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Designing for the MDA Telethon; Gambling on Casino LDs; Quick Cues

PLSN Staff • Designer Watch • October 9, 2014

Children in wheelchairs not only have special needs, they need special design consideration when they’re part of a show. Getting them in and out of the audience, getting them onto the stage requires ramps, elevators and other accessibility features. While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has recently swept social media to raise funds for ALS, the MDA Telethon has been raising money for ALS, muscular dystrophy and other neuro-related diseases since 1966, traditionally during Labor Day weekend.

When LD Lee Rose started working with show in 2007, it was still named for the founder of the event, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, a 21-hour show in Las Vegas. Rose said it was cut down to six hours in 2011, and with a change of producers, it became a pre-taped show from Los Angeles. For the last two years it’s aired on ABC as a two-hour show.

Rose, production designer Joe Stewart and art director Tina Miller collaborated on the visual design for this year’s MDA Show of Strength TV special. “There were several meetings with us and the producers and director to work out the best way to mount the show for artists, cameras and — as always with MDA — wheelchair access for the MDA kids,” Rose explained.

“More of the issue is getting the large Stephen Hawking-style wheelchairs into and out of the audience and space for the kid’s attendants. Also, we usually either have a ramp or elevator to get the wheelchairs up on to the stage.”

“We haven’t had any specific issues with using strobes but then I don’t tend to do the 15-20 flashes per second that triggers seizures,” he added. “Slower speed flashes and random flashes don’t seem to cause seizures. We do tend to use the hypoallergenic fog fluids to keep any possible lung issues down for the kids.”

While celebrities and bands also take the stage, it’s rare for them to bring their own LD. “There is the basic design for the show and then we will adjust or add on an artist by artist basis. This year’s show, taped at the Palladium in Hollywood, had a smaller stage with a limited trim. Also, the venue itself lent to the overall look for the show.”

Now they get a soundcheck and rehearsal, but back when it was live, there were few rehearsals. “Some acts we didn’t see until the 20-minute local break before they performed,” Rose said.

Reflecting on past shows, Rose said, “Although he can be difficult, working with Jerry Lewis was something that I’m glad I got to do. My favorite was the first year in LA as a pre-taped show, some great talent with a nice design, with Pitbull, One Republic,”

This year’s musical guests included Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, American Authors, Bret Michaels, Fall Out Boy, Jason Derulo and more, along with a host of personalities introducing the kids onstage and making donation appeals.

Rose recently finished four years with Chelsea Handler’s TV show, which has now ended, and has taken on “Big Brother” for his colleague Marisa Davis, who left early to return to work on the new set for Ellen Degeneres’s show.

For a video clip of the MDA Telethon, visit

Bryan SchrumpfGambling on Casino LDs

Bryan Schrumpf, the in-house LD/tech for Austin City Limits-Live at The Moody Theatre, has worked with countless LDs who’ve come into the venue since its opening in February 2011. The visiting LDs know that when they play Austin, they’ve got tech support from Schrumpf, and as his contact list has grown, so has his local popularity. He recently took home honors as Best Concert Tech of 2013 from the Austin Music People organization.

At a recent show, he revealed a side project: he refers LDs to run casino shows in Louisiana.

His relationship with the Louisiana production company began eight years ago, but since then he’s held other lighting jobs including concert tours with Yes. Staying in touch with friends back there, he learned the company had grown with more casino contracts, truckloads of more gear and a new warehouse, but lacked staff. “So having made a lot of new industry friends, I was enlisted to find people who were suitable to run these shows. After hooking up a couple of LD friends with gigs here and there, it turned into a standard practice and now is a regular part of my professional career.” The requisite lighting skills are required for referral, but Schrumpf looks beyond that. “Of course, the ability to punt a show is a big part of it, but another big part is the ability to work with others: from the artist to the client to the stagehands,” Schrumpf explained. “It is important they be able to own up why they are there and what they are doing in the grand scheme of things as opposed to just showing up to punt a show on a lighting console.”

You can reach Bryan Schrumpf via email at

Quick Cues

LD Alex Skowron has been out with an EDM group from Belgium called Netsky, which did a short US run based around Ultra Fest and Coachella. Afterward, he went straight to Iggy Azalea’s tour and directed lighting and video. He finished up the summer with John Fogerty in Europe and the States, and was in LA with The Janoskians rehearsing for their Euro/US tour. He returns to Fogerty for a Canadian arena run in the fall. Oh, and there have been a few video shoots thrown in here and there.

Paul Smith is out as lighting director for Ed Sheeran’s tour. Production designer is Mark Cunniffe.

LD Jonny Gaskell is out on David Gray’s tour. (See “On the Road,” page 18).

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