Lighting Designer Curry Grant
Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Sharon Stancavage
Lighting designer Curry Grant has worked for the band since 1974. Lighting and projection designer Paul Guthrie has worked for its female lead singer for the past six years. It's also been six years since the group's last tour. The band? Fleetwood Mac. The designers' goal? To ease them into the 21st century. “We wanted to try and bring the band into a slightly more modern look, but it could never be a scenario where the production overpowered the band,” explains Guthrie.
Grant created the building blocks for the tour — the set, projection, and lighting concepts — that were later revised with Guthrie, of Toss Film and Design Inc. (www.tossfad.com) in Minneapolis, and Bruce Rodgers of Tribe Design in Los Angeles. “The band doesn't like to be glitzy in a production sense. They want to carry the show themselves and because each one of them has their own distinctive persona, they're able to do that,” Grant explains. It's apparently a simple undertaking, yet one that's remarkably rare, considering the over-the-top, everything-goes touring environment of the moment. “I think it's a mistake to use technology just for the sake of it,” Grant notes. “The artists should be the show, not the technology.”
The band began working on its current CD, Say You Will, about a year and a half ago, and everyone knew a tour was to follow, after a lengthy stint in rehearsals and production. “We started in production 700 years ago I think,” Guthrie laughs. “We started with reflected light from the sun and by the time we were finished, automated lighting was invented.” In reality, the band was in rehearsals for two months, then spent the month of April at Culver Studios in Los Angeles in production. “We're all used to doing it in a week or 10 days, so having a month wasn't necessarily an advantage,” Guthrie admits.
It was at then that longtime friends Grant and Guthrie faced their biggest challenge: not collaborating with each other, but collaborating with the band. “It was amazing to be able to have four different — extremely different — viewpoints to draw on and then roll that into what we wanted to do,” Guthrie explains. The positive part about the situation is that the band members were able to express their opinions, which gave Grant and Guthrie clear direction. “It was good because we'd get very defined feedback from them,” Guthrie notes. “There were lots of examples of things that they adamantly didn't like, which was very good for setting boundaries,” he adds.
In the past, the band wasn't necessarily as focused on the production aspects of the show as they are now. “As long as the lights were complementing the music and the timing was on, they were happy,” Grant says. Now things are a bit different. “Lindsey [Buckingham, vocals/guitar] even came out and sat with us toward the end of rehearsals to see what we were doing and gave us a couple of good ideas,” Grant adds, noting that, from a production standpoint, Buckingham is a fan of understatement.
Projection is one of the most crucial visual elements of the show. “I came in with a concept for a projection screen that wrapped all around the stage, because I thought it was really important for them to use video and IMAG this time,” Guthrie explains. The concept was refined by Rodgers, and turned into six video screens that encircle the stage like the stylized collar of a shirt. “The projection is very subtle,” Guthrie explains, “we use some IMAG and then there's some simple playback in about half of the songs; it's all reasonably low key.” The projection doesn't overwhelm the band, rather it augments what's happening on the stage.
One might think Guthrie had ages to work on his video content since the band was in rehearsals for two months. It didn't happen that way. “In fact, we had to be ready to come up with anything, and we really only had a content meeting 10 days before the first show,” he adds. Guthrie was ready with a library of stock footage and a plethora of ideas. “We use the footage from the original ‘Tusk’ music video and from ‘The Dance’ [the band's last tour], which featured a newer version of the USC Marching Band,” Guthrie says. “I ended up rotoscoping some of those characters out and then combined it into one big crescendo; it was kind of cool.”
About half the songs feature projection, from the outstretched hands in “What's the World Coming To,” to the rippling water in “Destiny Rules,” to Stevie Nicks' own artwork. “In ‘Rhiannon,’ I scanned a bunch of Stevie's drawings and put it in a slow animation. It's desaturated, almost black and white, and we tone it with the [Vari*Lite®] VL2416s™. We actually add color into the projection with the lights,” Guthrie explains. The effect is something Guthrie has tried on film, but not on tour. “It's a nice effect because the color really tones into the shadows of the image, so you can actually change the color in the shadows, as well as overlaying on the lights,” the designer comments.
Grant's other scenic elements are four windows, which evolved from his initial concept. “I wanted shafts of light coming through a window, as you see in films,” Grant explains, initially trying for a moody texture. They eventually turned into more of a scenic element. Another concept was for an overhead grid to light through, like you would find in an old soundstage. “I was going for a more natural breakup,” Grant explains. “It was Paul's idea to break the grid into three smaller pieces, or pods, as we call them.”
The show relies heavily on Vari-Lite gear, which isn't surprising, since both Grant and Guthrie have longtime relationships with the manufacturer. “Almost every Vari-Lite mode is represented,” Guthrie says. From the VL1000™Arc to the VL2416, and a plethora of units in between, they're all there, and, surprisingly enough, none can be considered the workhorse. “The work is divided up pretty evenly, which keeps the show from being repetitive,” comments Grant. “I think we did a great job of delegating types of lights to applications they're most suited for.”
The lighting package also includes three 3kW Syncrolites as well as MR-16 striplights. “I said to Paul, in the design stage, that the one thing we don't have yet is audience light,” Grant confides. “Mini-striplights are kind of a signature item of his, so he instantly suggested them. And they do look great. The Syncrolites were originally going to be the light coming through the windows and the overhead grid, but ended up being the main source for blasting through the grid pods.”
There are numerous high points in the show, one of which is “Gold Dust Woman.” “That song is Paul's ‘Stairway to Heaven’,” Grant says with a chuckle. Guthrie sees it a bit differently. “‘Gold Dust Woman’ is incredibly dynamic,” he states. “It's a song that I only run off the faders; there's no real cues once the song gets going. It's broken down so it can be run in a very traditional submaster style,” Guthrie explains. The result? It looks different every single night. Grant's conclusion? “‘Gold Dust Woman’ is a huge favorite every night.”
The songs ‘Come’ and ‘Peacekeeper,’ which both feature Buckingham's input, have unique moments in them. “For ‘Come,’ Lindsey actually suggested one floor light moving across the stage slowly, like a searchlight, for the verses. We tried it and it was great,” Grant remarks. ‘Peacekeeper’ also shows some of Buckingham's touch. “There are these little explosions during ‘Peacekeeper’ that happen on the projection screen. I think if Paul or I had suggested that to each other, we would have thought we were just running out of ideas. But we tried it, and it was actually pretty cool,” Grant adds.
In the end, the Say You Will tour is an example of a collaboration that went right. “Paul and I get along so well, and we're such good friends that we made it through with no problems at all. We actually had a great time. The most fun was blatantly taking credit for each other's ideas!” Grant laughs.
In early June, lighting director Wally Lees came onboard, taking over on the Virtuoso for Guthrie. Fleetwood Mac's tour has been extended into August.
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