Brussels, production rehearsals

Get ready for the band arrival. Always a big day when the band come in to see a new production for the first time. I was feeling pretty confident about most of the production, but made a point of going a little earlier all the same. Or at least I tried to, but due to some misunderstanding the runner van due to pick me up had been canceled. The temptation to go back to bed was overwhelming but before we had a chance to change our minds Sam put us in a taxi.

Even though it usually results in my having a lot to do, there is something fantastic about hearing a bands response when faced with the physical reality of a new stage production for the first time. There are industry legends about some productions (most notably the Rolling Stones) where two days before the first show they arrive and everything has to be rebuilt from scratch. Despite this being a monumental pain in the arse, I can sympathise and in a weird way admire this quality. From my point of view, I can feel some of the same pressure to just go with it. Imagine youre the pop star walking into a stadium, knowing all of the following facts; a small group of people have spent up to a year conceiving and designing what now lies before you; hundreds of other people have spent months building and transporting it and perhaps a few weeks solid graft has gone into constructing it; to make changes will be painful, time consuming and expensive; and you have got to do a show in just two days time. When faced with all of the above, the pressure to go with the prevailing wind is so overwhelming that theres a part of me which respects the ability of the popstar to face all of this and say I dont like it, if this is the case.

Fortunately today for the most part we got a very major thumbs up from the band, though the P.A. fascia was the first casualty (so, about the urinals up there) but the major issue was indeed the unwieldy size of the b-stage ramps. (It looks like a Scalextric set left out in the sun). Commendably there was no panic, just an afternoon-long council of war to figure out what to do. The team of tour carpenters and scaffolders was on hand to undertake the reconstruction and initially we tried two different redesigns simultaneously, one for each ramp.

We did attempt a run through of sorts, but there was an early curfew this evening as a compromise to us being allowed a later one tomorrow. Consequently it was light for much of the time, but we still got a lot done and it was certainly useful to hear a set list played outdoors. We met for a little while afterwards and made a definitive plan before the band headed back to the hotel leaving us to another late night programming session.

Just as they were leaving Paul McGuinness asked me how morale was in the camp and I said it was very good, which it is. Do you have caterers staying on for the night shift? Paul asked, and I laughed out loud thinking of our frozen huddles in the oxygen tent. In the film industry, Paul went on to say You cant expect to get more than an hour and a halfs work out of a crew without plying them with bacon sandwiches

Everyone left us to it, but much to my surprise an hour or two later the runners van pulls up and out get two of our caterers, drafted in by Paul... and they produced said bacon sandwiches within the hour, and a pot of soup and even a heater! Were living now.

We had a really good night programming, again the five of us at the mix position. Bruce on lighting, Smasher programming the camera and screen configurations, Luke editing and re-editing video sequences and Ash writing code to make all the control software do what we need it to do. The heater was on, the caterers bringing us regular offerings plus tea, coffee & Belgian beer in good supply.

The process of programming this show is unlike any other Ive done. Traditionally when programming a show like this, the designer sits with the programmers and starts from the top of the show. You listen to the song, go through it step by step, look by look, then programme each scene, each effect, each chase, with everyone working together. When all the information is punched into the consoles and computers youll playback the song a couple of times whilst running the cues till youre happy with it, then move on to the next song in the set. It takes forever.

The process with this show is much looser. In fact, much of the time the five of us are working on entirely different parts of the show, but knowing how all the pieces will fit together (at least I do). Given how ludicrously short of time we are, this has been much more productive and frankly far more creative than the normal method. In their own way, everyone has been able to be much more involved and have more input but I have never felt any loss of overall control. Also, we are programming video and lighting at the same time as parts of a greater whole, which is unprecedented in rock shows. Or any shows for that matter. Then there are thing like the LEDs built into the staging which are hard to categorise as being either video or lighting, as they are clearly both at the same time. Or neither.

By 4AM the energy level was beginning to take a nose dive, as its been a hell of a long week so far. No-one had spoken for about an hour and we were all beavering away in a bit of a daze so I was concerned things might grind to a halt all together. Fishing through the iPod I hit upon Boogie Nights by Earth Wind & Fire so pressed play and turned it up to eleven. Youve never seen five grown men undergo such a spectacular instant mood change, especially on the choruses with us all singing got to keep on programming, keep on programming. Complete mania descended for a while, Bruce digging out a flashy bit of L.E.D. bling-wear which Smasher found in NYC. Lads, Bruce announced on the walkie-talkie for the benefit of the crew backstage, Alls well. I have donned the Programming Amulet. Hysteria was upon us and we laughed till we practically brought up the bacon sandwiches.

Light began to appear in the sky, so we knew wed soon be out of time, but you know, some of this stuff were doing looks killer, so I guess well pull it together for Friday.

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