It used to be the supreme insult to a stage show to grumble that "people walked out humming the scenery."
But today, with a new wave of large-scale shows hitting sports arenas such as our Wells Fargo Center, immersive scenic effects are a major bonus. Digitally wrought, the imagery fills the hall and takes the show to your seat. This immersive form of performance art draws in viewers and gets you humming in the best way.
And there's more coming soon, in two big-reach family shows. The last ever appearance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and then its arch-nemesis Cirque Du Soleil will amp up the WFC with eye-popping scenic effects and technology that make all the arena a stage and all the spectators (gladly) players.
As top-of-mind show builder for everyone from Taylor Swift and Beyonce to U2 and the Rolling Stones, Tait has seen touring concert productions evolve "from performance to event," Davis said in a call from his Lancaster County HQ. "Now it's evolving to the next level, becoming the experience. It's spreading the visual landscape over the entire arena . . . creating a unique environment that reinforces the music full time."
While the Chili Peppers show is still seasoned with seriously funky rock star tunes, moves, and big screen close-ups, what's new is the 3D kinetic light installation. Working the magic are more than 1,000 custom-built Tait Nano Winches - small but strong, LED-lighted floaties that hang in a grid formation above the heads of the audience, from the stage apron to the back of the arena floor.
Capable of rising, falling, and moving sideways at speeds from a snail's pace to a serious whoosh (10 feet per second), the computerized winches are hard-wired to a master computer and methodically choreographed to the music with Tait Navigator software. The Peppers' production designer, Scott Holthaus, and production manager, Narci Martinez, fine-tuned the project in Tait's huge rehearsal space for weeks with the band.
In the execution, waves of colored light forming distinct patterns and even word cues roll over spectators' heads and "sweep them" into the show, Davis said. Fans feeding back on line have called this charged-up event "otherworldly," "the best concert I've ever been to," and "an experience of a lifetime."
"It's an amazing thing, how the patterns and pacing of lights in sync with the music enhances and affects the mood of the audience – more so than the music does without the kinetic light show," Davis said. "Slow down the lights' movement, and people get calm. Crank up the visual action, and the collective excitement level is amplified. ... With traditional storytelling, people told the tale with plot exposition, a dramatic arc, and resolution. Now, with the kinetic light display, we can do that digitally, too."
Ironically full of innovations for what will be the last Ringling Bros. circus here, its "epic space adventure"-themed "Out of this World" (playing WFC Feb. 16-20) aims to jazz up the works with novel skating routines on ice, automated follow spots (tracking the homing "beacons" worn by performers), a crazy floating thing called a Puffersphere, and the circus' first use of digitized, projection mapped scenery.
First spotted at Olympics' opening ceremonies and now being used to pump up pre-game excitement at all 50th season Philadelphia Flyers home games at WFC, the projection mapping process can transform a scene by beaming three-dimensional images onto flat surfaces (such as an ice rink) and scenic props. The end result, touts Ringling Bros., is a "complete visual immersion that will amplify [the] audience thrill factor."
Projection mapping is likewise being used in the new Cirque Du Soleil show "Toruk - The First Flight," appearing at the Wells Fargo Center March 8-12. Taking inspiration as an authorized "prequel" to James Cameron's film Avatar and with some of the same creative team engaged, "Toruk" is set on the imaginary planet Pandora in a time before the humans arrived and messed things up for the blue-skinned, talking-in-tongues Na'vis and their big bird buddies, brought to life in huge puppet form.
As previewed in a documentary and described by one of the show's performers, puppeteer Rob Laqui, the endeavor is "the biggest show Cirque has ever taken into arenas." And the projection mapping runs amok, in a good way. "It's not just transforming huge scenic pieces on the arena-floor-filling set," Laqui shared. The mapping also works numbers on the audience, "so when storms come or a volcano erupts, the rivers and lava also flow over the viewers."