“There is no real beginning to the design process for the Grammys,” admits lighting designer Jon Kusner of Full Flood, pointing out that the trio including him, production designer Brian J. Stonestreet, and lighting designer Robert Dickinson, frequently work together. “We follow each other around to many of the awards shows we design,” he says. “For the Grammys, the producer decides if there will be a new set, and we take our cues from that. Then there is a lot of energy put into what each act will look like.” The 58th Annual Grammy Awards were broadcast live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday, February 15.
Kusner adds, “In recent years, more acts show up with their own creative directors, who have an idea of that they want. If the producers are in agreement, we see how those ideas fit into the Grammy set and how much available air space there is, as there is a limit to the size of what can roll on and off or hang.”
The LDs start with a basic lighting plot that they hope can provide many different looks from a single rig. “We add what we can when it seems appropriate for a given act. If not, we shuffle our floor package of gear to hopefully give everyone a good specific look,” says Kusner. “We had a range of looks this year, from a simple look for Adele, who used a single 20kW Mole-Richardson fixture, compared to Lady Gaga, where there was everything from a robotic keyboard, tracking facial projection, and projection to mimic a 3D environment.”
When the live show in Los Angeles cut away to the Richard Rogers Theatre in NYC for the opening number from Hamilton, “the live audience watched several screens in the room,” notes Kusner. “Production was thrilled that the live audience was cheering at the screen at the Staples Center. We dimmed the stage and went to a video down look, so the focus was on the screens in the room.”
The biggest difference in this year’s lighting rig was the use of the new PRG Best Boy Ground Control Spots. “They were a giant success,” says Kusner. “We used six of them with the Best Boy fixtures. The operators were under the stage in a curtained-off room, so they wouldn’t be bothered, as everybody wanted to peek at them. The operators were thrilled. This is one of the most clever things that came along in the industry this year.”
For the Grammys, the real challenge is lighting 20 acts in a very short amount of time and give each its own identity. Kusner tips his hat to the show’s three programmers: Patrick Boozer (ETC Eos console), Andy O’Reilly, and Ryan Tanker (PRG V676 console). “They have to sit down and continue to change the music aesthetics for three and a half hours. Their job is ever-happening,” he says. “They are busy from the minute the show starts, reacting to the live circumstances. It is amazing the amount of music they are interpreting over the course of the show.” Check out the rest of the gear and credit list as well as lighting plot.
The duo of LDs—Dickinson and Kusner—have developed a shorthand after all the years they have worked together. “He has an overview of things while the rest of us pick up all the details,” explains Kusner. “It’s not a clean divide on this show, especially given the pace at which it all happens. That’s how Full Flood works so well; we have an experienced crew of people who fill all the slots.”