Broadway Bares, now in its 16th year, has grown into a production large enough that it rivals many Broadway shows, yet it does it all on donations, volunteers, and goodwill. Created by Jerry Mitchell, the event has become one of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS' (BC/EFA) signature events. The show combines the risqué aspects of burlesque and the razzle-dazzle of Broadway and has been a growing success since its inception in 1992.
For the second year in a row, lighting designer Philip Rosenberg lit the Broadway Bares fundraising event, which took place at Roseland Ballroom on June 18. This year's theme was New York Strip. Rosenberg explains that the show was “a dance concert of 200 actor/dancers that came together under several different choreographers; each number was its own short story that this year centered around some New York City theme and always involved nakedness in some form.
“I like to pay special attention to what the choreographers are asking for,” says Rosenberg. “The most important part of the design process for me is when we all sit down at a table together. There are nine choreographers, and we go through the show, number by number. We play the song, and each choreographer will describe his or her number and talk about the costumes. We talk about a color scheme they would like to see or any kind of special needs they have for their number.” Rosenberg's design approach is based on the style needed. “It is a combination of club and dance lighting with Broadway lighting, and it has got to be high energy,” he says. “There are some numbers that have to be beautiful, there are some arty numbers, and there are some hip-hop numbers. It is just a combination of all kinds of things. The plot is almost entirely moving lights with a couple of conventionals here and there, so I have unlimited flexibility.”
“One of the biggest challenges with the show is that it is a big show, and there is just not a lot of time to do it,” says Rosenberg. “The choreographers don't ask for anything that is beyond reason, and the venue does not really pose any problems, except with limited power. I had designed a rig that required more power than what the building could handle. I had to trim it down a little, but it certainly did not affect the outcome at all. I had an upstage truss that was covered with Vari-Lite VL5s, and we had to cut that and change it to LEDs, because of the power issue. Darren DeVerna [president East Coast operations] at PRG had been unbelievably generous with their equipment, and they were so helpful when we ran into that problem. He was so ready to help solve the problem and give us the LED strips, which was great.”
Rosenberg's other major concern was time, or the lack thereof, so he turned to Prelite for previsualization support. “Using Prelite, to me, is an interesting solution to the challenge of not having enough time. Prelite was great for this project because our time in the venue was limited. We could get some very accurate focus points laid out and some rough cueing done. By being able to have a day in the Prelite studio, we virtually tripled our programming time. Without Prelite, we would have been much more behind schedule than we already were. It was also a great time to get familiar with the rig, so we were already warmed up by the time we got to Roseland, and we hit the ground running. We learned last year to not spend a lot of the time with color and gobo; this year, we focused on preset focuses and cue structure, and it paid off.”
Besides the generosity of people with equipment or studio time, Rosenberg is always taken with the generosity of people's time. The Broadway Bares event has the best crew in town; in fact it draws most of the crew in town — Broadway stagehands who, in addition to working on their own shows, pitch in to make the event come off like clockwork, according to Rosenberg.
“Jimmy Fedigan was the production electrician with Dan Coey as assistant production electrician,” Rosenberg says. “When I walked in Saturday morning last year of load in, there were like 50 Broadway stagehands — the best electricians in the business — standing there with Jimmy. They volunteer so much time, including the guys in the shop. It's really, really incredible. There are also three followspot operators that donate a huge amount of rehearsal time. They all have regular shows over the weekend, so they are available for the Friday afternoon load in. They are there for the Saturday morning load in, and then they go do their matinees and evening shows, and they come back Sunday morning for a dress rehearsal. The same is true with Tim Rogers, who programmed it both years for me.”
Rosenberg was again assisted by Patricia Nichols. “She is there from beginning to end,” he says. “She is very helpful.” Another person who made Rosenberg's life easier was Mahlon Kruse. “Mahlon is a stage manager on Spamalot. He is a very good stage manager, and he loves to call followspots. So he always calls spots. He has shows all weekend, but he comes and puts all the time in.”
Rosenberg was “happy with the end results. Truthfully, in the end, it is about people being there and having a great time. Everyone was pleased. The choreographers and Broadway Cares were pleased. That is important to me. I think that it is an amazing event. I am so honored that they have asked me to do it two years in a row, and I am just proud to be a part of such an amazing event.”
Rosenberg's design was well received, and the entire event paid off for the charity. Broadway Bares 16: New York Strip was a roaring success with a record-breaking $659,500 raised to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.