and lighting services. “Scenius seems to have struck a chord with lighting designers looking for all kinds of things; they like their size, intensity and feature set.  They’ve fallen in love with different aspects of the light.”

Both Justin and Daunte were new to Scenius when they were introduced to the fixtures in Europe.  “We liked the specs, tried them in rehearsals in London, and we both loved them,” Daunte recalled.  “I’ve been a Claypaky fan for years, and Scenius hit all the bullet points for what I want in a fixture this size.  The zoom range is impressive, and it has Claypaky’s signature crisp optics.  Typically, when you use an animation wheel in conjunction with a gobo you expect a bit of fuzziness in the focus but that’s not the case at all: When you use saturated colours you don’t significantly lose output – the saturated colours still perform.  And Mary is all about saturated colour. The ability to use Scenius for saturated color and still get the output we do from it is amazing.”

The complement of Scenius fixtures comprise the biggest single brand of lights on the tour. Three Scenius are mounted on each of the seven torms where they are “very fast, very agile and maintain their brightness with colour,” said Justin.  “We have 18 more on three straight overhead trusses where Scenius gets to do everything it can; we really maximise the versatility of the fixture.”

Another dozen Scenius are in changing floor positions. Justin uses them “for everything from audience to band lighting.”  Daunte likes to dedicate six as sidelights and six as backlights. “With their zoom range they’re really good at this,” he said.

Upstaging also provided two grandMA2 full size consoles for lighting control.  “It’s my console of choice,” said Daunte. “It offers many options for our team’s workflow, specifically the ability for several programmers to work simultaneously.”  Daunte and Brandon J. Clark programmed the majority of Mary’s show at Creative Spaces in Chicago; Johannes Versloot came on board in London for additional programming and clean up.  Joe Bay of Earlybird Design programmed Maxwell’s show with Lighting Director John Da Costa.

“The grandMA2 full size is the industry-standard today,” noted Upstaging’s John Huddleston.  “It’s the choice of 90% of the professional tours we supply.”