Tonight we play the second of two nights at The Front Row. I cringe every time I see this place on an itinerary.
This is a theater in the round. The stage is located precisely in the center of the room. The audience seating is arrayed 360 degrees around it, with a gentle rake to the floor. Capacity is about 2800. The stage is on a turntable, and spins.
It is a very interesting concept for putting on a show...until you actually have to do it. Then, it is quite a pain in the ass...until you learn to get over it.
Every standard element of your tour generally flies out the window when you walk in the door of this place. No one ever brings lights in here. Any sort of set scenery stays in the trucks. If the act is composed of any sort of "star" talent with sidemen musicians (like Luther Vandross or Kenny Rogers or, uh...En Vogue), the star lives on the stage while the band gets sardined into a little orchestra pit next to it. Audio guys go through a bizarre sort of hell here. They bring their desks and processing in, and interface with house speakers and amps. They place their desks at a point somewhere around the circle, and guess at what the rest of the house is hearing. Monitor engineers jump through the normal hoops and more: Steve Lamphier, working with the O Jays, jammed himself into the pit, and relied strictly on visual cues for tweaking his mixes. Last night, Scott Richards set his desk at the outside of the circle, and simply guessed at what was going on onstage. Of course, Scotty's guess is very informed. But he was joking about it. As I strolled past his position early this evening, I asked, "Can I drive?"
"Sure!" He said. "All you have to do is look very concerned."
I first played this place in 1986 with Shadowfax. That was the first time I ever designed and directed a coast to coast, full production tour. I had drawn that show with great care, and we rehearsed it for a week before we took it out.
I was warned about The Front Row. I'd been told that there was no way that we would be able to take the show into that room. The rig was made up of two 60k trusses and two asymmetrical torms which hung off center on the upstage truss. In discussions in the back lounge of the bus, Harry Andronis (production manager) and Patrick Ampe (master electrician, of Delicate Productions - L.A.) placed a strange sort of relaxed emphasis on the nature of this gig; "This is a day off, until showtime. At that point, you don't even get to lay your hands on the desk. You sit next to the house guy and direct him through the show."
They employ a particularly militant strain of I.A.T.S.E. stagehands here. We don't touch our gear in this room. They do everything, and they certainly don't let us touch their gear.
"Well," I thought, "We'll see when we get there."
Harry and Patrick, being old pros, were right. I had to write that gig off. That night, I learned to roll with the Front Row.
On this one, we were able to get the Divas in the room on the day before the first show and rehearse their choreography on the round stage. They spent about 5 hours blocking action which normally takes place on the set that we usually use.
Yesterday, we brought 8 I-Beams in and hung them around the stage. Using our back-up controller, I spent more than 5 hours programming the show. Taking the cues from the standard show, I built brand new focuses from the old ones. This is something that the locals are beginning to get used to. With more and more robotic technology on the road, they have to give up their control over this sort of a production element: they simply don't know what we're doing and can't make it work themselves.
It was worth the trouble. Bill Reeves was quite complimentary on "[my] work." The Divas and dancers were very good on the round stage, and the crowd had a wonderful time.
So, we got over it.
Tonight, we'll get out of it, and go back to the real world.
October 8, 1992
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