16 Dec Ep. #51 The Art of Light and Darkness with Nick Whitehouse
Metallica Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffxpc6hgc9Q&feature=youtu.be
Roger Deakin’s Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/team-deakins/id1510638084?i=1000474476812
Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.
Dana: Hello, my friend, how are you doing? All things considered, I’m holding up just fine. I would say, um, uh, it’s been a heck of a week and it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. And by that, I mean that my neighbor has put up some colorful lights and they’re very pretty. Um, also I’m drinking a lot of gingerbread tea. Yeah. That is a thing. Um, I hope you are happy and healthy and also drinking gingerbread tea. If that happens to be a thing that you’re into. Okay. I am glad that you are here and really, really excited for this episode and thrilled to be shining a little light on your holiday season, uh, with a very special guest today, I am joined by Nick Whitehouse lighting designer and CEO of creative design and production mega studio fireplay. In short, I guess I would say that Nick is the guy that makes the stars shine bright and yes, I mean like literally all of the stars. Well maybe I guess I can’t really say literally all of the stars, but practically all of the stars. So you’re really in, for a treat. I’m excited to get into it, but before we do, let’s talk wins. My win this week is that I am performing on Friday night like this upcoming Friday night, Friday night, December 18th, 2020. And this is huge. Um, it’s huge because I haven’t performed in nine months since the lockdown, maybe even a little bit longer. And I’m, um, I’m dusting off cobwebs for Pangea live. That is the name of the show. Pangea live is a completely virtual and very interactive show presented via zoom. So if you haven’t missed it already head over to Pangea_live on Instagram. That’s @ P A N G E A, Pangea underscore L I V E on Instagram to learn more about the other performers for the show and to secure your tickets. So cool. So fun. Um, Oh, I also want to make sure you notice this. I am already celebrating that show as a win, even though it hasn’t happened yet because I’m creating I’m in the process of making not one, but two solos for the show and I’m learning so much. Um, and I’m really getting back into the performance mindset, which is not as easy as I thought it would be to be 100% honest with you. Um, I’ve already done some of the research and development for one of the pieces, which is interesting to say the very least on the technical front. So I’m learning a lot. I’m feeling good and I’m celebrating that as a win, even though it hasn’t happened yet. Um, I really do hope that I see you there Friday night, December 18th, Pangea live, rock on. Okay. Now it’s your turn. What’s going well in your world. What are you celebrating?
Right on. Keep winning. I’m so proud of you. Okay. Let’s get to it. Shall we? I do not want to keep you from Nick’s brilliance any longer. Please enjoy this illuminating conversation. I’m sorry. I had to, um, with lighting designer and honestly so much more Mr. Nick Whitehouse,
Dana: Are you in a soundproof chamber? Because it is super quiet.
Nick: No, I live on a Lake in the middle of nowhere.
Dana: God, that’s beautiful. It really is gorgeous. I am so excited. Nick Whitehouse thank you so much for being on the podcast. Welcome.
Nick: Thanks for having me.
Dana: Oh man. I think this might actually be our first time, like sitting down for an extended conversation that is not in catering or a hotel lobby waiting for a runner van or in the dark seats of an empty arena. So I’m excited. Awesome. Okay. So it’s par for the course on the podcast. All of my guests introduce themselves. So go ahead and, um, I no pressure, right? I think this is the, actually the hardest part of the interview. Um, but let us know what you would like us to know about you.
Uh, Hey, I’m Nick Whitehouse. I’m a lighting designer and creative producer for music tours, theater and, um, I’m the one that kind of comes up with the, with the stuff that you see on the stage to light these beautiful people, that dance and choreograph. That’s my thing. Hiding away in the background,
Lurking in the shadows.
So you are the CEO of a company called fireplay. You guys have, have designed tours for Billie Eilish, JT, um, Carrie Underwood, not just, not just tours, actually, festivals, shows, um, kind of the whole gamut, even TV and theater. Am I, am I leaving anything out?
Uh, we did a bit of architecture for a while as well and some, uh, a club and, a traveling spectacle pyramid thing. So yeah.
Okay. That I did not know, even in my, um, several years of working together and tiny pre podcasts, deep dive on research, I, I would add. Um, okay. So that’s like, that’s a very broad range of work that you do. Um, could you tell me a little bit about your, your small but mighty team and what exactly you do in the team?
So I still take my role of kind of lighting designer, big ideas. What if we did this kind of person, which drives the team crazy because theres always those ideas that no one knows how to do.
Those are my favorite ones!
They are the favorite ones. And then our team consists of, um, some really cool people that worked our ass off right now, especially joining this heart here and coming up with ideas. We got the line designer, we’ve got to producer, got a special effects designer, a couple of people that helped draw and bring the magic to life for us. And finally, the finance guy that tells us if we can afford to do something on that really important.
You’ve got a finance guy?
I got a finance guy. I’m not very good at the numbers side of it. So he’s the one that tells us if we’re doing the right thing or not.
Hey, that’s brilliant. It’s good to have a team that supplements, uh, in areas where you may have weakness. I’m here for that. I see that. I see that. Okay. So, um, that, that paints like a pretty complete picture of the who. Now I want to talk about the what, because I don’t think people fully understand and it’s hard to convey in a simply audio landscape. What exactly it is that you guys do? And I want to emphasize this because I’ve been there and I’ve seen it and I’ve, I I’ve been goosebumped by your work. And I will have to, I have to, I’m trying to find a way to phrase it. Fireplay is not about lighting a show or a site-specific mood moment. It’s about blowing the pants off of people and about creating something extraordinary that will be imprinted on their eyelids forevermore. And I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m just trying to explain what it is that I’ve felt when I’ve seen you work. Um, so my question here is this, my first question, I see you as being somebody who’s very good at restraint and balance because at the scale that you guys work, which is big pop stars, big budgets, big stadiums, it would probably be easy to overdo it and just hit everybody with all the things all at once. So I guess what I’m wondering is what is your approach to finding that impact without going overboard?
Well first, thank you. That was a great introduction. I didn’t need to introduce myself, but you’re right. The, uh, we do cool things. And I think it’s not just about lighting. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. It’s about emotion here and creating moments that people don’t forget. That’s what we try and do. And that’s, that’s everything, that’s the staging, the way that people move around you, that’s the lights, it’s the video, it’s the audio, it’s all of it tied together and having an influence and that, and you’re also right, that it’s all about restraint. And the guy that I learned from Bryan Leitch, who I think you might remember from future sex. Yep. His first company was called the Art of Darkness. So it kind of explains a lot. So he was more about the dark than the light. And a lot that I learned from him was about it’s. Something is way more powerful if it’s surrounded by darkness than it is if it’s surrounded by light. So, you know, if you look at some of the moments we’ve done, you see that there’s a single spotlight moment can be just as powerful as 2000 lights all doing the same thing. So it, it really is about understanding where to go with that. And I think it’s the same in music. And I think it’s the same in choreography. It’s like, things are more impactful if they’re not surrounded by amazing things. So if you have to kind of put a whole, I don’t know, you have to have a whole story in an arc of a show where you start crazy maybe, and then you kind of dropped down a little bit. And then if you want to do these special moments, you have to surround it in a moment that isn’t quite as spectacular and those stand out.
It’s a great point. And I think it, yeah, I definitely see echoes of that sentiment in dance. I remember my come up as a young danceling training to do all the moves and all the styles and, you know, I loved being in motion and it wasn’t until I.. Man, even several years after I moved to LA and became a professional that I learned the value of stillness. And now I actually prefer to embed that in my work, almost every piece that I’ve choreographed and certainly my favorites to perform, ask for that stillness, nothing at all. And also simultaneously everything like everything’s happening inside. Nothing is happening outside. Thats so fun.
And it’s, uh, it’s the same thing in the show. You know, the lights are all repositioning, they’re all figuring out what’s next. And it’s those things that when you do bring down to those moments of almost black, then it kind of refreshes the pallet ready for the next thing. And I think is really important to remember that because if everything’s going crazy all at the same time, then that’s all you ever see in the show and you get bored of it really quickly and turn off.
Hmm. Okay. So let’s, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about going CR let’s not talk about getting bored and turning off. That’s not where we’re going. And this early in the podcast, we’re going to, we’re going to structure it. We’ll go bored later on. Um, but right now I want to talk about the going crazy part because we met during the Future Sex Love Show tour. I was assisting Marty as a choreographer, but he was also directing the show as well. So I was helping out with, I mean, I was 19 years old and having meetings sitting next to you and JT people that are absolutely at the top of their game, doing what they do best. And I’m trying to keep track of scrim time codes. And when that goes up and what this projection is doing here, and I remember feeling way over my head actually in, uh, in the podcast interview that I do with Marty. I think I talk about that day. He asked me if I needed to leave. He was like, do you need to get it together? But there’s one day I’m thinking about in particular, um, that, that there was a song or an interlude, a set of songs that had like hundreds of cues in it. So I would love to hear, because JT loves darkness. I think he loves a mood, but he also loves lasers and he also loves extravagance and he knows how to dial things up. So I would love to hear about like the most challenging, as far as programming numbers that you’ve ever created. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re most dense, I guess, but like how many cues in one in one set and what makes it technically hard?
It’s just the, so the number of cues you kind of get depends on what you wanted to do. So a cue could even be a moving light. It could be, it doesn’t have to be a set number of things. It doesn’t have to be a set. Um, like every time a light moves, it’s a cue. So what makes the JT stuff particularly different and really cool in my opinion, is nothing ever repeats itself. So, you know, with a lot of artists, they’ll play this verse, chorus, verse chorus, and it’s all the same. And I think in a JT show, you’ll never have a verse. That’s the same as the verses come before. It there’s always something different in there. So that’s what adds to a lot of cues. And I think, you know, I know for a fact, future sex was the intro that you talking about, but we had audio and lights moving around the whole room. I think before he even came on stage, there was a thousand cues that had happened when did that empty start, but the band just started playing and no one realized that we were going into the show. Yes, that’s where it was
What a stellar moment. I remember writing to the show in a laundry bin with Ava Bernstein. She and I were, uh, carpool partners, um, because the show was in the round and there’s no way to get to the stage without being seen, unless you’re there before they let the audience in, which is several hours early, or you, you get snuck there. And I remember riding there in darkness, in a laundry bin and getting underneath the stage just as that was happening. Um, Oh, that’s so much fun. I’m having a great flashback
But I think the most complicated song there’s been a couple, but I think from 2020, “Only when I walk away” was pretty crazy. It was all the lasers. It was everything, it was so dark and moody, but there was so many cues in that song. And then, uh, Man of the Woods, it was the mic stand dance
I don’t know anything about that mic stand, I am um, sworn to, um, so if you have not seen the Man of the Woods tour, which I am so sorry, if you have not, because it was so much fun. Um, what Nick is talking about is a JT solo moment that features a dancing mic stand that just so happens to have been designed and built by my husband, Daniel Reetz, over @vice_chief and the, the mic stand itself, took a lot of research and development in terms of the build. And then choreography had its own research and development period to learn how to, you know, highlight its utility in the coolest, possible way. Um, Marty, Marty Kudelka with the help of Ivan Koumeav, they absolutely crushed it. And JT is so brave in utilizing, um, a prop element that like that, where there’s no hiding. Like there’s no, if you mess up, you just, you look kind of, silly
If you mess up, you probably have no teeth. It’s dangerous. It’s actually pretty dangerous. I tried it once and that was it. I was like, Nope.
Oh, it looks way easier than it is for sure. Um, but the job of lighting that moment, or is it still okay to say lighting even lasering and lighting they’re the same, um, must have been particularly challenging because the mic stand itself is this narrow thing. It’s not like lighting a projection or a wall or a backdrop or an atmosphere it’s this very thin, you know, stand that we ultimately decided to, um, uh, wrap in some retro reflective. Um,
Day glow orange danger or safety orange. That was it.
Safety Orange! To make it more visible. But what was your process in lighting that moment? Did you start big and, and take away or did you start really basic and see what you wanted to add? That would kind of flatter that moment.
It was actually kind of cool. Cause I worked with the laser programmers who Kelly Sticksel who is part of our team
Shout out Kelly, Laser Kelly. It’s good to have a Laser guy!
It is. And then Grant Sellers who did the programming of that laser thing, excelled himself in that moment. And he together, we sat there. I think it took two full nights just for that 30 seconds solo, both of us going backwards and forwards. And then JT sat with us for a couple of hours and he would watch it and he’d be like, no, I need to add some more sounds here or do this so that we could hit it with the lights. And it was a really cool collaborative process because then, you know, the next day we show it to Marty and Ivan and they’re like, well, what if we did this too? So I think it was probably a full week of development. And every time you guys got on to the mic to try to JT, there would be, well, we could just do an extra bit here or what if we did this and this could really work. And you know, I think a lot of people don’t realize how much goes into everyone, working together to create the moments that stand out, because that really was maybe 10 people just flat out working to make that whole thing work. And then, you know, Adam Blackstone would come in and add the music bits and then JT would come in and out of a few more music bits and send it back to Adam. So we all really did work on that thing. And I think there was probably a couple of thousand cues in that 30 seconds between all the departments. And no one really noticed, cause what we made happen is the star of the show is JT. And if we do our job, right, that’s what it is.
You’re Absolutely Right.
And he owned it.
Oh for sure. That’s, to me that number is, is like, it’s not, I, I w I don’t think it’s right to say that it’s the heart of the show. Cause it doesn’t like pulse. It doesn’t beat. It’s like searing, it spears me up against the wall. It like, it goes straight through my heart. I love that part of the show. It’s so effective. It’s iconic. That’s how I will remember that show for sure.
You know, it’s one of those things where we’ve done something similar a couple of times before, so how do we do it in a completely different way? And that was it, you know, it was just one night playing with it and we’re going to put the mic stand down in the middle of this stage. All right, cool. How do we make the stage look really cool. And we started playing around with lasers and banks off the stage and then adding the light bits to it. And we, all of a sudden, we were like, yeah, that’s how we’re going to do it, and we started building on it. Yes.
Um, okay. So you talked a little bit about the nights, obviously you need, uh, to be as close to show mode as possible. It has to be completely dark. Um, which usually means you wind up working nights when there’s nobody else in the venue, no band needs to be seeing their instruments. No dancers need to be seeing their feet. Um, so you guys work at night, you’re completely nocturnal. How does that impact your life in the long run when you like, does that just become your mode?
You get used to it, and it’s actually quite nice. It gets to, you know, nine, 10 o’clock at night and, uh, and the venue and everyone leaves, and you settle down with a, you know, a cold beer and some loud music and just get creative. And I kinda, I enjoy it. I, I think that that’s the moment where you kind of leave everything else alone and all the business and all the emails and all that kind of thing. And everyone’s finished for the day. You know, it’s just you and the, and the big lighting rig and the lasers and all those little toys.
Gosh, that’s a huge advantage. I just realize, thank you for saying that zero distractions. Everybody’s asleep disruptions. Okay. I’m pivoting, I’m pivoting. I’m going to make a move.
It’s really good. Cause, you know, I think there’s two. When are you doing, when you in charge of a company and you’re running a company, you can either be business or creative. Even it’s really hard to switch into that full creative mode. So during the day, a lot of the times you’re trying to figure out something and you’re like, yeah, it’s just not happening. And then an hour into programming and no distractions. And all of a sudden the ideas are everywhere. So it’s, you’ve just got to make time to switch. And it just so happens that that seems to be like 10:00 PM til 3:00 AM
My friends. I had to jump out here for a second because our conversation reminded me of something really important that I wanted to tell you about. I, long story short recently crashed a zoom call, very important and very exclusive zoom call that I may or may not tell you more about later. We’ll see. Now the guest speaker of said, zoom call was a hero of mine. A man nay, a legend by the name of bill Irwin. Bill is an actor and a clown and many, many things, um, including philosopher apparently, and on the subject of Art, business, and, um, the art of being a creative business. He said something that really, um, caught my ear. And, uh, I had to take a second to jot it down. I want to tell you what he said. Now. He said, “if you become a bureaucrat in the pursuit of your own artistic vision, then you may become a successful business, but you won’t have the benefit of an artist’s vision.“ Now I wouldn’t go as far as to say that artists can’t be business people or vice versa, but I do think it’s more complicated than simply changing hats, right? Like this is my business hat. This is my creative hat. This is my performance hat. You know, so I’ll say it one more time. “If you become a bureaucrat in pursuit of your own artistic vision, you may become a successful business, but you won’t have the benefit of an artist’s vision.” I just thought that maybe you needed to hear that because I know, I sure did. Okay. Let’s jump back in with Nick and hear a little bit more about his art of being a creative business.
Dana: So could you talk a little bit about how you balance your creative vision and business? How do you decide what projects you’ll work on and what you won’t? How do you know if it’s, if you’ve taken on too much, um, what does your future of fire play look like? Is that something you’re actively pursuing all the time?
It is. And I think one of the, maybe the only good thing of 2020 was too, was that everything did stop. And I, I, I look back on it. And one of the things I was looking back on is how do we improve and how do we come out of this better? And I think what was happening in the entire music industry was everyone was taking on too much work. And we were losing some of the creativity and the quality. And I think we were kind of doing some cookie cutter shows where you just go in there. And because he was still thinking about the last one or the next one elements of all those shows were creeping into the same ones. So I think what we’ve decided moving forward is to take less but better. So, you know, maybe instead of doing five country artists, next year, we’ll do three or something like that. Two big pop shows instead of four, so that we have the time to concentrate on that and maybe not grow too big. We have a great pool of freelancers that come in and work when we need to grow bigger. But I think the reason people hire is Firefly is to get that next level and you need to have the time to be creative to get that next level. But if you’re always worrying about where the next paycheck is going to come from to pay the staff or something like that, you tend to take on too much work. And none of it gets done to the, to the level that you really want it to. So I think our future is definitely going to be that we’ve got time to have a step back. We’ve got a great team in place right now. So I think moving forwards, we’ll be pretty picky about the shows we take on. Cause I think that’s what we’re known for is the particular, just like you said, the moments that we create and if we have the opportunity to create those moments, we shouldn’t kind of lose that by taking on too much, you know, so,
Oh, quality, quality, not quantity.
Exactly. And you need the downtime in between.
It’s true. It’s true. Um, and you’re right when it comes to a silver lining, I think that perspective is something that 2020 has brought for a lot of us. And I appreciate it so much. Um, I guess, I guess let’s, let’s keep going forward then. I’m curious about the early days, but right now let’s talk future and next I have to know everything that you are allowed to tell me about the show that you did for Metallica, that involved a virtual audience. Um, I haven’t seen it preface, so I, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I do know that the band was able to see virtually in a very artful designed way in deliberate, um, faces of audience members. But those pixels also could be purpose for creating the atmosphere that the audience sees. So it’s not like, uh, a one-way mirror or a, a fold-up laptop screen where I see you and only you forever, but the pixels that were, you could become into the background for someone else. Do I have that about right? Is that
Yeah, I think you do. So I can, I can start at the beginning of this story. So back in March, one of our clients came to us and said, I would like to perform in front of a choir, but the choir members are going to be from all over the country. Cause I don’t want to put them together. So we started doing research into all the different platforms, like the zooms, teams, nothing really worked because nothing comes together in the right way. And especially if you’re going put a hundred people on there to do a choir, the whole thing falls to pieces. So we got, we kind of got this whole thing put together. We figured out how to do it. We found the right companies that could deliver it. And then the artist decided that he didn’t want to do it. So we moved on, but at the same time we were trying to, um, you know, at Fireplay, we’re trying to think, how do we keep our as connected with fans during this time? Because we’re seeing the trend of people doing live streams from bedrooms and living rooms and nothing really elevated. Exactly. And I think it was getting pretty stale and it was losing a bit of star quality too, because people like, Oh, that’s just an average person.
So we, over the last six months we’ve been developing it’s, uh, we use software from Clair, who’s big audio company. Um, we decided to go with Clair because all the people that run this thing are the outward road crew. So they keep getting trained. So for us, instead of just going to another technology company for us, this is really good. And PRG came on board as well. The same thing, you know, all the video guys that run this thing are all the people that would have been on the big tours. So hopefully in doing this, we’re putting people back to work as well as creating cool moments. And essentially Metallica was, uh, up to, we had 4,000 people sat there watching online and 500 people on four screens that surrounded them at any one time and between songs, we could rotate them around. So everyone got at least one or two times on the wall and what makes it different from the rest of the software is we can control everything to do with it. So it was all branded to look like a Metallica thing. Um, it was, it was all fitted into the backdrop, but even on that instead of just one audio feed from whoever’s talking, there’s a guy that mixes it. So in between the songs we got real applause and clapping and people screaming out and shouting, and it felt like we were almost in a concert.
That is the part that, that feels so, so lacking for me, in addition to the actual moving bodies, which dancer, obviously that’s a big one me, but that is, it is like this silent void on the other end. That’s such a buzzkill. Oh wow, cool.
And even better, which is, um, there were, there was two cool stories, but even better in between the, uh, the songs the band could just pick on random people from the wall and have a one-on-one conversation like we’re having now.
Okay Now, that sounds like a VIP experience. That sounds like better than a live show. And that’s what I’ve been secretly hoping we could find during this time is like, how do we bank on what’s super cool about this and that. And the parts that couldn’t happen live,
I don’t know there was a post that I saw on Metallica’s social media where a fan of theirs bought a ticket and was on the wall and got to talk to them. And, um, she suffers from Miami. So it hasn’t been able to attend the live show and her posts was just simply thank you for making me feel human for a night. And we were all just like, Oh my God.
Puddle on the floor, puddle on the floor.
Yeah. That’s a great, you know, we, we built a technology now that didn’t exist in March, right. To the level. And I think it will be needed moving forward too. Especially as soon as we start touring again into arenas and we can only half fill them, right. If we can do a virtual show as well. So the people in the local area that can’t buy a ticket can buy the stream and be part of a crowd that we integrate into the set somehow, then we can actually afford to tour again, rather than saying, Hey, we can’t sell enough tickets. So it doesn’t make sense to tour. Cause we’re all going to lose money. I’ll do it for free and no one wants to do that. Right. And we have to survive.
Right. That, that sort of reminds me of something that I’ve noticed in the education realm is this sort of leveling of the playing fields in terms of training and accessibility. Most of the people like high performing people, the Marty Kudelka is of the world, the principal ballerinas at ABT because they’re not performing they’re teaching. And even if you don’t live in LA or New York, or aren’t able to buy a plane ticket to one of those places, you can be training with those people right now. So it’s a, it’s a really interesting, and I think appropriate timing to, um, to exercise some inclusivity and, and make things that used to be very exclusive and only come around every once in a while available to a lot of people. Um, the once in a while part is what we’re working on. Right. How long did it take you guys to create the, the backend for that show?
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So you’re not going to be cranking those out, like, uh,
Well no, now we’ve now it set up, so yeah, we can, we can, we’re talking to a few different people about some more, so that’s great.
Nice. That’s my favorite. That type of work is the work that you do once and then it continues working for you.
Yeah, the, yeah. You know, there was a lot of technical parts that needed to come together to make it work right. Because most of the streams that you see, they’ve got a 25 seconds, 45 second delay, just because of the way that the stream around the world and that doesn’t work if you need instant reaction. So we’re currently able to get to anywhere in the world and back again under a second, which is cool.
Oh my gosh. That’s insane. Congratulations. That’s massive. Um, is there a way for us people to see that show?
Yeah. There’s a link actually to the first 10 minutes.
Oh, well you don’t say, uh, you all lucky listeners will be able to find that link in the show notes for this episode. Don’t miss it. I am doing that like immediately. Um, okay. So that’s that’s future look, this is exciting. I’m digging it. I would love now to take a look at the rear view for a quick second. Um, I’m so curious about some of the early defining moments in your career. Cause I know a lot of my listeners are people that are navigating the early steps or navigating a transition in their careers. Maybe they’ve been dancing for a long time becoming a choreographer. Maybe they’re, they’ve been choreographing for a long time and they’re becoming creative directors and so on and so forth. So, uh, could you speak a little bit about those, those key early moments for you, big decisions or otherwise defining moments
In the world that I came from, there was a lot of being in the right place at the right time. And the thing I think that defined it was instead of worrying about saying yes to some of those opportunities, I just did it and figured out how to do it. So I think, you know, straight out of school, I knew I wanted to do lighting or sound or something backstage. So I moved to London, I would volunteer to do anything. I worked in all the little like, uh, rock venues that would have 200, 300 people. And I, and just, you know, for hardly any money, not really anything, just trying to get the experience I could. And it, one day, one of those venues, which was, uh, a massive abandoned theater that they used to do a church in every week. And that was about it. And this guy,Bryan Leitch walked in and he came to put a new lighting rig in and asked if I wanted to help him, I did. A week later, he called me and he said, I’ve got one of my, house LD, these at the forum in London, quit, can you be here in an hour? And I’m like, okay,
I’m already here, actually I’m right outside. Ready to go?
I wasn’t I got there. The old lighting designer, handed me a harness and said, “here you go”. And I was like, “what that for?” And he’s like, to climb up there to reach all the rig and then got in his car left. So that was it. That was my first lighten designer gig
That is a hard start.
It was, it was for a band called Madness. Don’t know if you’ve heard of Madness, but it was a, it was an old rig of park hands. And I had to climb up there with these colored sheets of paper. And for two hours I hanging upside down, I’m trying to redo this thing and focus it. And for an LD that was getting annoyed because he was like, you aren’t very good. I’m like, this is the first time I’ve ever even looked at this thing. So,
So no wonder, I’m not that good. Oh my gosh, that’s a good one.
I worked there for two years.
And by the time you left, did you feel like the, like, like a chief, you felt like, Oh yeah, this is my realm.
Yeah. I think it was easy because it was a house gig. So everything was already there. What was great about that place is it was probably one of the two venues in London where all the acts came through. So anyone that was doing really good came through there. Um, we actually did a JT show there, the forum in London. I don’t think, I don’t know if you remember. That was one of the clubs shows on 2020 for a while. Oh, dang. Wow. Which was cool going back there and seeing like some of the guys that were still there
All those years later. Whoa. Um, okay. So I guess if I had to think of a career defining moment, I get a lot of firsts, right? Like the first time you put a harness on and climb up the rig the first time you, um, you know, for me, the first time I booked a tour and stepped on a tour bus and was like, wait, how many people sleep here? Um, I, yeah, I think for me that my first world tour Future Sex, it taught me a lot about the, about how many people it takes to make something like that go, and you spoke a little bit to the collaboration. Um, and that was a huge takeaway for me. But I also learned a lot about the relationship between dancer and artist and dancer and audience. And I think that tour taught me how to be aware of how many different performance levels there are instead of just execute steps, execute steps. It’s like relate to this person in this way, relate to the JT person in this way, relate to the music and this way and all the different ways that you can exist on a stage. Um, I, I, I’m curious in just a kind of an artful conversation way. I see the role of a dancer on a big pop tour, like that to be somewhat of a portal to the artists. Like most of the people that come watch JT perform, they are standing five feet away from him. He’s a human, they’re a human, but they look at him like he’s a God and he’s just big and perfect and great, but they look at a dancer like, Oh man, Oh, that’s so cool. I, Oh, if only I could. So I sort of see the dancer as being this like halfway person to the artist that makes the artists a little bit more accessible. Um, that makes them think, Oh, like I could open his jacket and pull the silk out. I could dust his shoulder off. And, and I, I love that so much about, about that part of what I do. Um, I guess I’m curious about that was a story. How about that? Um, I guess I’m curious about what you see lighting, what is the role that lighting plays in a pop tour like that?
So I think it’s different to the dancer side. So for the lighting, what we do with lighting is we’re trying to create the emotion. We’re trying to get drama and kind of turn the music that’s being created into something visual. So that’s how I see how lighting works, which is something that I think I do a little bit differently to a lot of people. Some people will look at lighting as the way to just, you know, create a mood for the scene mine is more about how do you interpret the music and to the individuals without overdoing it. So that’s, that’s where I kind of see it. And it is a style and it’s definitely a style that got JT’s attention. Cause that’s why you hired me. Sorry. He said, I want that. And even his comment when he created 2020 was look, I’ve done an album for you. It’s music. You can see. And I’m like, great. And it was like, you know, that, that was a crazy light show and videos
It Is perfect in my eyes. Yeah. I absolutely love that show. And I’m honored to have been a part of it. And side note curious about this. Rest, his soul, Jonathan Demi crushed, capturing that show for film. I can’t recall. And it is very possible that I’m biased, probable that I am biased, but I can’t think of a more beautiful, elegant, dramatic, sexy, bright, but also really dark and, and super, but also singular and kind of personal show. I just can’t name one. I th it’s, it’s perfect in my eyes. I love it. How do you feel about the way it translated for film?
I think it was really good. And what I think was the best bit Jonathan did, was he caught the relationship with you guys on the stage. And that’s what no one in the, he said, when I, in those first meetings, that’s the bit you want to bring because everyone can see it sat in an arena and understand that you want it to deliver something that wasn’t possible to sit in a seat in that house. And I think he delivered that perfectly.
Yeah. He puts the viewer on the stage there with us. It is, uh, it’s it’s JT and the Tennessee kids. And you like, you are a Tennessee kid. That’s how it feels. You’re so right.
And just, you know, just something that came into my mind, as well, as you were talking about the relationship of a dancer to JT, and that’s what you think it brings. I had a really interesting conversation a week ago about things going digital and everything, just, you know, the new trend of XR and things like everything being fake and created around an artist and I don’t think it’s a special, I think, you know, we’re talking about immersive environments and that’s what dancers and band they bring. It’s, it’s part of the, you’ve got to be there in, in, and witness it to understand it, but it brings that special thing that you can’t recreate digitally, or you can’t do with technology it’s performance. And it’s, it’s that amazing thing that surrounds people with performance. And especially on the, the, in the round shows that we were doing, it was everywhere. And I think that there were moments where it was just as important to see what you guys were doing as, as what JT were doing at the other side of the stage. It all told the story and it all kind of linked together. Yeah. I think that’s what made all those moments really special, which Jonathan caught right there is he got those moments. He saw the interaction between you guys in the band and, uh, and just how that all works, which is really cool. Cause no one gets to see that. And they don’t. I think some people might just say, you get on stage and you do the steps, but it’s not, no, it’s not every night, every night is a, an experience for everyone. Yeah.
That show is different. It’s so good. Ah, okay. This one’s tough. I don’t want to put you in a difficult situation, but I’m going to, um, sort of like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. Um, I don’t want you to tell me your favorite person to work for or your favorite thing that you’ve done, but what are the outstanding shows when you, when you look back at your chronology, what really stands out?
I’ve got a few, which is, which is good. Um, you know, moving on from where I was in London, that would be my first big tour was Coldplay. That was my first world tour. And it lasted six years, which was pretty crazy.
Okay. Welcome to touring life. You have no other life,
Right? Yeah. Uh, so that show that the show that we finished, there the Twisted Logic tour, that was definitely a favorite. And it’s what led to everything else. Um, obviously all three of the JT shows cause we get to be as creative as we possibly can imagine. And, and most of the time we get everything that we’ve tried to put in there, which is awesome. Um, as a Kylie Minogue show that we did called Aphrodite,
Which we need to talk about because one of my dearest friends is Tony Testa, who we grew up together. We’re from Colorado. Um, that’s uh, yeah, that’s, uh, that’s a bestie for life and he was associate director on the show and choreographer. Um, okay. Tell me more about Kylie. What, what, was it technically challenging or, uh, fulfilling in the same type of creative permission type of ways or what was going on there?
It was one of those shows where Will, Tony, and Carly came to us and said, I don’t think anyone else could pull this off.
Ah ha! And they were right.
They wanted to build Ancient, Greece. And we want a swimming pool. And we want fountains in the stage, and we got it. The front of the stage lifted up to do a floor dance on a big tilt, a world. There was a 10 foot gold Pegasus. I, it was, it was full on.
That is full on. I’ve seen only parts of that show. I never got to see it live, but a handful of the dancers, um, have been guests actually just a few weeks ago. Martha Nichols was a guest. Um, I, I’ve got to have Tony on the podcast. Uh, what a small, small world it is indeed. So you created a world, you created this whole other environment that must shift and morph throughout the show and becomes many different things. Um, and is there ever, I guess here’s a question I hadn’t thought of, you mentioned the, the chemistry between dancers and band in a JT show is part of what makes 153 shows feel like 12 shows. Like there’s an element of freestyle that Marty has built into the choreography. There’s an element of spontaneity when you have this relationship between the band, but you’re running the board of a show like that, which is exciting and elaborate and cool. Yes. But in 200 shows or 150 shows or how – Kylie was on the road for some time, do you ever burn out from running the same cues? Is there still a level of spontaneity or a relationship that, that still Stokes you up at the 150th show at the same way that you were stoked up on the first?
Yeah. And it is different because every venue we move to, we have to make sure it looks the same and that’s the challenge so right.
The pegasus doesn’t change, But everything else does
Where the lights are hung, you know, whether they’re focused every day, they move around in the truck. So you’ve got to go through all of them and make sure that everything you intended to happen in the show actually happens like you wanted it to. And I think that’s the bigger challenge. Cause when, when you get to the end of it, you’re like, Oh no, we did that. It was perfect. And there is still, you know, when you light the crowd or when you might do some things too, does change slightly from show to show and we have to be flexible enough to allow anything to happen to you. So, you know, if there’s a moment that you want to play another verse and you never know, like in some of those acoustic things, JT, could want to do whatever he wants and we have to be able to follow. So we have all that built in there and that’s part of the excitement. Isn’t it. See what happens each night and how the audience reacts. And if the audience is quiet, you might not light them up as much as if they’re going crazy and everyone wants to see it. So all of those little things do play into what we do every day. I think the same thing though, 130 shows can feel like 12.
Awesome. That’s really inspiring and refreshing to hear it. And I hope that, um, everybody listening can take that away. There is a lot of automation these days in the shows that we do, but that does not mean that there isn’t a live human decision, making it all run. Um, I think that’s so special. That’s so magical.
Yeah. And I, that’s what I think sometimes you see some shows that are quite clinical and I think nothing’s left to the imagination. It’s the same show, no matter what, every night. And I think the human touch is what takes it to that next level is someone actually sat there and making the conscious decision to actually play that tonight or not as bright or not as loud or not as much where, where the camera focuses or something like that. That’s what I enjoy most. And I think that’s all the people that work in, in my world and I like to work with, they all approach it the same way as this. We do this because we love it. We don’t do it because it’s a job. Right.
That lights me up. Oh, no pun intended. Okay. So final question. And I guess this is, it might be a little cliche to ask, but if there is somebody out there who’s listening and is inspired to, not all of my listeners are dancers, shout out mom. Um, but if somebody out there was listening and thought, I think I might want to take, you know, the way I change music into moves. And I might want to change music into mood with light, where do they start? How, how does that journey for someone begin?
I think it’s different from where you are, but there are plenty of courses now that teach it, there didn’t use to be. Um, so that’s a, it’s a good starting point to see if you like it. But the best way to do this is just to get on a tour or actually try something, reach out to someone, you know, if you’ve be another show with that has a lighting designer, give them a call and say, Hey, any chance I can come and watch a programming session, or be taught something. And that’s how you’ll really learn as like seeing people do what they do and understanding why they made that decision rather than the other a hundred decisions that could have happened at that time.
I appreciate that. Get in and do the work or like jump on to a project that’s happening and learn as much as you can.
Yeah. And what, what what’s actually important too is yes, the ultimate goal is if you want to be a lighting designer is be a lighting designer, but you should also take the time to learn all the other roles that lead up to lighting designer. Like the crew chief, the rigor or the light, you know, the people that fix the lights. Cause we’re talking about each one of those lights having so much technology in it. But when there were points in the development of them that they had like Hubble space, telescope engineers working on the optics and we’re going, Whoa, this is complicated. So if you understand how it works internally and what it takes to move the colors around and things like that, then you understand what it can look like when you’re programming it. And the same for the crew. Like I would never ask someone to go and climb up all the way to the top of that thing. 10 minutes before a show, because one of the lights isn’t working, I’ll just, you know, figure out how to make it look okay without the light, because that’s not something you ask someone to do because I wouldn’t want someone to ask me to do it.
That’s huge. That’s hugely important, like a base understanding of the technology and the moving parts involved in doing this creative thing. I bet is a start. That answer is in stark contrast. So I have to bring it up to a question that I heard recently. I was listening to, um, uh, I don’t remember what the podcast is called. (TEAM DEAKINS) Forgive me. I’ll put it in the show notes, but Roger Deakins has a podcast now. Um, famous director of photography. If you don’t know who Roger Deakins is. And, uh, he’s asked, you know, if somebody wants to become a DP, like what do you recommend that they do? How do they start, yada yada? And I’m, I’m going to like really boil down his answer, his answer more or less was like go fishing. Um, like what, just start observing how light works in the real world. Watch what happens to light on water. And how does that make you feel? How do your eyes respond to something that’s moving versus something that’s still, how do you, you know, what do clouds do to light? What is the color of your skin look like when the clouds are this way, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I did. I thought that that was very poetic and beautiful, but really truly, if you want to be a lighting designer, don’t go fishing. Like go put your hands on some lights, go try out, try some different things out. I’m not saying that Roger Deakins is wrong by any means, but, um, I do really love and encourage people, this, the idea of a hands-on application of a new skill.
Try it. Yeah. You might create something that we haven’t thought of. Right?
Yeah. I guess, I guess, do both bring some lights out on your fishing boat with you and see how that works out, but it’s probably a combination of both. Right. But I think that one of the things I love about the way JT operates and Kylie also actually, um, and this speaks to one of Tony Testa’s and strengths is like a real life thing, dialed up versus going like full out crazy spectacle hundred and 50 dancers CG This projection mapping that, blobby blue, this is like, there’s something real and relatable at the core of, of JT’s work and his shows. Um, that’s just relatable enough that you could feel like, Ooh, this is mine. Like I fit in this world. Um, but that’s spectacular enough that makes you like never, ever forget that night.
No, it’s pretty simple for both of those teams, they care, they care about, they care about what the show is. They care about the audience experience. They care about the people on stage with them. I think they’re there to give 150% every night and we’re there to do the same. So that’s why the show is so good.
Oh my God, hands down. I’ll tell I, this is what I say to people all the time. There’s this, like, there’s a concept that, um, background dancers and background vocalists and the band are there, like supporting talent, like there to help lift the artists. And I’m like, y’all, don’t understand he was lifting all of us, every single light. I just think the world of that guy.
Yeah. And I, you know, Bryan’s the one who did not of the words he was out there as the lighting director on that, or a young kid, we gave him a chance on that tour. And he was just like, is there any advice? And I’m like, yeah, don’t ** up.
Right. Because, because the guy is, he, he sees everything. He knows everything. He, and he absolutely knows what he likes. And when he doesn’t like, it’s, it’s remarkable. Like JT knows your cues. And he knows mine and he knows his and he knows Adam’s. And he, you know, it’s the capacity can only that I think there is a gift there, but that can only manifest every single day, day after day, if you care. And that’s, that’s why it’s there. Cause you’re, you’re so right. He cares so much.
Yeah. I’ve, I’ve done a show where an incredible artist has walked onto the stage, but they don’t care. So the show been, it’s been great. Like you said, a big spectacle, but it’s missing that, that moment that people walk out of that show going, and that was just the best thing I’ve ever seen. And it’s not because of the lights or the video or the dancers or the band or anything like that. It all starts with that talent. And then it trickles down to everyone. Everyone gives a little bit more and everyone’s a bit more creative and everyone’s pushed outside that comfort zone a little bit. And I think all of that comes together to be like, he knows a hundred percent what he’s doing. He knows how much you pushing it for him. And he knows that none of us are going to fail because that’s not an option. He’s not going to fail. So we’re not going to fail and we’re not going to mess up. No.
Uh, this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by my favorite artist, Tom Sachs, the, the, the phrases. It will not fail because of me. And I’ve thought about committing this to permanence on my body, in the form of a tattoo. It will not fail because of me, which actually has this beautiful, double meaning. Right. It will not fail because, uh, because I made it and it will not fail because of me, but also I won’t make it go wrong. And I, I love the sentiment. I think it’s a, a good banner to, to live behind. Um, all right, well, I’m full of nostalgia. I’m full of excitement for future opportunities and potential ways of using technology and relating to each other and moving on forward after, after the pandemic, which just doesn’t seem to stop. Um, and I’m so grateful to know you as a, as a key player in that moving forward. Um, I just think the world of you guys and everything that you do, and the fact that you care and you S and, you know, you’ve got a keen antenna up to, um, to the people who care and the people that are going to be able to deliver something truly remarkable. Um, that’s, that’s your mission. And so that’s, that’s what you’re doing
Mission to work with them, right? The people that care.
Yes. And man, I think, yeah, if anything, this moment has reminded people of what they care about, right. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. I usually laugh at that statement. And I’m like, Oh, you obviously have not had a long distance relationship. Um, distance is hard, but there is this idea of you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. And I think we’re all feeling that, feeling that right now.
I think so. I think so many people name live music is one of the things they miss the most, but yeah, we got to find a way to bring it back safely, sooner rather than later
On it, on it. And at your service. Thank you, Nick so much for being here. I really appreciate it. It’s always a joy to talk to you, and it’s actually a super joy to talk to you for this length of time. Usually we’re like quick notes, quick notes, quick notes. Um, but this is a real treat. Thank you so much for being here.
Okay. I hope you learned a lot from this conversation. Um, insert some more puns about being lit or lit up or illuminated lighting puns are really just, they’re too easy. I digress next week is a special one. Next week. I will be doing a special year end wrap-up episode, where I will recap all of the things that I’ve learned from a year of weekly podcasting. And yes, some of my favorite standout moments from 2020 of which there are several, by the way, despite the best efforts of this damn pandemic, this damn damn damn DEMEC pandemic. So be on the lookout for next week’s episode. And also the words that move me, t-shirt collaboration with getting unlocked is up for grabs thedanawilson.com/shop along with stickers and shoe bags and some pretty sweet and very useful digital downloadable materials just in time for your holiday gift giving season and a new year, and a new you with new podcast merch. Um, if you don’t plan on spending any money on the online store, however, you can still get a t-shirt because we’re having an Instagram giveaway contest and you have until December 31st to enter, there are no limits on entries. We want everybody to have a chance to rock this t-shirt it says, I welcome your differences on it. And I do. I cannot tell you enough how good I feel when I wear this shirt. I stepped forward into the world with curiosity and compassion and conversations and a wow, I’m really going off right now. I think the shirt is great. I think you will too. Also it’s super soft. So super soft shirt, super strong message. Get into the contest, head on over to our Instagram page, which is @wordsthatmovemepodcast to get an Eyeful and an earful. W w what would you say to get an Eyeful? Well, that’s just where you’ll find all of the contest terms and rules and guidelines and so forth. All right, everybody, that’s it for me? I think that’s it for me. I’m pretty sure that’s it for me. Oh, yes. Be sure to subscribe and download episodes if you’re digging the pod and be super sure to keep it funky. Have a great day. Everybody I’ll talk to you soon. Bye