Audiences of the new musical version of the 2000 movie Billy Elliot are taken back to a time in northern England in the mid-1980s when the country's coal miners were on a tumultuous strike. “It was the closest England has come to a civil war in modern times,” says the show's LD Rick Fisher. Kind of a dark subject for a musical; luckily, the show focuses on the plucky protagonist who, against his father's wishes, ditches boxing gloves for toe shoes.
Having a show centered on a kid who's gotta dance is not all showbiz razzle dazzle, according to Fisher. “We wanted to create a believable world on stage,” he says. “Scenically, the main setting is the miner's welfare hall where Billy takes his boxing and dancing classes. It fragments and reappears and is in the background for the whole story, even as part of Billy's house. It was our attempt to keep the show gritty. If we lost the grit and went too glam, we felt we would do a disservice to the story.”
Grit aside, there are a fair amount of showbiz dance numbers, but rather than being typical, arms-in-the-air showstoppers, they are derived from the characters' own desires. These numbers were the most challenging for Fisher, as his sidelight positions were limited by the omnipresent set. However, he came up with a series of ladders — four per side — that go up and down as needed. The ladders are ganged together and, in an ideal world, Fisher would have preferred each one to be individually motorized, “but the budget wasn't there,” he says. Each of the bars holding the ladders weighs 2 tons and is driven by a 40kW motor controlled by an AVW Controls Impressario console.
One of the big numbers occurs at the show's finale, which was originally just Billy saying goodbye as he leaves for London. However, there needed to be something that would lift the audience's spirits. So instead of big flashy letters that spell out “BILLY” Las Vegas-style or heaps of neon, the stage is filled with dancing people of all shapes and sizes. Coal miners in tutus need the proper sidelight from Fisher's ladders, each of which is fitted with a Martin MAC 600, an ETC Revolution™, and ETC Source Fours®. Fisher also relied on the punch from VARI*LITE VL3000Q™ Spots and Washes, and he was keen on their color temperature as well. “They're the backbone, and they're great units,” he says. “They're bright and flexible, and their tungsten correction is pretty good.” He added that the original rig had 92 moving heads, but that was reduced to 72. “I exploit them pretty well,” he adds. “I'm happiest when I'm editing.”