In March, Todd Rundgren wrapped up a 25-date virtual Clearly Human concert "tour" focusing on his 1989 album Nearly Human. While each show was livestreamed from the same venue, Radius Chicago, an old factory converted into a live performance hall, the artist dedicated each one to a different city, starting at 8 pm local time, and talking to the target city audience as though he was performing live there. Each show featured a 10-piece band, and featured a livestream director and four cameras. Rundgren has said that the idea for a virtual tour initially came about because of concerns about climate change interfering with live events, for instance, wild fires or dangerous weather conditions. But when the pandemic brought everything to a halt it seemed the right time to investigate the idea more fully. Each of the two-hour shows were broadcast to ticket holders, and those who were prepared to pay a little extra to be in the "front row" were visible to Rundgren and the other performers who were able to get crowd reactions, albeit via video.
Live Design talked to lighting designer Hans Shoop about the challenges of lighting this virtual tour.
Live Design: How did you come to be involved in this project?
Hans Shoop: I have been working with Todd since 2009. When production manager Paul Froula called and asked if I was free to do the show, with the time frame being in the middle of the pandemic, I think he knew what my response would be.
LD: What were some of the ways the shows were designed to look "local"?
HS: Todd hand curated pictures from each city to insure the imagery reflected his view of the locality and production coordinator Alex Skowron edited each city's photos into a slideshow which played on the main video wall for the few live audience members and on the streaming countdown screen for the remote attendees. The slideshows ran from doors open until the 10 minute call, then the image changed to that of the proscenium of the “local theater “ for that night's show.
LD: How did you approach the lighting--as a broadcast event or a live event or a mix of the two?
HS: I was walking the knife edge a bit with this one. Todd’s main mandate was that it feel like a regular show for the band and those in attendance. Conversely a majority of the audience was going to be on the other side of the camera, and it needed to look good for them, or else this would be the last time we did a show this way.
I worked closely with Telecast’s producer Chris Anderson and director John Deeney to find contrast levels that were good for the camera yet still had all of the theatrical sensibilities that Todd imagined and desired.
LD: What did you do differently on this project that usually you wouldn’t do?
HS: As much as possible! I don’t want to get a “oh that again” reaction to my work. Each project innately has its own flavor, and personality, which drives the design into directions unforeseen. Certainly there are many elements that are tried and true, but they reside in the foundation, supporting the fanciful display on the exterior.
LD: Why did you pick particular fixtures?
HS: I really wanted to use the Robe Robospot Remote Follow-spot System for this show. My main idea was to keep Todd in a consistent three-point lighting scheme so his levels would be unvarying for the cameras. It also gave me direct control of his fade-ins and outs. Not having to put a human in the air [to operate the followspot] also made it possible for the fixtures to be placed at the exact position for the best angles of coverage. Wanting to keep that same quality of light with all of my spot fixtures, I used BMFL’s throughout the rig. They are bright, with all of the features needed to complete any key and scenic lighting task.
I also used Robe Spikies in two pods of 16 each. Their zoom range, color mixing, and effect selection gave me many tools for evolving the look of the show over the course of it’s two+ hour run time. We also used Clay Paky B-eye K20 for all wash light, and a handful of Sharpies for a mirror ball effect. SGM Q7’s under lit the risers and 16 - 40’ strands of festoon lights were houselights and audience bumps.
LD: Do you have favorites and workhorses that are you go-to fixtures?
HS: Generically, my favorite fixtures are fully functioning brand name units with fresh lamps. I am always happy to see Robe on the equipment list. I also like, (in no particular order) Vari*lite, GLP, Ayrton, HES, Martin, Elation… you get the idea.
Lighting production company Upstaging provided an immaculate rig, and their on-site lighting technician Nick Pishghadamian kept everything in perfect order with a smile on his masked face.
LD: What were the challenges/perks of a tour that didn't go anywhere?
HS: Not having normal touring transportation costs and labor for multiple ins and outs made much more of the budget available for production. I guess that is not much of a challenge, but I muddled through somehow! It was a joy to have the time to tweak the show on a scale of detail not usually available in the touring world. I could indulge in nuance, rather than beat-the-clock triage. I didn’t miss the airports one bit. There was no down-side!
In all seriousness, the big challenge was living in, and maintaining, the bubble we created to keep everyone involved virus-free during the two months of rehearsals and shows. Due to the diligence of all involved it worked Objective one achieved!
Photographs courtesy of Jim Snyder