U2’s Innocence + Experience tour stage and set, while scaled back from the band's 360 tour design, was still quite an undertaking for set designers Es Devlin and Ric Lipson of Stufish Entertainment Architects, all under the watchful creative direction of Willie Williams.
This time playing arenas and not stadiums, the band plays around and within a hugely dominant PRG Nocturne V-Thru screen—actually, two of them—catwalk, and B-stage, although Devlin notes it is less a B-stage and really three stages: "Ric designed the graphic for the tour logo, and the 'I' of Innocence made its way onto the rectangular stage while the 'e' of experience imprinted the circular stage," she says. "So they became known as the 'I' and 'E' stages, which is more appropriate, really in this case, than 'main' and 'b' because the band really do spend an equal amount of time on all three stages." The third stage is the divide, as it literally divides most arenas in half.
Tait built the stage and set for U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, with Aaron Siebert as its project manager, who has worked with Williams on multiple productions, including earlier this year on the kinetic chandelier build and installation at Omnia nightclub at Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. (Check out that incredible feat here.) His past involvement on U2, however, was usually dictated by his relationship with production manager Jake Berry over the past few years and shows. “I’ve been Jake’s point of contact at Tait for a few years now,” Siebert says, adding that he has worked with Berry and Lipson on a Madonna tour, in addition to other projects with Stufish.
Tait got involved with this tour in August 2013, after design meetings had been underway a few months, with preliminary build conversations and feasibility studies. Siebert and his associate, Stan Strayer, have been working on the project since then, incorporating more people as the project progressed. “Tait really tries to act as the general contractor on a show of this size, pulling in info from every vendor so we can understand the entire production," Siebert says. "There is a huge amount of interdepartmental play on this show which all had to be studied and adjusted to fit everyone together.”
Siebert’s team built the staging, including the main square stage with a bunker around it for backline and monitors, the 120' runway divide, and the “e” stage. The Tait team also incorporated a flip-up piano lift into the “e” stage as well as a custom built camera track running down the stage-right side of the runway. In the air is the custom billboard, which is actually a 100'-wide, double-sided video wall with built-in catwalk, lighting, and automation. Overall rigging design was also produced in coordination with John Fletcher from Five Points Production Services.
In terms of incorporating multiple visions, the show had a few different concepts during the development phase. “Working with Willie, Ric, and Jake, we would evaluate the logistical challenges and costs of each to help the artistic team achieve their goals while helping Jake make a show that toured the way he wants,” Siebert explains. “Everyone involved is an industry veteran, so there was a lot of back and forth discussion to come to agreements between the artistic intent and the reality of the venues and touring.”
The group hosted several meetings at Tait in Lititz, PA, to work through the show. At first these meetings involved the artistic team and Berry, while the final meetings included representatives from each department/vendor on the tour. The team also performed prototyping on key scenic elements, like the subway lights, making five or six different versions with a combination of diffusers and LEDs. “We had several rounds of laying it all out with Willie and Ric to play around and determine the optimal look,” Siebert says.
On bringing design into reality, Siebert comments, “There are always minor tweaks that are made to a show to fit into reality, like stage size to match floor space and on-sale drawing and fitting the band’s layout. The biggest challenge on this project has been the weight of the show with the billboard.”
Stay tuned for part 2.