For any of you returning from a two-year stint on the space station who haven't heard about Disney's High School Musical phenomenon, here's the 411: The first High School Musical Disney Channel Original Movie premiered in January 2006 and won an Emmy, spawned the Number 1 album of the year, the best-selling TV movie DVD, a NY Times best-selling novel, and has appeared in more than 100 countries, including an Indian version with a soundtrack rerecorded in Hindi. A stage adaptation (Live Design, February 2007) guarantees the show will be appearing at a real high school near you any day now, if it hasn't already.
Following the September release of High School Musical 2 this fall, Feld Entertainment unleashed three simultaneous tours of High School Musical: The Ice Tour. Dashing through both movies in less than two hours, the show could easily have degenerated into an impersonal herd of teenagers whizzing about, breathlessly aping the TV movie, but this design team worked to distill the action into distinct vignettes and create the visual space for both romantic ballads and rock 'n' roll ensemble numbers.
Led by lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, switching demographics here after a summer designing for reunited rock bands, the team includes scenic designer Jeremy Railton, costume designer Erin “Topaz” Lareau, lighting programmer Patrick Dierson, and Feld Entertainment's in-house army of technical crew.
Woodroffe's favorite moments from the show include some of the pas de deux between the two principal characters, Troy and Gabriella. “You have the pristine blank canvas of the ice as your backdrop, and we dapple the whole space with slowly morphing gobos and pick out the performers with followspots,” says Woodroffe. “The lights throw these dynamic and incredibly dramatic shadows onto the ice.” When there are more than two skaters on the ice, however, the lighting is a little more challenging, especially when they are moving quickly and wearing similar costumes, like basketball uniforms, for instance. “The challenge on ice shows is to light the performers clearly from three sides, while keeping the drama and magic of the piece, which is more difficult when there are 30 skaters on the ice,” the designer says.
Programmer Patrick Dierson elaborates on this topic. “We didn't have large prop costumes to light, like a big princess gown or giant costume Mickey Mouse head, so with 30 teenagers in modern clothing, the challenge was not to lose the principals,” he says. To avoid shadowing performers' faces, Woodroffe chose to hang the truss further out over the audience than in previous Feld productions to give the fixtures a lower angle. They also use house followspots intensively, Dierson says, “to drive the story along. It is almost as if each line of the show is accented with a followspot pickup.”
In addition to eight followspots provided by each venue, the lighting fixtures included 61 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200s, 17 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 575s, eight Martin Stagebar 54s, 16 Coemar ParLite LEDs, and 14 Coemar PinLite LEDs. The LED units were used to tone the set, and the wash lights flood the ice with jewel tones during musical numbers with a rock 'n' roll feel.
Woodroffe says, “For logistical reasons, the production didn't want any generic fixtures, so the whole rig was made up of automated lights from Clay Paky, and in retrospect, there is nothing we would change.” One big bonus the lighting team found using the Clay Paky Alpha Wash units was using the 12 rotating and eight static gobos that come with the fixture, as well as the animation wheel. “It was the first time we didn't have to specify an entirely new complement of gobos,” Dierson says. “Clay Paky has really answered the call. The Clay Paky animation wheel came into play on [the character Sharpay's big musical number], ‘Fabulous.’ We had a water ripple texture to create a swimming pool that melts into the bling of diamonds on the ice.”
The production needed only one custom-made gobo to create a baseball plate for a baseball game. To create grass, the designer lit the ice with a saturated green using Alpha Wash 1200 fixtures from above, then sidelit the skaters' faces with Alpha Wash 575s at shin-kicker height around the rink. Another challenging sports scene required the designers to highlight a basketball as it moves in slow motion. The ball was attached to a stick moved by the referee, and the scene was lit in blacklight to hide the stick and focus attention on the final seconds of the game ticking down to Troy's winning shot.
Because Feld Entertainment tours run for so long, the company owns its own equipment and supplied a Martin Professional Maxxyz console for the tour. Dierson says of the console, “It is perfect for this type of production as it has advanced features on it that are easy to use and easy to learn, so it is a good desk for Feld to have new operators work on.”
One incident highlights this ease of use. During rehearsals, when the lighting crew was not scheduled to come in, director Jeff Calhoun asked to have the lighting brought online, and an electrician was able to start triggering the cues by looking at the cue list and hitting the Go button.
Although all the lighting cues are triggered manually, the Maxxyz timecode feature triggers the video, with video playback on a Martin Maxedia. Samuel Doty, assistant manager of electrical operations for Feld, says, “We used the Maxedia because we had used it before on the Doodlebops tour, and it worked really well and was easy to use. The biggest challenge was getting the video and audio to sync up. We solved this by using SMPTE timecode on the Maxxyz.”
Video projection is via two Barco FLM 20+ 20,000-lumen projectors, and the content, created by Ilja Nowodworski at Feld Entertainment with Spark Video, serves occasionally as a kind of karaoke machine showing song lyrics. It sometimes evokes a particular setting and other times is a giant clock counting down the final minutes of a basketball game.
The video screen is placed above a rubber-floored deck that serves as another stage for the performers above the ice and is accessed by an elevator created in-house at Feld. Scenic designer Railton wanted to keep the production true to its Disney roots. “I wanted this magical look, so everything that has a scenic element is silver,” he says. Railton achieved this by spray-painting the aluminum set pieces silver and sprinkling them with a layer of very fine silver glitter so that lockers, cafeteria tables and chairs, and poolside loungers catch the light and sparkle just as much as any traditional Cinderella coach. “Patrick [Woodroffe] creates such beautiful looks that we just wanted to give him something to light,” says Railton, who had previously worked on ice for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Each element of the set is on Teflon skids or wheels so that it moves easily around the ice when pushed by the skaters, and most of the pieces are created from aluminum tubes that make skeleton lockers, pool umbrellas, or furniture lightweight and that won't block the view for the audience. The six high school lockers break up into singles and clip together again into a row using magnets so the skaters can essentially just push them into each other without having to clip or unclip them. “We tried to keep the environment really fluid, so you get the sense of moving around,” says Railton.
Emmy Award-winning costume designer Erin “Topaz” Lareau was a natural fit for a production geared toward tweens. She confesses that she still tries to dress like a 14-year-old herself. Lareau was also committed to maintaining the magical quality of the production, despite the modern costumes. “I used thousands and thousands and thousands of Swarovsky crystals,” she says. “I was always looking for the sparkle.”
For an artist who is known for her bling (Lareau designs custom-jeweled accessories and sculptures), she was limited to a very few pieces of jewelry. “Bracelets are out because the skaters grab each others' wrists,” she says, and any baubles that were applied to costumes had to be double- and triple-stitched so that they wouldn't come loose and cause an accident on the ice. The biggest challenge was designing for performers who don't remove their skates during any costume changes, so jeans and sports uniforms had to be taken apart and zippers hidden in the inseams. Although the designer scoured stores that cater to teenagers in the Los Angeles area, everything she bought had to be retrofitted to reinforce seams and replace regular metal zippers with plastic zippers that wouldn't rust when exposed to chemicals on the ice, not to mention the wear and tear of up to three years of touring. There are three touring productions, each featuring 34 performers. With costume changes and backups, that translates into around 250 costumes for each tour.
Although the color palette was largely dictated by the school colors (the Wildcats and cheerleaders wear red), Lareau tried to choose silhouettes and styles that would read well to a big arena audience. Because each tour needed to look identical, the designer found herself creating looks that would flatter one particular character played by three different skaters, one of whom is 5'3", another at 6'6", and the third who is right in the middle. “Even though everyone is athletic, there are a lot of different body types, and they all have to look good to a teenage audience,” she says. Lareau worked with wigmaker Mary Alexander to recreate some of the lead characters' recognizable blonde tresses and afros.
Costumes for Sharpay required the most reworking once the show started rehearsals, while the character scored the most bling with custom-made pailletes hanging off her dresses. “I searched the world for the biggest, shiniest ones I could find,” says the designer. In addition, the character's full skirts had to be cut down to accommodate her choreographed moves. “Sharpay's costume kept getting smaller and smaller so she could do all the tricks without having it fly up and smack her in the face,” says Lareau. It still catches her brother Ryan during their routines, but as Sharpay would appreciate, it is the price you pay for being fabulous.
DISNEY'S HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL: THE ICE TOUR EQUIPMENT
LIGHTING, VIDEO, AND EFFECTS
61 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200
17 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 575
8 Martin Stagebar 54
16 Coemar ParLite LED
14 Coemar PinLite LED
1 Martin Professional Maxedia
3 Barco FLM 20+ Projectors
2 LeMaitre Radiance Hazer
2 Martin Maxxyz Console
8 4-Channel Dimmer Pack
28 1-ton CM Chain Hoist
6 2-ton CM Chain Hoist
13 1/2-ton CM Chain Hoist
4 1/8-ton CM Chain Hoist
4 1/2-ton CM Chain Hoist
2 Shopstar Chain Hoist
1 48-way Motor Controller
1 16-way Motor Controller
5 Skjonberg CS-400
6 Skjonberg CS-800
4 Skjonberg Truss Power Distribution
1 Main Skjonberg Power Distribution