Chris Werner: Q&A on TAP: The Show

Chris Werner designed the lighting for TAP: The Show, at Hersheypark in Hershey, PA, which won a few trophies at this year’s IAAPA Brass Ring Awards last November: winner of The Heartbeat Award and runner-up in it’s budget category for Best Overall Production. In all, Werner lit five of the 40 shows that made it into the finalist level for their individual budget categories... Live Design chats with Werner about his lighting design for TAP: The Show:

Live Design: Please describe the overall lighting concept and relation to the scenic design. Where is the show within the park?

Chris Werner: TAP: The Show was one of Hersheypark’s brand-new, exciting summer productions. As described on the park’s website, TAP is “an explosive celebration of everything that is the artistry of Tap Dance….” The show is presented in the Chevrolet Music Box Theater—a 900-seat, proscenium-style performance venue. The theater has a 40’ wide x 30’ deep stage with 23 single-purchase linesets. During the peak summer season, two productions are presented in this venue, totaling between five and eight performances per day.

LD: Can you talk about the scenery and lighting design?

CW: The scenery for our show consisted of a large rear-projection screen (forming the upstage boundary of the stage), a full-width platform (creating an elevated, upstage playing space—in front of the screen), two portals, several wagons, and a series of full-stage drops. The lighting design features a predominantly “conventional” rig of ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals and PARs. Essentially, a rep-plot had to be created for the venue to accommodate both productions and the occasional special event. Within this rep-plot, there were systems of show-specific fixtures, intended to enhance an individual act or song. Between the two shows, fly space was eaten very quickly. Our overhead real estate became very valuable. After solving a complicated puzzle, we were left with a total of six over-stage electrics, including two which were upstage of the RP screen. All lighting is controlled by the venue’s Whole Hog 3 and is synchronized with the audio and lighting by SMPTE time code. The venue is equipped with a lighting package supplied by a fantastic local lighting vendor, P.A. Audio & Lighting.

LD: What was in the rig and why, which fixtures were the workhorses and how?

CW: The proscenium and an upstage portal were lined with light boxes (equipped with Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove QLX). These color-mixing fixtures allowed us to clearly define and establish a color palette each segment of the show. We got a lot of mileage from these Fixtures— using them to punctuate musical moments, emphasize the rhythm, and create a “big look” which matched the projection content.

LD What about use of color, movement, gobos, etc.?

CW: In preparation for our cueing sessions, we constructed a series of “rules” related to color, texture, and movement for each segment of the show. In its simplest form, our show began with a very warm/sepia color palette and utilized heavy sidelight, heavily frosted wash fixtures, and no texture or movement. Throughout the show, elements of color, texture, and movement were systematically added. We transitioned from a warm “old-school Broadway” feeling to more modern, hard-edge, vibrant looks with each segment having a distinct color palette and stylistic approach.

LD: Is there a special moment lighting-wise that really stands out for you, and what do you think wowed the judges?

CW: There is a simple power-failure gag early in the show, which is a synchronized event involving audio, video, scenery, and lighting. Upon the restoration of power, there is a change in musical style and the lighting has more color than the previous scene. While this “trick” is hardly new, it comes across as a very successful change in mood. It is one of those times where the collaboration of all departments makes for a nice moment. There is a soft-shoe number which features shadow-play between performers on both sides of a drop. The early part of this song stands out as one of the moments where it is clear that this production is all about the performers —VERY passionate and talented performers, at that. No flash-n-trash, just a couple of great dancers and a few MR-16 fixtures.

Associate designer/programmer for the show Christopher Ash notes: “For a theme park show you have to constantly engage the senses. Take them on a ride so to speak, and finish with a bang. The design that Chris Werner provided allowed for us to really charge up the action, and then shift down into something more complex, subtle, and theatrical, and then come right back at you with a dynamic color shift, and kinetic beat change that could build upon itself. It's a challenge to keep a show growing when it has to be active all of the time. The rig really allowed us many levels, and qualities of light…

“There is a slow, and magical duet during "Imagine" during which there was a magic harmony between the performers, the lighting, the projections, and the music that really came together. It never failed to awe people when we’d fade in seven moving lights focused into a pin spot on a static mirror ball in the house, and everything around you fills with stars. It's simple, but its magic.”

LD: What are the challenges working in the theme park environment?

CW: Some of the challenges are a bit entertaining. For example, occasionally, during a rare, silent moment in the show, you can hear a roller coaster rumble by. Also, TAP: The Show shares a performance space with another production—Rock The Jukebox. One of the major challenges that our entire production team faced was making both shows look, sound, and feel different even while sharing the same venue, same lighting package, and some of the same scenic elements. In addition, the tech schedule is a bit tighter than most cue-intensive productions. Typically, for these theme park shows, we have about one week to focus, program, rehearse, tweak, and open. While not the case with TAP, often, we are working against the “other” shows in a venue. Our tech rehearsal/programming time is shared with actual performances of another show. It was under those conditions that Rock The Jukebox was mounted and most of the projects I have lit at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

LD: What about once the show is up and running:

CW: Once in operation, the busy show schedule makes maintenance of the equipment a bit complicated. On most summer days, there are two crews running up to eight performances with very little time between shows. This doesn’t leave much time to repair a color scroller, or change the lamp in a moving light. Despite this challenge, the crew did an exceptional job keeping the show looking great. While not unique to this production, schedule/location posed quite a challenge. Changes in the schedule on a project which I was working on in Shanghai, prevented me from being at the opening of TAP. A few weeks before opening, Christopher Ash took a more primary role than originally planned for this project. Without me present, he began building rough cues based on the previously mentioned “rules” about color, texture, and movement. He then sent me videos and photos of sections of the show— on which, I would return comments. I would also Skype in to watch a full run once per day. We developed a surprisingly efficient method of sharing information even while separated by over 10,000 miles and with the complication of a 12-hour time zone difference. I have had a long relationship with the executive producer Matt Davenport and the writer/director Scott Seidl. They put quite a lot of faith in me, and the team that I assembled. It was really an honor that they trusted me to pull off a show like this even when they knew that I wouldn’t be in the building.

TAP: The Show

Production Team:

Executive Producer - Matt Davenport

Producer - Alan Stein

Writer/Director - Scott Seidl

Music Director - Victoria Venier

Choreographer - Mike Minery

Scenic Designer - Jeff Hall

Lighting Designer - Chris Werner

Associate Lighting Designer - Christopher Ash

Assistant Lighting Designer - Julie Streeter

Production Electrician - Nichole Perini

Costumer Designer - Cody Ratliff

Video Content Creator - Brian Hilligoss & Fred Blurton

TAP: The Show highlight reel posted by Matt Davenport Productions

Selected Lighting Gear List:

10 Barco High End Studio Spot 575’s

10 Barco High End Technobeams

200 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidals

130 ETC Source4 PARs

60 Wybron Colloram Scrollers

2 Lycian 1.2k Followspots

100 Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove QLX

16 Custom 16-channel PAR-20 Blinders

4 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobes

1 ReelFX DF-50 Hazer

1 High End F-100 Fogger

1 Martin Jem Glaciator Xtreme Low Fogger

1 High End Whole Hog 3 Console

2 DLP Projectors

1 Alcorn McBride Digital Binloop HD

Related articles:

A Night At The Opera

Q&A Bob Dickinson

Suggested Articles:

Find out what's happening in DC for economic relief

A.C. ProMedia is pleased to announce the appointment of Franck-Olivier Fabry as Vice President of Sales.

Vote for the most outstanding projects of Design Achievement Awards to determine the winners in Theatre, Live For Broadcast, and Concerts & Events.