Carrie Underwood has been out on tour in support of her fourth album, Blown Away, which debuted at the top of the charts along with her single, “Good Girl.” The current 2012 tour has been so successful that it’s expanded into 2013 for an additional 40 dates in the U.S. and Canada. PLSN spoke with the tour designer/directors about this impressive show’s design, which complements Underwood’s rise as one of today’s most accomplished musical artists.
For more photos by Steve Jennings, go to www.plsn.me/UnderwoodExtras
Raj Kapoor, Director/Show Producer:
“For Carrie Underwood’s current tour, after I heard some tracks from the new album, it started to inspire me and brainstorm. The visual design this time and my inspiration was a jewel box. Carrie’s vocals always come first in any performance or tour, so I try and create beautiful and dramatic moments to frame her. I began my conversations with set designer Michael Cotton, and we came up with this idea of surrounding Carrie on all sides with visuals, which led us to our moving video screens idea. We wanted to have the flexibility of creating big, expansive looks and much smaller intimate looks in the same show. Michael created some great animated models of how we envisioned the video screens flying apart and moving back together. The big payoff was — I told him very early on that I wanted to place Carrie in a house and make it look like it actually blows away as part of the stage action.
“Peter Morse is an amazing lighting designer. I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him for a couple of years since I last directed the Dancing With The Stars tour. I spoke to Peter on the phone a few times and knew he was the right person for the job. He has worked with so many amazing female artists, and I think he really knows how to light women. It’s all about trying to find the right team of people to enhance your vision. I am very hands-on with lighting color palettes as well as a visual language I am trying to convey, and Peter had completely embraced this.
“For me, video is a major part of my visual storytelling. I think I am one of the few creative directors out there that helps design and produce all the video content for my shows. I have an amazing team of people that work for me almost full-time, from art directors, project managers, graphic designers, 3D artists, matte painters, director of photography, and editors. They know how I like to create videos that run the gamut from full environments and live action shoots to big motion graphic pieces. It is really important that my artists know how to design and create content that matches the accents and changes of the music, because, ultimately, it should be a seamless experience for the audience. The visuals should enhance and not distract from the performance. It is all about balance.
“The second part of this is when the video now gets interpreted by the lighting department. It cannot wash out the content. We need to use complementary colors. Sometimes, we need to pull one of the departments back to let the other one shine in a particular number. We go through the show and decide which numbers are more video heavy and which are more lighting focused to give us a nice balance and variety.
“Carrie’s management has created an amazing team of people to support her on the road. Tour manager Geoff Donkin and production manager Chris Coffie are two of the key people that keep her shows running so smoothly. They are so buttoned up and put so much care and effort into their jobs. They really treat every element as a personal extension of themselves, their client, and their professional experience in the business. There are so many returning crew members from previous tours, and it has become such a tight-knit group. Expectations are high, and everyone pulls their own weight. We have very strong relationships with some of our preferred vendors like SGPS and Nocturne/PRG, as they have gone above and beyond to give us the proper crew and equipment to bring the vision of our tour to life. Sometimes they have been challenged by all of us, but this particular group of vendors will work with us to come up with creative solutions to make our budgets and show production work. We are all very grateful to have vendors that care about the tour so much that they put in the extra time and effort for us and for Carrie.
“Carrie is an amazing artist. There really are no limits with her. She continues to blossom, and just keeps getting better and better. We want to keep things fresh and work with the most up-to-date technology and equipment. We like to challenge ourselves to create great moments for her so she can share them with her audience on the road.”
Peter Morse, Lighting Designer
“Raj (Kapoor) first approached me about Carrie’s tour last May. There was no question I wanted to be involved. We got to work right away, interfacing with Michael Cotten, the tour’s set designer. Raj, along with Rita Mae Bland, prepares very detailed scripts, which include renderings and general “show flow” — illustrating in detail every step of the show, including staging, lighting suggestions, scenic moves, transitions, etc. The flow of information enabled me to totally immerse myself in Raj’s concept for the show. The communication was clear every step of the way. There was little or no ‘second-guessing’ the creative decisions.
“Knowing Raj’s proclivity for intense video content, and viewing advance renderings of the multi-tiered/tracking video walls that were planned, I needed fixtures with high output — not only to “compete” with the output of the LEDs, but to cover some of the long throws necessitated by the multiple positions of the tracking walls. So the [Vari*Lite] VL3500 Wash, VL3000 Spot and the [Clay Paky] Sharpys were the obvious choice for the task at hand.
“This was my first opportunity to work with lighting director/programmer Brian Jenkins. To be honest, I was a bit concerned going in, as programming time would be short, and Brian and I, having not worked together prior to this project, would definitely need some time to establish an understanding of each other’s mode of operation and communication, similar to that which I’ve established over time with the programmers with whom I usually work. There’s no question we each have our own style of creating a show, and we had a very compressed time in which to find common ground. However, Brian is extremely competent and an absolute pleasure to work with. We had no problem communicating, and the process was an absolute pleasure. He’s an excellent programmer, and a great LD. Most importantly, he was open to accepting my ideas and concepts for visuals, and jumped right in “feet first” while also contributing some valuable ideas of his own.
“The Bandit crew was flawless. We had numerous issues that arose over rigging, patch, fixture relocation — all the normal issues that arise in a large production further complicated by long hours and too few days for prep. However, this crew jumped in, even after many sleepless hours, without any complaint, and kept things rolling with barely a delay. I couldn’t have been happier. I was determined not to send any fixtures “home” if spacial conflicts arose. Instead, I would relocate them. The crew was totally on board the entire time.
“The production level on this tour is as challenging as any I’ve been involved with in several years. And the artistic creativity of Raj Kapoor and Michael Cotten is outstanding. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m proud of the outcome.”
Brian Jenkins, Lighting Programmer & Director:
“My first time working with Carrie Underwood was in 2008, when Seth Jackson designed the tour and brought me in as a fresh face on her first co-headline and headlining tour. We had to integrate our rig with Keith Urban every few weeks, and then we’d break away for a couple of weeks and do our own seven-truck tour. The marching orders were pretty straightforward — ‘work hard, go above and beyond to do a good job... oh yeah, and don’t screw up.’ Five years later, I’ve managed to stick around!
“On her current tour, we pulled together very quickly. Because of the custom flying video elements, we were between a rock and a hard place. We ‘could’ jump into pre-viz, bang out the set list, and estimate where the screens would be, or we could keep Starbucks in business, put on our big-boy-pants, and program the show in five days with the real rig. We chose to go with the latter. In my mind I’m thinking, ‘Okay, my first time working with Peter Morse. First tour with the grandMA2. Fantastic!’ At rehearsals, the LED screens changed dimensions and positions due to weight, so I’m happy we didn’t cue out a show in pre-viz and then show up to rehearsals to do it all over again.
“This is my third time to work with Raj (Kapoor). I understand Raj’s workflow and the areas he concentrates most. He’s a talented show director with a great eye for detail in all areas (video, lighting, sound, special effects, etc). There has to be a harmony among all departments to understand and execute the big picture. Raj keeps that vision in the forefront, and the end result is a smooth-sailing show. I enjoyed the Programmer and Designer relationship with Peter, and I hope our work on Carrie leads to future projects together. It took a couple of days to get into a groove, understand each other, and translate Peter’s ideas and wacky finger/hand motions (those that know, know) into 1’s and 0’s in the console. By the third day we were in our zone and all jacked-up on coffee. Honestly, I had a blast. To see a designer going strong after all these years and to see him still get excited about cues and transitions, it was an inspiration to say the least. He’s tops!
“The core of the show has been the same since we moved out of rehearsals, but it’s taken some time to dial in all the detail. Namely, all those ‘Peter Morse’ delayed and fanned timings! For a while, I had the luxury of having less than an hour with the rig to focus everything, plus work on Raj+Peter+Brian notes. Now that we’re into a groove, I’ve been able to pick away at the stack of notes and make this thing shine. I have to give a huge shout-out to my hard-working crew from Bandit Lites that wrangles this bear every day and provides a 100 percent working rig. Billy, Chelsea, Sam, Adam — your work ethic, positive attitudes and endurance makes it an absolute pleasure to come to work every day!”
For more photos by Steve Jennings, go to www.plsn.me/UnderwoodExtras
Director/Show Producer: Raj Kapoor
Set Designer: Michael Cotten
Lighting Designer: Peter Morse
Lighting Programmer/Director: Brian Jenkins
Lighting Crew Chief: Billy Willingham
Lighting Techs: Adam McIntosh, Sam Morgan, Chelsea Opdyke
Video Content/Creator: Raj Kapoor
Video Director: Jason Varner
Video Crew Chief: Omar Montes
LED/Video Techs: Nick Keiser, Will Stinson, Mike Johnson, Justin Mclean, Jay Strasser
Tour Manager: Geoff Donkin
Production Manager: Chris Coffie
Stage Manager: Aaron Draude
Head Rigger: Ricky “Daddy-o” Baiotto
Riggers: Bill Heinzlmeir, Aaron Ford
Lighting Company: Bandit Lights
Trucking Company: Stage Call
Staging Company: SGPS
Rigging & Automation Co: SGPS
Video Company: Nocturne PRG
Tornado Special FX: Strictly FX
Props: Show FX
2 grandMA 2 Full-Size consoles
4 grandMA NSPs
35 Vari*Lite VL3000 Spots
84 Vari*Lite VL3500 Washes
68 Clay Paky Sharpys
16 Color Kinetics iW Blast Powercore
10 PixelRange PixelLine 1044s
2 Lycian M2 Short throw followspots
4 DF-50 Hazers
1 Grass Valley Kayak DD 1.5 ME switcher
4 PRG Mbox EXtremes
4 Grass Valley LDK 6000 cameras
2 Barco R30s
2 Christie 18K projectors
2 Rear projection screens (15’x20’)
648 V28 tiles
582 V18 tiles
3 Sacovision processors