As the summer concert season goes into full swing, it's routine for many artists to make obligatory appearances for brief tours that last five to eight weeks. These tours hit the expected venues, large and small, in the major markets, and they're done almost before they've begun.
That's not what Sting did for his Sacred Love tour. Instead, he took his show on a year-long, globe-crossing adventure. At press time, organizers had just finished re-tooling the American version of the show from earlier this year for a European invasion that began in April.
“Sting really likes playing these smaller venues, and he likes having the connection with the crowd that happens in a more intimate setting,” says Jim Gable, who, with his partner Ann Kim, created the video content for the Sting tour.
“Originally, I was told that the set needed to work in all kinds of different venues,”says set designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe Inc., Venice, Calif. For most acts, “other venues” might refer to the occasional garden center or even a small club. That wasn't the case for Sting. “This show needed to work in venues like a bullfighting ring in Spain to an old castle in Scotland,” Rodgers explains.
Making sure the show fit into all the venues on the itinerary wasn't Rodgers only scenic challenge. “You have to strive to do something new every time, but you also have to be aware that day in and day out, the road crew has to be able to work with your design, and you have to listen to what they're saying,” he explains.
After meeting with the road crew early on in the production, Rodgers made some revisions to his initial design and came up with a streamlined scenic concept that would fit into the venues easily, making life easier for everyone involved.
“It's a very simple set,” Rodgers notes. The major components include six risers, ranging from 4'×4' to 8'×8', as well as several fascia pieces on the risers and the trussing. “The fascias are done in a scenic technique that makes it look sooty and aged,” says Rodgers.
The most visually dynamic component of the production revolved around some ambitious LED walls.
“A lot of the Sting people were initially worried about having bright LED walls in small theaters, but I think once they saw how beautiful, subtle, and strong they were, as well as how they worked in the context of the show, I think we won them over,” says Rodgers.
During the theater portion of the tour, which ran earlier this year, there were three 8'6"×16" LED walls provided by Performance A/V. After the production re-started in Europe in late April, four new 6'×4'6" LED walls were added.
“With the addition of four moving video screens, we'll have a total of seven screens to which we can send seven different images,” Gable explains.
Performance A/V provided LED walls featuring 156 panel units from Lighthouse, Valencia, Calif.
“We like the Lighthouse panels because, in our opinion, you get a better image quality,” says Guy Benjamin, project manager for Performance A/V. “The picture is cleaner, there's better contrast, and better black levels.”
The Lighthouse panels also feature true 10mm pixel pitch, which the video team felt was important for the Sting tour.
“Some manufacturers promote virtual pixel pitch, but we think that's misleading,” Benjamin says. “Lighthouse doesn't use a virtual pixel pitch [which denotes pixel sharing] — what we have out with Sting has true 10mm resolution.”
The Lighthouse panels on the show are configured in a natural 4:3 standard-def video format. “For the Lighthouse 10mm screen, each panel is roughly 18"×25",” Benjamin adds.
The three large monolithic walls are four screens wide by 10 high, while the smaller, square panels are three wide by three high. “For the smaller screens, we're running the signal through a quad split, and then each of those quads goes to one screen,” Benjamin notes.
For the Sacred Love tour, Gable and Kim turned to preproduced video content to fill the LED walls. “We never spent all that much time looking at one piece, we always looked at the show as a whole,” Gable explains.
Gable and Kim, who have worked with Sting many times in the past, were given free reign when it came to content creation this time around.
“Sting doesn't need to see the final edit for approval,” Kim says. “He's very secure, but, in a way, it's actually harder than dealing with someone who tries to nitpick. It puts a lot of burden on us.”
To create the unique visuals that are a dominant part of the show, Gable and Kim used their knowledge of both Sting and his music.
“We tried to get into his head and understand where the songs are coming from,” Kim notes. The visuals include dance-inspired pieces, graphics-based numbers, as well as textural imagery. “For some of the songs, we use abstract imagery to set a mood for it, and have a living backdrop behind him,” Gable comments.
Some of their images include period poster propaganda for the song “This War,” as well as a picture of Nelson Mandela during the performance of the song “Whenever I Say Your Name.”
Gable and Kim approached classics like “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take” in a completely different manner. “We tend to take on a really background or textural role on some of his classics, because people already have visual ideas of the songs,” Gable says. The pair concentrated more on the new material, although they did try to keep a delicate balance in mind.
“We don't want to overpower Sting's performance with imagery that's too strong. We just want to enhance the mood,” Kim says.
The video, which is controlled by three NEV7.2 systems controllers from Diagonal Research, Thousand Oaks, Calif., has evolved throughout the tour. “We have more than one version of the show, and as the set list grows and changes, we can either create something new, recycle something we're not currently using, or simply leave it alone. It's an ongoing process,” Gable says.
For arena dates the songs that will have new video content include “Forget About the Future,” “Stolen Car,” and “An Englishman in New York.”
Although the video is primarily based around content, the theater tour did include a brief flash of IMAG material, as well, specifically for the song “Never Coming Home,” which features closeups of fingers on a piano and the neck of a guitar, courtesy of two Sony LS1P lipstick cameras — one on the keyboard and one on the neck of the guitar.
This was the only song that used IMAG during the theater portion of the U.S. tour, but things have changed for the current arena tour in Europe. “We're adding four remote-controlled cameras, and one front-of-house camera with an operator, which will be used sparingly through the show,” adds Gable.
When Sting returns to the United States in late June, audiences will get a surprise: a Barco SLM R10 projector and a new roll drop are being added to the production.
“The roll drop is made of three 32'×45' panels that play just downstage of Sting,” says Rodgers. “The front projection back bleeds in silhouette, and the roll drops rise, and he's front lit.”
For more on the design of Sting's American tour, see the May issue of SRO's sister publication, Entertainment Design.
Sharon Stancavage is contributing editor for Lighting Dimensions magazine, and has penned articles on a variety of topics for numerous trade publications over the years. Email her at [email protected]