14 April 2004
Into 'the heart' ...
U2's show designer Willie Williams on the Elevation heart runway, 'organic
LED' and the The PopMart mobile disco... that never was.
Willie was being interviewed by fan site Interference. Below we feature an
extract, click the link at the end for the whole article. Click
to enter the wonderful world of the Willie Tour Diary, hundreds
of entries from U2 shows across the world and down the years.
Interference: What is the most important element of show design when
considering a live show?
WILLIE: The audience's experience. Even now I will often go to shows and get
into the thick of the crowd to fully remember what the experience is like.
After that you have to decide what kind of show it is that you want to do,
then take it from there.
Interference: What is the process that transpires of designing a tour, and
how long does that process normally take?
WILLIE: It depends entirely on the scale of the project. For a stadium-sized
show, which will tour for a long time, the general rule of thumb is to allow
about a year. That would be from the initial head scratching and abstract
conversations right through till the first show. For an arena (indoor) tour,
perhaps half that time, a musical in a theatre also takes about six months.
Interference: What piece of work are you most proud of?
WILLIE: Hard to say - its a little like having several children which you
love for different reasons. ZooTV was the most astonishing tour I have ever
done, but purely on a design level, I felt PopMart beat the pants of it. In
a funny way though, I think the one I am most proud of is R.E.M.s 'Up' tour
in '99. I made a forest of signs and symbols out of rope light, which
completely filled the stage. It looked like Tokyo gone mad, but the entire
thing fitted in half a truck and cost $12,000. The Kronos Quartet 'SunRings'
show is way up there in my affections too. I am reworking that design for
when they play the Brooklyn Academy of Music in October so by then I will
probably have fallen in love with it all over again.
Interference: The satellite stages and heart-shaped runways add a great
interactive element to the shows. Who came up with this idea? Can the idea
be improved upon even further?
WILLIE: Ever since about the Unforgettable Fire tour, Bono wanted a runway
into the crowd, but safety problems were always cited to squash the idea.
However, when we shot 'Rattle and Hum' in Arizona, there was this huge
camera platform that ran right into the audience. After that Bono just
refused point blank to take no for an answer, having seen it done once, so
the ZooTV runway was the result.
More recently, it was a really interesting series of meetings and
discussions which resulted in the heart stage for Elevation - quite a pure
collaboration. Mark Fisher and I discussed lots of ideas before proposing
anything to the band. I was keen to have a long stage which extended into
the house so, for a joke really, I drew up a rendering which had the PopMart
arch laid down on the floor of an arena. The middle was filled in, but the
colours were the same as the arch had been - it was even the same size, 33m
long. Bono looked at the drawing and added to lumps on the back end, making
the heart shape, after which Adam suggested taking the middle out again so
Larry wouldn't be left stranded miles from the audience. It took a lot of
logistical wrangling to make it work practically, but that was where the
It worked so well - largely because all Bono had to do was walk and there
was immediate drama. The ramp became lower as it progressed, so as he walked
he descended into the crowd and there was never a moment when he had to stop
and turn around, he could just keep going.
Read the rest of this interview at fan site Interference.com