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Carrie Underwood Cry Pretty Tour 360

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • Designer InsightsOctober 2019 • October 11, 2019

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

Singer, songwriter, producer Carrie Underwood makes the rounds of her massive in-the-round stage production for an impressive two-hour show of hits and a good selection of material from her sixth album, Cry Pretty, which debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Top 200 and Top Country Album Charts and was the biggest all-genre debut by a female in 2018 after its release last fall. The seven-time Grammy award winning artist has sold more than 64 million records worldwide. We spoke with creative director Barry Lather, creative producer and lighting designer Nick Whitehouse of Fireplay and lighting director Nate Cromwell about the tour’s impressive show design, and touched base with Bandit Lites rep Michael Golden on the logistics of staging such a massive production.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

Barry Lather
Creative Director

The in-the-round direction was definitely what Underwood wanted to explore once again for this tour, having enjoyed that experience on the last tour and the ability to connect with her audience and fans. So when Barry Lather tackled the 360 experience, he created something different from the last tour… and that, he says, was the challenge. “In early creative talks, we were leaning towards a projection visual approach and not LED hard edged surfaces. Something that would capture the aesthetic of Underwood’s new album and artwork, a sparkle feminine feel, but still have moments and the ability to have a rock ‘n’ roll edgy vibe if we wanted. We were looking for diversity, something not circular like the last tour, but still knowing there would be a central focus point area at times. Playing in the round can be tough for sight lines and entertaining everyone at all times… so that was factored in on the design approach. Multiple lifts to elevate Carrie and band at times had been discussed, and mosh pit areas for an up-close personal experience.”

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

The roll drops and their flexibility was incorporated in that visual aspect, a canvas to utilize, manipulate at different heights and levels. With so many projectors involved and the set up time required, it was a concern technically speaking. How well will it travel, how complex is the set-up time? “I haven’t worked with this many projectors and roll drops before, so I was very excited to maximize them, build an exciting show visually with different configurations, and pace how much they are used.”

Lather worked mostly with Whitehouse and his team at Fireplay, months leading up to technical rehearsals. This was his first time working with Nick, and he says he was very excited about the creative process with him. “The whole working experience with Nick and his team was excellent. It was a very smooth process, professional, and I knew this was going to be a special show. Once we got to Nashville for technical rehearsals, Nate and Nick worked together and devised their plan for programming and getting the show ready in the timeframe we had. Of course long hours of programming was inevitable, dealing with all the technical aspects of the design — roll drops, multiple lifts, special effects, automation, lighting pods, content, Notch… blending all the components together.”

CARRIE UNDERWOOD © Steve Jennings

Once the show design was approved, Lather started collaborating with Underwood and her team on the creative treatment, song by song. Lather says it was hard to fit every hit song Underwood has in the show, as there was an effort to incorporate most of the new album in the show as well. “The set list was so important, because that dictated where the theatrical experience is going, what to present next, and what we were building up to. Pacing, show flow, quick changes for Carrie were all part of the process, a theatrical puzzle developed along with all of Carrie’s thoughts, input and creative vision. Carrie is so talented, extremely quick — learning all the staging and timing of the show and understands the theatrical process and time it takes to get a large production up and running. I have a trusting working relationship with her that is solid. I feel fortunate to work with someone who is constantly striving to do more and build on her legacy as an artist. It’s a massive show,” Lather concludes. “I always have a tremendous amount of respect for the crew that make the show happen every night.”

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

Nick Whitehouse
Creative Producer and Lighting Designer

A show in the round is always more challenging, notes Nick Whitehouse, and so when designing a lighting rig, you need to take into account [that] each person sees a different set of lights, so you need to start in a fundamentally different place. “You can either add more lights everywhere, or think smartly about how to approach each look you’re trying to create. This is what we did here, creating six pods of lights spread around the perimeter of the arena floor. Each pod contained a number of different fixtures, each designed to work as backlights, effects lighting or key lighting. We also added a number of lighting positions directly above the stage so we could provide lighting around the multiple roll drops used for projection throughout the show without having beams cut through them. Finally, floor lighting is also a challenge, because it has to also take into account the 360-degree nature of the stage, so we need more of it to cover all directions.”

This was the first time Whitehouse used BlackTrax and luckily Nate Cromwell is a master in this technology and programming it. “We spent as much time working on the BlackTrax trial runs, programming and which lights to use, as we did programming the rest of the show,” Whitehouse says. “It’s incredibly complicated because of the truss and scrim obstacles and Carrie moving constantly in each song, so often that there were multiple BlackTrax scenes per song just to make sure that she was perfectly lit. Nate and David Boykin (BlackTrax tech) spent hours roaming during rehearsals to make sure we had it dialed in perfectly. I’m really impressed with how well the whole system works — it would have been really difficult to do this any other way. There is even a moment where five members of the opening acts join Carrie on stage, and we track them, all avoiding the scrims perfectly.”

Whitehouse says the Claypaky Unico fixture is a “must have” for tracking using BlackTrax, noting it has the perfect balance of power, speed and has beautiful lighting looks for Underwood. He also credits the Mythos 2 fixtures, noting how they served as the workhorses in the moving light rig. The GLP JDC1’s also played a vital role, painting the whole room in colors for the big hit moments.

“The show is about 75 percent time code, but there are a few numbers off code, and all of the BlackTrax cues are manually run, which is why some of the bigger tracks with about 600-700 cues are on code so Nate can concentrate on making sure everyone is lit properly and tweak as the show runs,” Whitehouse says. “I programmed the majority of the main lighting, Nate programmed all the BlackTrax, and we had a couple of weeks to get it all done in. There was a lot going on and a lot of late nights, but in the end, the result is totally worth it.”

PRG provided the video elements for the tour, which included 38 Barco 30K laser projectors to beam 4K content. Lead projectionist Clarke Anderson was able to hang all of these with the aid of two people in about 90 minutes. This was greatly facilitated by using custom cages that were made for the tour, each holding two projectors. PRG had the cages made in Montreal. In addition to speeding up the build time each day, the cages are designed in such a way that the angle of each projector, in the cage, can be varied to suit each venue, and the projectors live inside the cages for the duration of the tour. disguise servers were used to feed content to the projectors along with the camera feed from video director Jason Varner, Lighthouse concludes.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD © Steve Jennings

Nate Cromwell
Lighting Director

Nate Cromwell, who first started working for Carrie Underwood on the 2012-2013 Blown Away tour, says working with Lather is always a great experience. “This was my first time working with Nick Whitehouse and Fireplay, the level of professionalism, and depth of talent in their creative team is rarely matched in this industry. Nick’s programming is fast, powerful, and clean. On top of that he’s great to be around. Josh Zangen created a really beautiful and unique set, Brian Vaughan came in and was a great resource during the production process having just finished Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods tour, which also relied heavily on projection. Benny Or not only kept the Fireplay Master Creative Deck updated daily but was also an excellent creative force when small tweaks and changes needed to happen during the production period. This was also my first time working with Kelly Sticksel, who (among many other things) was the special effects designer. He brought a super clean and efficient laser rig that gets some huge looks. The atmosphere effects and pyro in the show add so much to the overall performance.”

The two-hour show has just over 3,500 lighting cues. Before the tour began, Nick Whitehouse, associate lighting designer Brian Vaughan and Nate Cromwell discussed the approach to everything and all agreed that time coding the show was the best option, as it left Cromwell free to manage Underwood’s keylight through BlackTrax and make any live changes to the show as needed. “There were some issues of the soft goods being directly where we wanted to light her. It became a huge juggling act of lights handing off to each other in zones. We use approximately 60 different zones in the show to achieve this, with each song being key lit depending on where Carrie is traveling during that song, and if the lifts are utilized. Being able to keep the spots consistent and tight while also automating cross fades between fixtures or groups of fixtures takes the human variable of different operators every night out of it and makes it a straightforward and seamlessly integrated part of the show.”

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

Michael Golden
Account Rep, Bandit Lites

Once again, Bandit Lites was called upon to supply all the lighting, trussing and rigging for the visuals. “It has been our proud honor to have worked with Carrie Underwood since she first went on tour in 2006 and we have been her lighting provider since that time,” Golden says. “Working with production manager Graham Holmes has been excellent in every regard,” he adds. “I toured with Graham back in the 80’s when he was the PM for Dan Fogelberg, and although we have crossed paths through time, it’s been quite refreshing to work with him again. Graham knows what he needs to get the job done, and his leadership is outstanding.

“The largest hurdle in mounting a production of this size is simply wrapping your head around the sheer volume of materials needed and the intricate dance between all departments to bring it all together,” Golden notes. “In a normal arena production, you can expect certain quantities of various fixtures, but when you spread it out over the entire length and width of an arena floor, it tends to grow exponentially. Nick Whitehouse worked with us to fill his needs while maintaining certain fixture choices as his workhorses. We purchased a mixture of Mythos, JDC1’s and Scenius Unico’s to fill out his order.”

CARRIE UNDERWOOD © Steve Jennings

Title/Headline: Carrie Underwood The Cry Pretty Tour 360

Crew

Carrie Underwood Creative Team:

  • Creative Director: Barry Lather
  • Assistant to Creative Director: Bryan Anthony

Fireplay Design Team:

  • Creative Producer/Lighting Designer: Nick Whitehouse
  • Creative Producer/Special FX Designer: Kelly Sticksel
  • Production Designer: Josh Zangen
  • Associate Lighting Designer: Brian Vaughan
  • Associate Creative Design: Benny Or

Carrie Underwood Tour Management:

  • Tour Manager: Geoff Donkin
  • Assistant Tour Manager: Amy Reynolds

Production Crew:

  • Production Manager: Graham Holmes
  • Production Coordinator: Samantha Luettke
  • Lighting Director: Nate Cromwell
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Chris Noll
  • Lighting Techs: Tanner Peterson, Mark Scherer, Darryl Newcombe, Samuel Morgan
  • Video Director: Jason Varner
  • Video Techs: Dylan Taylor, Clarke Anderson, Hayden Hallgren, Lorenzo Loche, David Bartlett, Jay Strasser
  • disguise Programming: Rich Porter
  • Video/disguise Programmer: Colleen Wittenburg
  • Automation Techs: Juan Guerra, Robert Flood, Brian Benauer, Joshua Cardona, Michael Kinard, Joshua Cota, Axel Kirkila, Joshua Corcoran, Eric Carlson
  • Stage Manager: Luke Larson
  • BlackTrax Tech: David Boykin
  • Pyro Tech: Scott Allen
  • Laser Tech: Tristen Ritz
  • SFX: Tanner Morris
  • Backline/Fractals: Christian Castle
  • Backstage Coordinator: Katie Fagan
  • Riggers: Ken Mitchell (Head), Todd Molle, Jeremy Caldwell
  • Carpenters: Dennis Osborne (Head), Richard Ward, Charles Phillips

Production Companies:

  • Lighting: Bandit Lites (Account Rep Michael Golden)
  • Video: PRG (Account Rep Mark O’Herlihy)
  • Set/Automation/Rigging: SGPS (Account Reps Eric Pearce, Justin Summers)
  • SFX: Strictly FX (Account Rep Scott “Bull” Allen)
  • Trucking: Truck ‘N Roll

CARRIE UNDERWOOD © Steve Jennings

Gear

Lighting:

  • 1       grandMA3 Full console
  • 1       grandMA2 Full console
  • 4       grandma2 NSP’s
  • 112  Claypaky Mythos 2 fixtures
  • 109  GLP JDC1 LED strobes
  • 58     Martin Mac Viper AirFX fixtures
  • 44     Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots
  • 40     Robe Spikies
  • 9       Claypaky Scenius Unicos
  • 680’ RGB LED tape (inlaid in stage)
  • 1       Cast BlackTrax server
  • 3       Luminex DMX_Ethernet8 (BlackTrax)
  • 6       Luminex Gigacore PoE switches
  • 3       Proplex Fiber Optic EzLan20

Video:

  • 38     Barco UDX-4K32 31K laser projectors
  • 4       disguise 4X4 Pro media servers
  • 2       disguise GX2 media servers
  • 1       Grass Valley Kayak HD200 switcher

Automation:

  • 20     Automated roll drops w/12,600 square feet of total projection surface
  • 64     SGPS automation lifts
  • 1       6’ round custom 3-stage lift (Outer, Inner, Rotate)

Special Effects:

  • 4       Arctos Stella 30W lasers
  • 12     Strictly FX Facet audience scanning lasers
  • 12     Big Shots with powder confetti
  • 1       grandMA dot2 controller
  • 1       Pangolin laser control setup

Atmosphere:

  • 4       MDG theONE Atmosphere Generator
  • 10     CO2 Cryo Jets
  • 8       Vesuvio 2 Foggers
  • 6       LSG Low Smoke Generator + PopUps

CARRIE UNDERWOOD Cry Pretty Tour 2019 © Steve Jennings

 

 

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