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Alanis Morissette 2021 Tour

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • Designer InsightsNovember 2021 • November 3, 2021

ALANIS MORISSETTE © Steve Jennings

Celebrating 25 Years of Jagged Little Pill

PLSN caught the Alanis Morissette 2021 World Tour: Celebrating 25 Years of Jagged Little Pill at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It was one of the few indoors shows on this mostly shed tour from August to October in the U.S. Special guest Garbage and, on this occasion, Cat Power, were also on the bill. We spoke with Nate Cromwell, who wore many hats on the tour as production, set and lighting designer; lighting programmer and director. We also checked in with Colleen Wittenberg, video director and disguise programmer/operator, about working together in presenting an evening of hits and a live version of the Jagged Little Pill album in its entirety.

For Alanis, it was important to integrate aspects of shows from around the time period of the
Jagged Little Pill album, such as basic shapes, colors or images that she had for each song. Photo © Steve Jennings

Nate Cromwell
Production, Set & Lighting Designer/Lighting Programmer & Director

Nate Cromwell’s journey with Alanis started about four years ago when then tour manager Bob Quandt was putting together a European run. Cromwell had worked with him before on John Mellencamp; Quandt felt he would be a good fit. Alanis seemed to agree as well, asking to meet Nate after their second performance. “Everything you do is so wonderful. Welcome to the band,” she told him.

A dynamic look with the focus, as always, on Alanis, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Photo © Steve Jennings

“Alanis is a genuinely humble and nice person to work with,” Cromwell notes. “At the onset of the project in January 2020, I wanted to create a group of dynamic, diverse individuals to collaborate on sharing our vision of what [the album] Jagged Little Pill meant to us then and what it means to us now. Brendan Walter [the content creator] and I met in New York before the Covid lockdown to watch Jagged Little Pill — the musical — at Alanis’ request and a hash down of the basic structure of the show and a working setlist he had collaborated on with Alanis. I got a treatment and a design together, and we started bouncing the ball back and forth.

Nate Cromwell designed, programmed and directed the Bandit Lites-supplied production. Photo © Steve Jennings

A Year on Pause

“We sent it out to bid before Covid hit, shutting everything down,” Cromwell says. “In April 2021, we were able to pick up right where we left off. What started as a collaborative project turned into myself handling the lighting and production design, soup-to-nuts. It made me utilize all the skills I had picked up along the way — design, programming, tracking integration, direction, and so on.”

For Alanis, it was important to integrate aspects of shows from around the time period of the Jagged Little Pill album, such as basic shapes, colors or images that she had for each song. “Alanis is such a spiritual human and performer and is always connecting the metaphysical. It’s an important part of her work and her life — a crucible for the emotions and wisdom wrung out all those years ago, but now with a shared 25 years of maturation and reflection onstage and in the audience.”

Tight beams lend a linear look to the scene.Photo © Steve Jennings

Cromwell used curved trusses as a metaphor to accomplish that and create that space, with their height, orientation and direction having meaning. “The upstage curves radiating outward represent in this space the creator, a great wheel ever spreading her existence into the universe. The second layer of trusses lower, facing inward, define and wrap around the stage space. This layer also visually directs everything inward, naturally drawing the focus of the lighting and the space inwards towards center. The third layer, from just above head height to the floor, is much different — no curves. Everything is linear. Lines of GLP X4 Bar 20s create the horizon and here again everything is angled to naturally drive the focus center. When we delve into pain, suffering, and loss in the show, the looks would be constructed from here first. Overall, as I would build the base looks and program the songs, I would be mindful of this overall metaphor and kept it as a spine through the creative process and tour.” Cromwell left the center open, allowing the entire lighting rig to drop without having to move the backline risers. The stage right and stage left GLP impression X4 Bar 20 wings are independent.

Alanis shared her specific ideas for the overall mood and any envisioned content for each song. Photo © Steve Jennings

Going For It

For each song, Alanis has specific ideas for the overall mood and any envisioned content. The only note Cromwell got from the artist was during the large musical breakdown at the end of “Smiling.” Cromwell explains, “I take the entire rig of [Claypaky] Mythos 2 [a total of 72 fixtures] in the tightest zoom on a fast random strobe, all tracking her. That number is on all flash and swap buttons. She’s aware of everything on stage and noticed. A note I received later was ‘Tell Nate to f@#$ing go for it.’ And I do. It is a cathartic moment in the show.”

To track Alanis with lighting, the zactrack automated follow system was proposed because of its speed and adaptability. It uses Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) real time radio tracking technology with great tracking results in a variety of environments. A single zactrack server can control lighting fixtures, video effects and 3D sound simultaneously. “We were able to track over 104 fixtures every day in outdoor settings with solid precision. It exceeded my expectations in speed and ease of programming. Mark Scherer and Andrew Ellis did an excellent job handling all of the tracking and calibration every day. Tracking allowed me to continue using lighting as a metaphor in this project. For example, in “The Reasons I Drink”, the 72 Mythos track her moving in a tight figure eight in the choruses and then in the break down we peel them away in segments on each chord, paralleling the song about addiction taking hold, being relentless, and the relief on its diminishment. We tracked the X4 Bar 20 floor vertical bars on Alanis and the band as well, which allowed me to light them with tight shafts of vertical light that didn’t contaminate the rest of the stage.

“Working with Michael Golden and the rest of the team at Bandit is always a great experience. They are leaders in the live event production industry for a reason — they do excellent work. I worked with (video vendor) Vision Visuals on Blake Shelton a few years back; what a great team. As I would be taking on so much of the lighting work myself, I needed someone in the video world who could come in and handle not only cutting the show, but also input and manage all of the content that Brendan was creating. I have worked with Colleen Wittenberg before on Carrie Underwood, where she completely nailed the difficult d3 operator position. She wore many hats out here and worked endlessly to make a beautifully cut show. It’s an honor to work beside someone with that amount of talent and dedication.”

A design of curved trusses and jagged beams allowed the lyrics to shine through.Photo © Steve Jennings

Colleen Wittenberg
Video Director and disguise Programmer/Op

In late February 2019, Nate Cromwell had contacted Colleen Wittenberg to program and operate the disguise system. To her surprise, this past April, when the tour was green-lit once again due to the pandemic, the conversation resumed, but this time with the additional position of directing.

“As a child growing up in the ‘90s, I was excited by the prospect of working with Alanis and thought it’d be a great first tour back,” she explains. “Directing Alanis was a great experience. We were allowed freedom in what we were putting out to the audience, and the expertise and personalities of the video crew were amazing. Scott Bishop put together an A level group of guys — Nate Fountain, Randy Ice, Chris Campbell and Sean Burke — who are all fantastic not only in what they do, but who they are as individuals. As a director, when your biggest ‘complaint’ was you had too many good shots to choose from, it speaks to the exceptional level of people you get to work with. Without any one of them, the show wouldn’t have looked as good.”

“Alanis’ show was more cerebral, and the I-Mag needed to reflect that,” says Colleen Wittenberg. Photo © Steve Jennings

Two Different Shows

Wittenberg had a rare opportunity on this — the full video crew shot the band Garbage as well. “Directing Garbage was a blast. Garbage and their camp are just exceptional humans. They also gave us free rein. The end product was the creation of two completely different shows each night. The Garbage set: loud, upbeat, punchy, fun, right in your face, an I-Mag show full of fast cuts, harsh push/pulls and constant movement. Move into Alanis’ show, which was more cerebral, and the I-Mag needed to reflect that. Alanis’ show still had the element of fun, but now the music and mood were softer and cuts were layered in more delicately. I wanted to capture the raw emotion she was putting out. Nate Cromwell designed such a beautiful show, and I strived to complement his design; juxtaposing angles with dissolves, racking in/out focus at specific moments, using the tempo to guide camera movement, and his lighting to our advantage. It was a creatively fulfilling experience by the end of the night.”

Wittenberg notes that Brendan Walter and Erin Elders did all the video content. Brendan pored over countless hours of footage to make the intro video and the montage for “Ironic.” Wittenberg was allowed full creative control over the I-Mag screens. Any of the different overlays, stills, or effects that were used as a composite with the camera work was done to tie the cut with the LED content and to give the audience a more cohesive display. “Brendan was accommodating when I broached doing this for certain songs, such as the VHS lines seen in ‘Smiling,’ the crayon-like doodles in ‘Hand in my Pocket’ or the color overlays in ‘You Learn.’”

Backstage, Wittenberg’s setup was a server rack, transmission, and shader stations all together in a small 12-foot footprint. Minus the server rack, the other three were housed in x-frame cases from Fuse. This allowed their ‘video village’ to be super simple in setup and tear down. Camera setup was one long glass, two handhelds, two PTZ robo cameras and two POV. “In my desk, I had a 10-way multi-view that allowed me to see all seven cameras, the disguise output, plus preview and program. Since we were adding content to the program cut, the composite output that the audience saw was routed to the four small director’s desk monitors. This allowed me to keep an eye on if shots weren’t working with the effects, how things line up, etc. In order to be able to trigger the cues in the disguise system, we would take timecode stamp from audio playback to start the vast majority of the content. The rest of the cues were triggered via a MIDI controller that I kept on the director’s desk.”

ALANIS MORISSETTE © Steve Jennings

“It Chose Her”

Wittenberg’s career spark started when she was 19, pushing boxes as an over hire for the loadout of Phantom of the Opera through the local IATSE. “I was basically hooked after that. I can’t remember who said it to me first, but I’ve heard numerous times — ‘You don’t get to choose this life, it chooses you’ — and I am a product of that.” Her first touring gig was with WWE for their live events side as a programmer on the Martin Maxedia servers using an M1 lighting console as a triggering device. “I learned a hell of a lot, did way more than just load and fire content, and got a really good foundation there,” she says. She moved into concert touring and has worked as a LED tech, lighting tech, crew chief, climber, dimmer tech and PM, but mainly as a server tech for about nine years now. “I got into directing headliners only in the past few years, so this was an excellent opportunity to keep growing and expanding my skills.”

Counting 605 days from working her last U2 show to Alanis’ opening night, she says, “For the first tour back, all of my expectations were far exceeded. I am really fortunate and grateful to Nate Cromwell for not only keeping me on his short list for over a year and a half but also allowing me the space to just work and create. I was thrilled to work with him again. His feedback was always positive and helpful, which always feels like an accomplishment when you can make the designer happy. [I give] a massive amount of praise to the video crew, led by crew chief Nate Fountain. I really enjoyed the collaboration and camaraderie. It was sad when this one ended — it really did feel like summer camp was over and we all had to go back to school when the final loadout was complete.”

ALANIS MORISSETTE © Steve Jennings

Alanis Morissette 2021 Tour

Crew

  • Production, Set & Lighting Designer: Nate Cromwell
  • Lighting Programmer & Director:Nate Cromwell
  • Lighting Co: Bandit Lites/Michael Golden
  • Lighting Crew Chief & zactrack Tech: Mark Scherer
  • Tour Manager: Laura Strayer
  • Production Manager: Don Muzquiz
  • Video Director & disguise Programmer/Operator: Colleen Wittenberg
  • Video Co: Vision Visuals/Scott Bishop
  • Video Crew Chief/Lead Camera: Nate Fountain
  • Video Engineer: Randy Ice
  • Video Content: Brendan Walter, Erin Elders, Crush Pictures
  • Production Assistants: Heather Hamilton, Lauren Simon
  • zactrack Tech: Andrew Ellis
  • Dimmer Techs: Justin Wilky (SL), Jeff Archibeque (SR)
  • Moving Light Tech/FOH Camera Operator: Andrew “AJ” Quintel
  • Lead LED/Robo Camera Op: Sean Burke
  • Handheld Cam/LED Tech: Chris Campbell
  • Stage Manager: Tim Doyle
  • Rigger: Sonny Oyler
  • Trucking: SET

ALANIS MORISSETTE © Steve Jennings

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2          MA Lighting grandMA Full consoles w/ 4 NPUs
  • 22       Ayrton Khamsin
  • 72       Claypaky Mythos 2
  • 36       Claypaky B-EYE K20
  • 16       Elation Proteus Hybrid
  • 7          Martin MAC AirFX fixture
  • 30       GLP impression X4 Bar 20
  • 60       GLP JDC1
  • 2          zactrack SMART tracking system
  • 4          MDG TheOne Atmosphere System
  • 76       1-Ton Hoist
  • 7          Tyler 10’ truss sections (silver)
  • 10       A Type 12’’ truss (silver)
  • 18       A Type Circle Truss section (30’ OD diameter)

ALANIS MORISSETTE © Steve Jennings

Video:

  • 120     ROE CB8 tiles for 39’ x 24’ LED  video wall
  • 1          Ross Carbonite Black plus switcher
  • 3          Panasonic AK-UC4000
  • 1          Canon 99x sports len
  • 2          Panasonic AW-UE150 4K PTZ   camera
  • 2          POVs – Blackmagic Micro 4K
  • 2          Brompton Tessera SX40 processor
  • 2          disguise 2×2 Plus media server rack

More Alanis Morissette 2021 tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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