Stomping The Planet

From the moment audience members enter the newly opened, $28-million Stomp Out Loud Theatre at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, their senses are bombarded. The 1,500-seat theatre and lobby are decorated with a mix of objects, including street signs, license plates, neon lights, slot machines, and whatever else environmental designer Michael Brown and set designer/production supervisor Mike Martin could get their hands on to facilitate the largest version of Stomp ever produced. With an 8,000-sq.-ft. lobby and expansive walls in the auditorium, they had a vast canvas with which to create a visually dynamic and experiential design.

“We wanted to re-imagine the audience's sense of space in a city that is predominately not a tactile, human-scale experience,” Brown explains. “Setting this new production of Stomp in Vegas, the creators [Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell] wanted to create a narrative transformation between the casino gaming floor and the found-object world of Stomp.”

McNicholas says, “Over the course of its 14-year history in the US, Stomp often performed in Las Vegas as part of its North American touring, but it was only when the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino offered us the opportunity to revisit and reinvent the show within its own environment that we felt the time was right for a new Las Vegas version of the work. Stomp Out Loud expands and explores new routines and new choreography, while remaining true to the original concepts.”

The philosophy behind Stomp Out Loud is based on the inherent musicality of found objects and how those objects can be reconstituted with new purposes, both visually and functionally. Lighting designer DeAnna Fitzgerald worked closely with Brown and Martin to create the “jungle gym” atmosphere and have the biggest variety of ingredients possible. Calling the overall feel of the lighting “beautiful in its simplicity,” Fitzgerald explains the philosophy behind her design: “Though this version is its own creation, the philosophy has always been a beautifully simple one: put the rhythms first and show people that you can make music out of anything. In the context of lighting and re-creating the show for Las Vegas, it was important to create an exciting environment that still feels organic and faithful to the music.”

Coordinating the installation of 30,000-sq.-ft. of found-object décor into a lobby and theatre space while architectural work was ongoing was the biggest rigging challenge. “Ninety percent of the environmental design for Stomp Out Loud is centered on these found objects being used in new ways, so everything that was installed necessitated extensive rigging safety,” Brown explains. Martin designed a drop system for the flying props, with a winch system provided by Fisher Technical Services.

“The show was being created at the same time it was being designed and built, so we had to be as flexible as possible during both the design and construction,” Martin says. “Often, we ended up scrapping or revamping things during the rehearsal process.”

The process of lighting an environment with so many objects was definitely one of Fitzgerald's biggest challenges. Parts of the set were created daily, and then as each piece was close to being finished it was lit. And this happened without anyone knowing where each piece would fall in the order of the show. Some pieces would look great when first lit, but later when placed in context, the lighting wouldn't work as well and the process would have to start over. “It was a wonderful exercise in being flexible and not too attached to your creation,” Fitzgerald says.

The other big lighting challenge involved getting good sidelight angles. “I tend to like to use sidelight as my workhorse, especially on a show like this where shapes and forms are more important than faces,” Fitzgerald explains. But the set is completely closed off on the sides, so angles like that were difficult to achieve. “In the end, we were able to do some creative squeezing of lights into the set, but, of course, I never have as much as I want,” she notes.

Despite being an extraordinary production, the lighting setup doesn't use much out of the ordinary, Fitzgerald says. “The Vari-Lite 1000s were our savior in the sense that I had no idea where specials were going to be until I needed them. Being able to dial up a special quickly, as the pieces were being staged, was a critical part of being able to get the job done.”

Apollo Smart Color Scrollers, used on PAR64s for stage washes, and Color Kinetics ColorBlasts, used to color and silhouette the stage elements, also allow for varied looks at a moment's notice. Additional lighting for the stage includes ETC Source Four ellipsoidals of varying degrees, Source Four PARs, four-circuit Altman Ministrips, and Castor Bambinos 2kW Fresnels by Strand. Dimming is via ETC Sensor+ touring and installation racks, and lighting control is an Obsession II console. Lobby lighting includes an ETC Express 24/48 console, Source Four PARs, PAR20 birdies, and a Sensor+ touring dimmer rack. Show lighting gear was supplied by PRG, with house equipment installed by 4Wall.

“One sound challenge with this show was the mic positions,” notes sound board operator Kristofer Nilsson. “The floor of the stage is where most of the show takes place, and the way we mic it is by area or zones. There are three Sennhieser hyper-cardioid shotgun mics on the downstage edge of the stage and two super-cardioid shotgun mics on each side of the stage. On older Stomp shows the floor was much smaller and the set was not as elaborate as the one we have here in Las Vegas.” Because of the set on the Vegas show the mics could not be placed upstage, which is why there are two on each side. Having the mics on the sides of the stage decreased the amount of headroom drastically after many weeks of trial and error.

Sound gear includes a Yamaha PM5D console, Yamaha AD8HR, and Denon T645 CD player, and DN-M1050R Mini-Disc player at front of house; DSP is via XTA DP224s, Nexo NX242, and Meyer Sound S-1s and M1As. Nexo Alpha and L-Acoustics dV-DOSC comprise the main PA; amps are a variety of Crown Macro-Tech amps. Rounding out the PA are Meyer CQ-1s, UPA-1s, and MSL-2s for fill. Monitoring is accomplished with EAW SM200s and JF80s, and Meyer Sound MSL-2s; mic models range from Sennheiser, AKG, and Beyerdynamic.

“There is something about the warm feeling of the Nexo Alpha system that makes everything in Stomp Out Loud sound so much more colorful. You have to remember that the sounds are not your normal guitar, bass, and drums, but toxic waste barrels, cardboard boxes, sweeping brooms, and trash cans,'' Nilsson observes. “When we first got in to the room we noticed that the acoustics were really dry. The sound was absorbed very quickly. In any other case you would want a dryer sounding room, but we wanted a much livelier room. We had to take off all of the acoustic panels off the back wall. For under the balcony we added a small center cluster that just covered under the balcony.''

Stomp Out Loud performs in the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino Thursdays to Tuesdays at 8pm.

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