Spider-Man long and crooked road to Broadway success THEATRE

Copyright Lighting&Sound
America September 2011
Tracking Spider-Man’s
long and crooked road
to Broadway success
By: David Barbour
58 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
All photos: Jacob Colh
pider-Man: Turn Off the
Dark finally opened on
Broadway on June 14.
Insert your own joke here.
Or better yet, don’t. For in spite of
everything—the ballooning budget,
the delays and postponed openings,
the swap-out of producers, the
injuries, the jokes by late-night
comics, the New Yorker cover, the
replacement of key members of the
creative team— the unbelievable truth
is that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
is looking more and more like a hit.
Numbers don’t lie; since opening in
June, the musical has been doing nearsellout business, routinely grossing
approximately $1.8 million each week
against a capacity of $1.9 million. If the
box office can keep up this torrid
pace—admittedly a big if—Spider-Man
stands a chance of making back its
record-breaking budget of $75 million
in a couple of years. In any case, the
show’s producers aren’t sitting still;
there’s talk of future productions,
including a possible sit-down edition
in Vegas and/or an arena tour. The
story of Spider-Man, the musical, is far
from over.
Talk to members of the
production’s design and technical
team, however, and what you get is
an enormous sense of relief. Thanks
to the show’s many delays, most of
them took part in a load/tech/preview
period that extended over a full year.
In addition to the stress of working on
a show in a constant state of change,
they’ve also faced an endless barrage
of jokes, rumors, news reports,
political pronouncements, the weekly
jeering of New York Post columnist
Michael Riedel, and scathing word of
mouth from hard-core musical theatre
fans venting in online chat rooms.
And, as previews dragged on, they’ve
had to frantically juggle their
schedules, postponing or cancelling
previously made commitments.
It’s all the more remarkable, then,
that Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark
has emerged from its sometimes
chaotic development process with a
remarkably unified and effective
design. This is due in no small part to
those members of the creative team
who stayed the course through all
sorts of twists and turns. As a result,
the sheer agglomeration of
technology, coupled with a number of
innovations, makes Spider-Man: Turn
Off the Dark something of a must-see
for readers of this magazine. For such
ambition, attention must be paid.
To understand how the show
arrived at its relatively happy ending,
however, it is necessary to go back to
the beginning.
The back story
It began in 2005, when Julie Taymor,
whose production of The Lion King
long ago entered into Broadway
legend, and U2 front men Bono and
The Edge signed on do to a musical
version of Spider-Man. (Marvel
Comics had announced its intention
to a Spider-Man musical as early as
2002.) Taymor was to write and
direct; Bono and the Edge would
provide the score. Soon after,
however, Tony Adams, the show’s
producer, died unexpectedly; his
associate, David Garfinkle, took over,
presiding over a budget that had
grown to well north of $25 million
before it became clear that he hadn’t
sufficiently capitalized the production.
This occurred in the summer of 2009,
and construction of the set and structural work on the Foxwoods Theatre
was halted, leaving the show in limbo.
At this point, an executive shuffle
took place, with control of the
production shifting to Michael Cohl,
formerly of the concert touring giant
Live Nation and the producer behind
U2’s touring spectacles, and
Jeremiah Harris, technical supervisor
on dozens of Broadway shows and
chairman/CEO of PRG, the global
lighting, sound, scenery, and video
colossus. With new capitalization—
and a budget that was now
reportedly $65 million—everyone
went back to work.
By now, the original opening date
of February 18, 2010 was no longer
viable. Evan Rachel Wood and Alan
Cumming, who were announced to
star respectively as Spider-Man’s love
interest Mary Jane Watson and archvillain the Green Goblin, departed.
With their replacements, Jennifer
Damiano and Patrick Page, signed to
co-star with Reeve Carney in the title
role, the production was set to open
December 21, 2010.
As the world now knows, several
months of turmoil unfolded, as
technical delays caused multiple
postponements. A series of minor
injuries to cast members culminated
in the spectacular fall of Christopher
W. Tierney, one of several cast
members who stand in for SpiderMan during certain action scenes.
(There are nine performers enacting
Spider-Man’s stunts on stage at the
Foxwoods.) As the show became a
national talking point—there was even
a New Yorker cover spoofing the
series of accidents that had plagued
the show—and, as previews dragged
on with no opening in sight, the New
York press put down its collective
foot, and most of the first night
reviewers attended a performance in
February, subsequently filing a
stunningly negative set of reviews.
Seeking a way forward, the
producers removed Taymor, replacing
her with Philip Wm. McKinley, who,
among other things, has staged a
number of productions for Ringling
Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, an Off
Broadway playwright who also writes
Spider-Man for Marvel Comics, was
brought in to rework Taymor and Glen
Berger’s book; a new choreographer,
Chase Brock, replaced Daniel
Ezralow. After a short shutdown
period, a new show emerged.
Both versions of the show recount
how alienated teenager Peter Parker
becomes Spider-Man, following a bite
from a radioactive spider. In Taymor
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 59
“Bouncing Off the Walls,” set in Peter’s bedroom, features walls and ceiling made of carbon fiber and partly held in place by performers. RC4 Wireless is used to move certain props and for other effects. The Show DMX system from City Theatrical controls the bulk of
the show's wireless lighting.
and Berger’s script, Peter is chosen
for this role by Arachne, the weaver
from Greco-Roman mythology who
was turned into a spider by the
jealous goddess Athena. Arachne,
who watches over events on earth
from her home on the astral plane,
sends the spider to bite Peter, thus
endowing him with super powers. This
happens in the laboratory of scientist
Norman Osborne, who, in the face of
government cuts to his research,
experiments on himself, becoming the
evil, vengeful Green Goblin. In a battle
that climaxes Act I, Spider-Man sends
the Green Goblin to his doom.
In Act II, Peter, tired of his superhero responsibilities, tries to renounce
being Spider-Man. To keep him
engaged, Arachne sends The Sinister
Six, a lineup of villains (including,
mysteriously, the apparently dead
Green Goblin) to launch a crime wave.
A number of calamities ensue—
60 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
including a blackout in New York and
the shutdown of the Internet—all of
which are revealed to have been part
of an Arachne-inspired dream.
Desperate to get Peter’s attention,
Arachne kidnaps his girlfriend, Mary
Jane, spiriting her away to the astral
plane and imprisoning her in a
cocoon. Arachne informs Peter that,
unless he agrees to be her consort
throughout eternity, she will kill Mary
Jane. He agrees, in order to save the
woman he loves. Arachne, stunned at
Peter’s magnanimity, realizes that he
is not the man she thought he was,
and quietly dies. Peter and Mary Jane
return to New York to start their lives
It’s an understatement to say that
this version left audiences confused
and alienated. Whether Taymor, given
more time, would have sufficiently
clarified the story line will probably
never be known. It’s fair to say,
however, that the show on display in
February was hard to follow, lacked
narrative drive, and was freighted with
tragic implications that clashed with
the audience’s expectations. Most
damagingly, it played like an early,
overstuffed draft, staged before the
authors had made crucial decisions
about what to keep and what to
eliminate. Especially troublesome was
the Geek Chorus, a quartet of
teenagers (based on Berger, Bono,
The Edge, and Taymor), who interrupted the action to comment on the
story and compose new plot twists;
their appearances served only to bring
the action repeatedly to a halt.
Aguirre-Sacasa’s script significantly
revised the story while retaining the
show’s theme, based on the famous
Spider-Man motto, “With great power
comes great responsibility.” Arachne’s
role was trimmed and reconceived,
making her a kind of patron saint
figure who oversees Peter in times of
trouble and gently guides him to
maturity. (Gone is the infamous Act II
number, “Deeply Furious,” depicting
Arachne and her eight-legged
followers on a shoe-shopping spree.)
The Geek Chorus was eliminated
altogether, a decision that vastly
improved the production’s pace. The
extra time gained from these cuts
was used to refashion the narrative,
which now consists of a two-part
battle between Spider-Man and the
Green Goblin, and which focuses on
Peter as he struggles to reconcile his
two identities.
If anything, V2.0—as the
production team calls it—relies more
on the show’s spectacle and flying
effects, a decision that results in a
much stronger audience response.
Taymor famously described SpiderMan as a combination of rock opera
and circus, and that’s a pretty good
description of what is now taking
place on the Foxwoods Stage. If it’s
not the show that anyone set out to
do, it is, nevertheless, a show that
audiences want to see.
In any case, another Broadway
show with such ambitions is unlikely
to happen any time soon. What
follows is the story of how the design
and technical team managed to rise
above (as one of the show’s song
puts it) all the noise and negative buzz
to accomplish their remarkable work.
A comic book come to life
George Tsypin has designed scenery
at virtually all the major opera houses
of the world. His productions for the
Metropolitan Opera include War and
Peace, The Gambler, and The Magic
Flute, the latter staged by Julie
Taymor. (The two have collaborated
on various projects.) On Spider-Man,
he says, he and Taymor began with a
single simple concept out of which
everything else evolved.
“Clearly, we wanted to start with
comic books,” says Tsypin, who
began designing the show in early
2007. “I had never opened a comic
book in my life. I was surprised at
what I saw, because it’s a different
way of reading. It’s so visual; in a way,
you have to take in the entire page, as
there are so many events happening
at the same time. Comic books are
also very cinematic—you have a long
shot followed by a close-up of the
same event. I wanted to capture these
perceptions in my design.”
To create an on-stage world that
was, essentially, a comic book come
to life, Tsypin deployed any number
of techniques, including flat illustrated
backdrops with big blocks of color,
drops that open up like pop-up
books, and plenty of video imagery.
Scenes range from an intimate view
of Peter and Mary Jane on the
landing of a fire escape, floating in a
night sky, to spectacularly sinister
cityscapes, dominated by ominously
tilting skyscrapers, to a vertiginous
downward view from the top of the
Chrysler Building. (Much of Tsypin’s
scenery has a strongly angular
quality, which reflects his intensive
use of forced perspective.)
Tsypin notes that the show was
largely designed before the interregnum period that shut the
production down for approximately
nine months. He says the long pause
“was not a good thing for the show,
but it was a good thing for us,
because, during the hiatus, we had
the chance to rethink certain things.
We needed that extra time.” The
production’s scenery was built and
automated by PRG Scenic
Technologies. PRG also provided the
lighting, sound, and video gear for the
production, making it a total service
provider for Spider-Man.
Among the issues with which the
designer grappled were the
relationship between the stage and
auditorium, and the show’s extensive
flying system, which, he realized, had
to be integrated into the scenery. “In
an ideal world, I would have treated
the entire theatre as one design,”
Tsypin says. “Ultimately, I couldn’t be
more inclusive of the house.” He
adds, however, that, with the show’s
large proscenium, which has the look
of a projecting spider web, “I created
a tunnel that projects into the house
and psychologically sucks the
audience in; the barrier between the
stage and the house is broken.”
Of course, the flying effects are
what really breach the normal gulf
between stage and audience, and
Tsypin says he knew from the
beginning that Spider-Man would
need to fly. This mandate
occasionally complicated matters,
however, as design ideas clashed
with the scale of the rigging set-up.
“The original design had an upsidedown subway train that ran above the
audience,” he says. “It was cut after it
was built, because of the complexity
of the flying system. I had to clear a
great deal of space for it, and I
collaborated closely on it with the
flying consultant [Jaque Paquin, who
works frequently with Cirque du
Soleil]; the set and the flying are
basically one design.
“The big elephant is the integration
of the flying system,” Tsypin adds.
“That’s what took so long. We had to
conceive the logic of it. It’s
completely invisible—you see the
wires, but not the superstructure
behind it. That steel structure has to
be 100% rigid; that’s why the theatre
had to be rebuilt.”
PRG’s Fred Gallo, the production’s
technical supervisor, adds, “An
enormous part of the job was what
we had to do to the theatre. We were
doing things with flying that had
never been done before outside of
the movies. Scott Fisher, of Fisher
Technical in Las Vegas, did the
system.” As opposed to oldfashioned flying systems, which
feature a performer on a single cable,
Gallo says, “When the actor in
Spider-Man is flying over the
audience, he is tied to six different
winches. There is one in each corner
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 61
The show's considerable video aspect gets a full workout in "A Freak Like Me Needs Company." Werner fashioned this entirely new
sequence for V.20.
at the front of house; they talk to
each other and move the actor, in
plane, from corner to corner. A fifth
winch raises and lowers him and a
sixth winch spins him around so his
orientation is facing the right
direction. This requires an enormous
amount of calculation.”
Interestingly, Gallo notes, the
technology for the flying system was
derived from the Las Vegas production
of Phantom of the Opera; Scott Fisher
and his team worked on that
production’s falling chandelier effect.
“It breaks apart in four different
sections over the audience and flies
out,” Gallo says. “Fisher spent millions
of dollars on software to make that
happen. Here, they took that
knowledge and used it to create threedimensional flying in the theatre.”
62 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
Reworking the theatre’s interior to
accommodate the flying system
posed another set of challenges.
Gallo also notes that the Foxwoods,
which appears to be a vintage
Broadway house, is actually a
modern building synthesized from the
Apollo and Lyric Theatres, which
formerly occupied the Foxwoods
footprint on 42nd Street. (It opened in
1998 as the Ford Center for the
Performing Arts, and, for a time, was
also known as the Hilton Theatre.)
“When it was built,” he says, “they
kept the façade of the Lyric and
created a plaster ceiling, dome, and
proscenium from parts of both
theatres. They hired a landmark plaster
expert, Francois Furieri, and his
company, Iconoplast, from Montreal.”
The new design of the show
required all of these landmarked
items to be removed. This was easier
said then done, Gallo adds, noting
that the theatre is owned by The New
42nd Street, a nonprofit entity established by New York State and New
York City, which has presided over
the neighborhood’s transformation in
the last 15 years. “We needed their
approval,” he says. “We had ten
different landmark consultants,
building code specialists, and a
building permit expeditor to make this
happen.” The theatre had been built
10 years before, but he was able to
track down Furieri, the original plaster
restorer, as a consultant on this new
work. The interior’s landmark décor
was cut, marked, crated, and stored
against the day when Spider-Man will
be gone and it can be restored; until
then, the pieces are kept in a bonded,
climate-controlled warehouse. At the
same time, the theatre’s orchestra
seating was removed to allow Roger
Morgan, the theatre’s original
consultant, to reseat the house for
maximum capacity. The seats were
kept out to allow the crew to work
More fundamental structural work
involved expanding and deepening
the orchestra pit, in order to accommodate the three scenic elevators
required by Tsypin’s design. This
meant digging into bedrock under the
theatre. Gallo, who hired a specialist
company for the task, says, “The only
easy method was to use dynamite,
but we weren’t allowed to do that.
Instead, we had to use jackhammers.
The New 42nd Street brought in
engineers with strain gauges; if vibrations were above a certain resonance,
they’d shut us down. Work was
taking forever, so we brought in a big,
construction-type jackhammer, which
is run independently by an operator
located 20’ away. That worked for a
couple of months, then we brought in
drills and hydraulic splitters to split
the rock out.” After that, he adds,
“We poured concrete to create a subbase to put in the three lifts.”
Also, says Gallo, “We took the
theatre’s stage out, which was
relatively easy to do, as it was built to
be removed.” The trio of lifts in the
newly installed stage can create
ramps and platforms. “The ramps,
which are trapezoidal, are 37’ long,
and, when measured together, are 38’
wide on the downstage side and
approximately 24’ wide on the
upstage end,” he adds. “All of the
stage ramps are hinged on the
downstage line. The center ramp has
an additional ramp built into it that
can go up another 14’.” This added
articulation reinforces the illusion of
forced perspective that is used
throughout the scenic design.
“The first time you see this effect is
in the Brooklyn Bridge scene,” says
Peter walks home from school. The drop behind him, depicting a set of row houses,
turns like pages in a book to show the street from different perspectives.
Gallo, referring to a nightmare
sequence in which Peter dreams that
the Green Goblin has kidnapped Mary
Jane. “Spider-Man is running
downstage in slow motion as the
platform rises from the edge. He
leans out and Mary Jane is seen
hanging from the underside of the
ramp.” The scene ends in a blackout.
The stage ramps actuate up and
down, going up to a maximum height
of 14’, with a speed capacity from 014’, in under four seconds. “Since the
ramps had to move extremely fast, a
hydraulic system was deemed the
only sensible way to go,” says Gallo.
“We put in a hydraulic pump room
specifically for this show and then
plumbed it with 4” diameter steel pipe
rather than hoses, because of the
amount of oil that had to be pumped
around the building. This is the
largest hydraulic automation system
on Broadway.
“We have 145 motorized effects in
the show,” adds Gallo. “A big musical
typically has 50 or 60.” The scenery is
controlled by two of PRG’s
Commander automation consoles—
one for scenery and one for deck
effects. “We have four automation
techs who run the show,” he says,
“two who run all the Fisher flying
effects in the followspot booth, so
they can see the stage, and two who
run PRG’s Stage Command System
located on the stage right fly floor.”
In addition, Spider-Man probably
sets some kind of record for set
electrics, many of which will be
discussed a little later. However, one
particularly notable item is the stage
deck, which, says Gallo, is an LED
lightbox. “I can’t tell you how much
development we went through with
that,” he adds. “We originally
imagined a lighting rig in the
basement, using incandescent units,
which would shine through a
Plexiglas deck. Eventually, we
invented our own LED lightbox.” The
LED units were designed by PRG and
built offshore.
Much of the time, the stage deck
is unlit. It is lit when, raised at an
angle, the floor becomes part of the
set for the climactic battle between
Spider-Man and the Green Goblin
(more about this later). “We spent a
lot of time researching the lighting for
the stage deck lightboxes in the
ramps,” says Mark Peterson, a
project manager for PRG Scenic
Technologies. “The Plexiglas tops are
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 63
digitally printed on the underside in
blacks and grays. The internal lighting
not only had to be white but it had to
be dimmable. There was no real
depth to be able to diffuse incandescent lighting properly, and there
would be too much heat. We decided
to design our own version of a white
3” x 6” LED board, with LEDs on 1”
spacing. This let us mount the LED
boards into different configurations to
fit the trapezoidal lightboxes.
Because they are so shallow, we only
had 2” available to diffuse the LEDs,
so we mounted diffusion filters
directly underneath the printed
Plexiglas panels. We provided 250
LED dimmers to deal with the
enormous amount of circuits needed
for the whole floor. Altogether, we
have about 9,000 LED boards in the
floor ramps.” These custom-designed
LEDs are also used elsewhere, most
notably in the eight LED panels that
traverse the stage.
Of course, all of this requires plenty
of power, which posed another set of
challenges, says Randall Zaibek, one
of the show’s two production electricians (along with James Fedigan).
“The theatre was equipped with
seventeen 400A disconnects,” he
says. “Not that you would utilize
everything in the theatre, but when we
did the math we had some issues.
They had a 4,000A main disconnect
for the backstage feed, but we found
out from Con Ed that it was only being
fed with 1,200A. Between the lighting,
automation, video, etc., the needs far
exceeded the 1,200A feed. We were
estimating we needed around 4,000A
to run the show. Unfortunately, what
we found at the street from Con Ed,
which was on 43rd Street, was a
potential 800A that we could bring into
the theatre, which would bring our
total power up to 2,000A for the
backstage feed. We got Con Ed to
give us that extra 800A and got
everyone to rework their power needs
so now we are running the show just
under the 2,000A being provided.”
64 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
“Other than the show being
extremely heavy, it wasn’t a hard show
to rig,” says Gallo. “But we have about
125,000lbs of electrics and scenery in
the air, which puts us at the limit of the
theatre’s capacity. We had to install a
lot of secondary steel, and work with
structural engineers to ensure that we
didn’t overstress the building steel. The
outlined in LEDs—that parts in the
middle to create a diamond iris reveal
effect, and eight scenic legs, four each
at stage right and stage left, half of
which are lightboxes and half of which
are video panels. But scene after scene
yields many more visual surprises.
It begins with the opening
sequence, in which Peter Parker is
This nightmare sequence, set on the Brooklyn Bridge, makes use of the lifts built into
the show’s deck. Note also the cutout of the Green Goblin at stage left; it is one of
Tsypin’s many comic-book touches.
front-of-house flying required
cantilevered secondary steel columns,
structural bucking of the roof, and
diagonally bracing the roof trusses to
create a stiff frame. Each fly line, after
exiting the winch drum, runs through
eight to 12 different muling sheaves to
finally enter super gimbles, designed
by Fisher in exactly the right location in
three-dimensional space. It was very
important that all of the ultimate
positions of the cable muling be
correct in three dimensions, as we
were providing three-dimensional
flying. The Fisher engineers worked out
the math for the software in advance,
and were counting on us for accuracy.”
Key moments
Almost every scene in Spider-Man
involves some scenic effects. Certain
pieces recur throughout the show,
including a spider web drop—the web
presenting a paper in his English
class on the topic of Arachne; the
spider web drop parts to reveal what
is known in the production as the
loom. In it, a number of Arachne’s
followers, attached to vertical silks,
swing from upstage to downstage. As
they do, a series of horizontal silks
rise into place, as if a giant tapestry is
being woven on stage.
“On the one hand, it’s a very simple
effect,” says Tsypin. “You have girls on
swings. But the geometry of it is very
tricky. The horizontal pieces are timed
manually. The number of tests we had
to do was unbelievable. The horizontal
pieces are silks, but the verticals are a
special material that had to be
designed, tested, and produced
especially for us. They had to be
certified to carry that [human] load.”
Next comes Peter’s high school
classroom, which Gallo calls “one of
the most difficult” pieces in the show.
It’s a total pop-up effect; a backdrop
depicting the school’s exterior comes
on stage; an oddly angled section of
opens up vertically to reveal a
classroom interior. As that happens,
four desks, created in forced
perspective, roll onstage. “It opens so
quickly that you don’t realize what
just happened,” he adds. “It’s like a
real child’s picture book that opens
up and all the desks unfold.”
The following scene features an
effect that may not be the most
spectacular, but is, in some ways, the
most astonishing. Peter and Mary
Jane are walking home from school.
The actors are on a treadmill, and,
behind them, a flat backdrop,
depicting the row houses of Queens,
executes a series of pivots, showing
the streetscape from various perspectives. “The Queens row houses are so
lightweight. They fly in and we have
counter-weighted jacks on the rear to
offset the weight of the panels as
they pivot. They end up working very
well,” explains Peterson. The scene
also features a whimsical inside joke:
On the bridge that flies in above, a
tiny version of the No. 7 subway line
passes over the action. “I was told
that the PRG scenic staff attached a
little figure to the train, and that figure
is me,” says Tsypin, amused.
Speaking of the scenery for the
high school and Queens streetscape,
Tsypin says, “Basically, I had one idea
for the show: the pop-up book. I
came up with it because Julie wanted
to deal seriously with comic books.
I’ve never done graphic designs in my
life—I always come up with complex
spatial ideas—and somehow I had to
combine these two concepts. A popup book does that; it gives you a
graphic image rendered in space. I
got every pop-up book I could. So
many of them are so beautiful—and,
to my horror, I realized how complex
they are. The people who do these
books are obsessives, maniacs—
each one has to open in just such a
way. It took us months, but we finally
started coming up with interesting
pop-ups. Then the next issue was,
how do you build them? I was told it
wasn’t impossible—but, of course, I
was working with PRG, and they were
willing to experiment.”
Gallo notes, “I’d say to George,
‘It’s not impossible, but it’s
improbable that we can do this. I’d
never worked with George before,
and I absolutely love the guy. He
does things totally differently. Most
designers sketch out what they’re
thinking about and show it to the
director. Then the assistants draft it ,
specify it, and finally make a model.
George does the opposite. He makes
10, 12, 20 models until he is happy
with what the design of the piece
should look like. Then he has his
assistants draw it. He’s an architect;
those models really helped us.”
Speaking of the row house effect, he
adds, “It’s extraordinary, like a picture
book that keeps opening and
opening. I can’t tell you how much
development went on in the shop to
Arachne tries to inspire Peter in the number “Rise Above.”
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 65
get lightweight materials and to figure
out where the motors should go.”
In fact, a key part of the process
involved finding lightweight materials
for this and many other scenes. The
solution was carbon fiber; many of
the set pieces, which split open,
unfold, or telescope out, are made of
carbon fiber frames with fabrics
stretched over them. As Gallo recalls,
“George kept saying, ‘Freddy, build it
like a kite.’” As it happens, the PRG
team took that suggestion to heart.
Gallo adds, “There weren’t many
solutions” to the challenges of
Tsypin’s design. “Carbon fiber is used
for fighter jets and the masts of largescale sailboats. We built a vacuum
machine to make it; it was a whole
new way of working, but it was light
and stiff, and was what we needed.
Of course, it’s so expensive it would
make your head spin around, but this
show had the money to do it.”
One scene where the use of carbon
fiber proved crucial takes place the
morning after Peter has been bitten by
the spider. He wakes up with his new
super powers, as is demonstrated in
the number “Bouncing Off the Walls.”
Peter’s bedroom consists of four
separate pieces—two walls and a
ceiling and floor—that are held in
place partly by performers and partly
by rigging The walls, which are 18’
wide by 14’ high, were fabricated
using carbon fiber tubing and were
covered in spandex. Peter, rigged for
flying, does just what the song’s title
says, ramming into each of the
surfaces. “None of that could have
been built normally,” says Gallo. “It’s a
little puppet theatre,” says Tsypin.
“The actors are like puppeteers, and
they manipulate the walls.”
In another example, an Act II
scene set in Mary Jane’s Manhattan
apartment uses fiber frames with rare
earth magnets that allow the walls to
be quickly assembled. “We are
convinced that future productions will
benefit from the experience we
gained from this build process. The
use of carbon fiber has opened new
doors of possibilities for us in scenic
construction,” adds Peterson.
Manhattan, as seen in several
sequences, including “Sinistereo,” in
which the Sinister Six run amok, and
in battles between Spider-Man and
the Green Goblin, has an
Expressionist-meets-film-noir quality,
reminiscent of some of Fritz Lang’s
silent films. The dark, claustrophobic
effect of these designs, with their
askew angles and tricks of
perception, are aided by a set of
scenic sliders depicting skyscrapers,
which the team refers to as the city
legs. “We have four sets of legs,
which are large panels with city
graphics printed on the front, that
move in and out and also light up in
different colors,” says associate
scenic designer Rob Bissinger. “Each
panel moves independently and is
able to not only track side to side, but
also tilt up to 45º, which gives us
these sweeping cityscapes.” The
issue in constructing these panels
was that, when backlit, the internal
framing structure had to be effectively
invisible. PRG used the printed
graphic design on each panel’s
translucent facade as a kind of
camouflage. The 2” aluminum rods
were welded to the internal channel
frame in a unique pattern behind the
dark lines of the printed graphic. “We
tried a lot of different techniques, with
varying levels of success,” says
Bissinger. “Finally, they came up with
this kind of internal web-like
structure, which would actually help
keep the legs plumb and square even
as they tilted and went off their center
of gravity. As these web frames inside
the legs catch little bits of light, they
give them an internal life and an
internal structure that is both SpiderMan-like and architectural.” Adding to
the vertiginous quality of these
scenes is an upstage circular piece,
depicting skyscrapers, which spins
rapidly. “It’s just a way of referring to
the flying,” says Tsypin, but it adds to
these scenes’ disorienting, constantly
in motion effects.
“I’ve never had an experience
where scenery moved so well,” the
designer adds. “We were quite timid
in the beginning, and programmed
very subtle movements. This is
because I’m more used to opera, and
I thought things had to move in more
stately fashion. In most of these
scenes, you’re looking at the fliers,
but the rapidly moving scenery does
add to the excitement.”
Probably the most talked-about
scenic component is seen in the
climax, in which Spider-Man and the
Green Goblin meet for a showdown
The proscenium, as designed by Tsypin, is designed to pull the audience into the action.
Its unusual angles made placement of the sound system more of a challenge than usual.
66 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
The pop-up classroom scene is, Gallo notes, one of the show’s most difficult scenic
pieces. “It opens so quickly that you don’t realize what just happened,” he adds.
at the Chrysler Building, engaging in
a battle on the side of a skyscraper
that the audience sees from a birdseye view, gazing at the Manhattan
traffic below. (It’s enough to cause a
case of vertigo in the suggestible.)
The Chrysler Building is stored in a
hanging position, pointing straight
down and folded in half. As it flies in,
it actuates, opening to a total length
of 50‘, extending out over the fourth
row of the audience. At the same
time, the stage floor rises up on an
angle, revealing the lightboxes
mentioned earlier. A drop, located far
upstage, comes into place depicting
moving cars in the street below. It’s a
remarkably effective attempt at reorienting the audience’s point of
view—and it leads directly into the
most daring of the show’s flying
sequences, as Spider-Man and the
Green Goblin duke it out over the
entire volume of the auditorium.
“There are two Chrysler Buildings,”
adds Tsypin. “One telescopes from
the floor, and, as it collapses, a
second one unfolds down, while
Spider-Man is flying. During that flight,
a complicated setup is taking
upstage; behind a backdrop, an
enormous steel frame, with flying
points is being delivered. Two stage-
hands climb the steel frame and throw
cables through the holes in the drop
showing the street, while two others
hook up the Green Goblin upstage.”
Again, says Gallo, Tsypin and his
team “made so many models of the
Chrysler Building, and that helped us
understand how to do it. And again,
George wanted it to be as kite-like
as possible.”
Among the rest of the sets,
perhaps the most graphically striking
is Norman Osborne’s laboratory,
which is represented by a backdrop
depicting leaded glass as far as the
eye can see, in addition to a pair of
sharply angled glass tubes. “Again,
it’s in the comic-book style, ,” says
Tsypin. “I had a kind of vision of test
tubes; it looks like they’re going into
deep space, a cold glass feeling. It’s
the only set where we’re in a glass
world.” The set includes a bridge on
which Peter, Mary Jane, and their
classmates enter when visiting the lab
on a field trip. It’s one of two bridges
in the show. “The bridges are big and
heavy,” says Gallo. “They have Fisher
winches on them and Fisher tracks.
They have to be strong when flying in
and out, and also strong laterally, for
those times when cast members are
hooked up to them. They’re guided
by large, 10” square, ½”-thick steel
tubes that are attached vertically from
the stage floor to the grid.”
Other sets in the show include a
high school locker room, where Peter
strikes back at the bullies who
regularly taunt him; a cemetery for the
funeral of Peter’s Uncle Ben; the
offices of the newspaper Daily Bugle,
where Peter gets a job photographing
Spider-Man in action; a discotheque;
and the street outside the theatre
where Mary Jane is starring in an Off
Broadway show. To further underscore the comic-book concept,
Tsypin created large, flat pieces—
depicting Spider-Man and the Green
Goblin, which jackknife out from the
wings from time to time.
Tsypin notes that, for V2.0, “many
effects had to be reprogrammed, but
the second version was conceived
with our involvement. Everyone
understood that you couldn’t just
rewrite a scene and stick it in, as you
might do in a normal musical. The
new version was very much written
with the set in mind. Still, we had to
make changes; I had to conceive a
couple of new scenes, including one
for the Green Goblin’s new number,
‘A Freak Like Me Needs Company.’”
Speaking of the overall project, the
designer says, “We knew it was
complicated, but, initially, when we
started rehearsals, there were
moments of despair, moments when
we thought we couldn’t make it work.
I can’t tell you how brilliant the crew
is; they move like Spider-Man.
Sometimes they have five seconds to
climb the stairs, hook up an actor,
and jump back. They turned the
corner and made it work.” Gallo
adds, “In every show, there’s always
one piece that you’re worried about.
In Spider-Man, every piece was
another extraordinary challenge; after
you hung it, it performed a million
tricks. We were asked to do things
we’d never seen before—scenery that
pops up and swivels down, and
scenery, like Peter Parker’s bedroom,
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 67
where the walls had to be so light.”
Gallo adds, “We were rehearsing
two shows—a regular Broadway
show that happens on the stage and
another that takes place in the air.
The show in the air takes more time
than it takes to rehearse a Broadway
show on stage. It was a continuous
fight to get enough time to rehearse
two shows. That’s why we worked so
long. It was eight in the morning to
midnight for months at a time; one of
the hardest things about this show
was just being able to stick with it.”
Villains in video
Kyle Cooper, the projection designer,
created the production’s original video
content, much of which focuses on the
Green Goblin and The Sinister Six.
Howard Werner, the production’s
media designer, says, “My job was to
work with Kyle and Julie and George to
incorporate the media into a Broadway
show.” Ultimately, he was responsible
for the final look of V2.0 Werner is a
principal with the lighting and video
design firm Lightswitch, and, he adds,
“Lightswitch staff—including Jason
Lindahl, the production video
electrician, and Phil Gilbert, the video
programmer—was in the theatre for 12
months, full-time. I showed up in
August, 2010 and worked until the
opening in June. We were full-on in
support of the show from the moment
the video gear starting loading in
during June of last year.”
Cooper has directed more than
150 film title sequences, his most
recent releases include Final
Destination: 5, Rango, and the AMC
series The Walking Dead. In addition,
he has done visual effects on such
films as TRON: Legacy and Tropic
Thunder. He has provided either title
sequences or effects for most of the
films based on Marvel characters,
including all three Spider-Man films);
he also designed the “flip-book” logo
that is seen at the beginning of film
produced by Marvel Productions. And
he has considerable experience with
68 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
Julie Taymor. “I worked with her on
Titus Andronicus, and designed five
penny arcade nightmare sequences in
the body of the movie,” he says. “On
Across the Universe, I did second unit
photography and also the title
sequence. I did 300 effects
sequences for The Tempest.”
During the shooting of The Tempest,
which was released at the end of 2010,
Cooper and Taymor were well into
discussions about projections for
Spider-Man. He adds that their working
method was similar to that of their
films. “She will tell me her ideas, and I’ll
go away and make books filled with
storyboard frames,” he says.
“Sometimes they’re drawn, and
sometimes they’re made of photo
montages. I made a series of books for
Spider-Man. For ‘Sinistereo,’ I did a
series of sequences showing, for
example, Rhino [one of the Sinister Six]
crashing into the Leaning Tower of
Pisa.” He notes that, in many ways, the
information in the books was highly
preliminary. “Because the costume
drawings [by Eiko Ishioka] weren’t
fabricated yet, it was hard to be more
specific, so we were kind of waiting. I
met with George Tsypin’s people and
saw designs for the set, but I didn’t
know what the costumes were going to
be. It was a little challenging.”
Finally, Cooper says, “The
costumes started to come together,
and I went to New York with Julie and
Danny Ezralow, and shot all of the
villains against green screens. Then I
put them into environments that were
inspired by what George was doing,
and I began to show her frames of
what the video would look like.”
The process of creating the video
sequences was intensive, he adds. “It
seems really simple, but getting the
sequences to the final product can
sometimes be a long process. I know
Julie pretty well and we have worked
together frequently, but still, to this
day, she surprises me with observations that she’ll make when I think I
have it solved. Julie works harder
than anyone else. Her desire is
always to create something that has
never been seen before, ‘a muse of
fire that would ascend the brightest
heaven of invention.’ I have always
jumped at the chance to pursue that
muse with her, regardless of the
challenges involved.”
With the others, Werner played a
key role in the selection of the
projection format. “At the point I got
involved,” he says, “there was the
desire for video projection; at the time,
they thought they would use RP
surfaces. But, from a sanity-keeping
point of view, LED panels were the
way to go. At that point, however,
they couldn’t really afford a high-res
surface. The delay in the show
worked to our benefit because, during
the time it was shut down, LED
products became less expensive.”
The eight LED panels, each 8’
wide by 33’ high, are configured as
four pairs of legs, which track on and
off stage. The 15mm SMD LED video
product is part of the custom LEDs
specified by PRG. The legs are
covered with black rear-projection
screen to soften and blend the LED
imagery. In addition, they are covered
with black sharkstooth scrim material;
that way, when no video is displayed,
they essentially disappear; when lit,
they look like standard black fabric
legs. Each leg weighs 1,300lbs,
contains 100 video tiles, and can
track back and forth on stage in just
about any position. One image can
be spread across all eight legs, or
each leg can feature individual
content. The majority of the video
sequences take place in the second
act. During “A Freak Like Me Needs
Company,” the legs show images of
the Sinister Six, as, one by one, they
team up with the Green Goblin.
During “Sinistereo,” the legs show
more images of the Sinister Six as
they run riot. Later in Act II, when
Peter and Mary Jane go to a disco to
forget their troubles, the legs are
covered with television images, which
The climactic battle, with aerial effects, is staged from the point of view of the top of the Chrysler Building, looking down at the
traffic below.
are interrupted when the Green
Goblin jams the airwaves to issue an
ultimatum to Spider-Man. All of these
images support Tsypin’s larger-thanlife comic-book concept.
“There was a lot of back and forth
about what comes first, the choreography of the legs or my sequences,”
says Cooper. “Also, there were
questions: Is the sequence locked to
the legs or does it move with the legs?
Sometimes I had to reposition things.
When I had to be back in LA, Howard
would be on the ground working with
elements that I sent, speeding things
up and color-correcting things interactively with Julie.”
Feeding imagery to the legs are
three PRG Mbox EXtreme media
servers—one for the eight LED
panels; one for the projector mounted
on the balcony rail, which is used for
front-projected effects; and one for
practicals onstage. There is
something like 320GB of content on
the servers, not all of which is used in
the show. The Mboxes are linked to
the production’s lighting console, a
PRG V676. Werner used a similar
approach on the recent national tour
of Dreamgirls, which also featured a
great deal of video content. “The
V676, which handles the video and
the moving lights, is linked to an ETC
Eos, which is the master,” he says,
adding that there’s a MIDI Show
Control trigger for the video. He notes
that a significant number of video
cues are linked to lighting cues. “If I
have Video Cue 222 and Don Holder
has Light Cue 222, the V676 will
automatically take that cue number.
We also coordinated with Don on
video-only cues. When that happens,
he creates a dummy cue in his cue
stack; most of the time, however, I
had something that would go along
for the ride.” He adds, “There are
some moments when audio drives
the bus. ‘Sinistereo,’ for example, is
locked to the orchestra; there’s a click
track started by the conductor,
associated with SMPTE time code,
which triggers the video desk.”
One major technical challenge
involves allowing video content to
track with the LED legs as they move
around the stage. Thus the video
system receives positioning information from the automation system
that drives the LED walls. Encoders
added to the SCS winches feed back
each video panel’s position to the
Mbox. That way, the automation and
the projection systems know exactly
where the LED legs are at any time;
this allows for quick and accurate
mapping of video content while the
LED legs are moving.
PRG developed two modes for the
Mbox’s video output. In discrete
mapping mode, the video projection
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 69
Arachne’s loom is the first of the show’s many stunning effects.
tracks with the LED leg as it moves,
with the image appearing to be
attached to the individual leg.
Essentially, a single pixel of video
output from the Mbox is mapped to a
single pixel on the LED output and
tracks with the screen. In projected
mode, the output appears to be
projected onto the stage, not
attached to the individual leg, but
simply allowing the legs to move
through the projection. It’s possible
for either mode to be set for each
individual LED leg. “The way that
we’re able to use content that the
screens move through, and content
that is stuck to the screens, coupled
with front projection in and around
the LED screens, really gives us a
video composition with a lot of
depth,” says Lindahl. “It allows us to
layer video content in a number of
different ways; to create many very
visually striking and unique looks that
maybe haven’t been seen before on a
scale of this size.”
Then came the job of implementing V2.0 which, thanks to a
significantly different second act,
required considerable reworking of
the video sequences. By then,
Cooper, who oversees a busy firm of
70, had returned to Los Angeles. “I
70 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
delivered all my sequences and they
seemed immutable at that time,” he
says. Julie left me a message that
something was going on. Then
Howard called me and said he’d
[been asked by the producers to]
make changes that they needed to
make to my sequences.” Werner
adds, “My job on V2.0 was to recomposite the footage. For example, ‘A
Freak Like Me Needs Company’ is an
all-new sequence.”
Werner says that collaborating with
Holder was a real necessity. “We
coordinated everything; there are
moments when video is the key visual
element—and if there’s a color
scheme happening in the video, Don
plays along. In the first act, video is
secondary; in the walking-homefrom-school sequence, the LED legs
are used only to make fields of color.
Don set the colors he wanted to use
and I went along with it. The part that
works the best is in moments when
you don’t know which technology
you’re looking at.”
Ubiquitous lighting
“It was a process I will not forget,”
says Donald Holder, who began
working on the show’s lighting design
in 2007, moving into the theatre in the
summer of 2009. “Randy Zaibek and
his crew were just about to begin
prepping the lighting and doing the
pre-hang, and, on August 4, 2009—I
remember the date—they pulled the
plug. We started back up in the
spring of 2010, and everything moved
really quickly after that. All of a
sudden, I had a six-month
commitment—and then it got
extended another six months.”
By any standard, Holder’s task
was enormous, as he was required to
not only light the action onstage, but
also above the audience—and, as we
have seen, the production features a
daunting number of set electrics.
Even so, finding space for lighting
was the issue, what with all the real
estate taken up by the flying rig and
scenery, and considerable ingenuity
was required to allow Holder to do his
work. “Most of the drops measure
about 50’ tall by 70’ wide, and had to
be lit absolutely evenly from top to
bottom,” he says. “The only way to
accomplish this task was to light the
goods from directly behind. We had
room on the back wall, so I designed
a massive goalpost system fitted with
Altman Spectra Cyc LED lights,
[Philips Vari*Lite] VL2000 Wash lights,
and [Martin Professional] Atomic
Strobes. They all shoot through a
muslin drop that acts as a bounce
and as a diffuser, focusing directly
onto various goods: a rear-projection
screen that’s used as the cyc, the
Oscorp Laboratory drop, the revenge
drop, etc.” With this system, the
muslin bounce can fly out, allowing
Holder to light directly through the
drops when he wants to see the
sources. For example, the Oscorp
Lab features a yellow sun; when, in
that same scene, Norman Osborne
becomes the Green Goblin, the transformation is effected using Atomic
strobes from the goalpost. During the
number “If the World Should End,”
featuring Peter and Mary Jane on the
fire escape, there’s an effect with light
streaming through a pinhole drop,
creating a starry-night effect with
moving beams of light. “I use VL2000
Wash lights mounted on the back
wall goal post, programmed to slowly
scan across the rear of the pinhole
drop,” says Holder. “It’s an incredibly
simple idea but very effective.”
Given the demands of scenery and
rigging, Holder was dealing with a
light plot that had to be fit into any
available space. Thus the rig is
trimmed at over 40’ over the stage,
because the fixtures must be
positioned above the fly wires. In the
house, followspots are necessary to
track the flying sequence; however,
the theatre’s traditional followspot
positions were no good, because the
units had to reach from one end of
the theatre to the other. This meant
the installation of new positions for
the show’s three Lycian M2 units. “I
think of the followspots as the first
layer of the flying lighting,” says
Holder. “They can follow the flying
anywhere in the theatre, and they are
incredibly helpful. The second layer
involves tracking the flights with
automated lights using positioning
data received from the flying system;
finally, we put in the infrastructure so
that the entire space is illuminated. In
the end, most of the flying sequences
use a combination of all three
techniques.” In other scenes, he
adds, other techniques must be used:
“In ‘Bouncing Off the Walls,’ we have
[ETC] Source Four 10° units with
hand cranks for the scrollers; the
stagehands stand in the wings,
operating them. We use this same
approach to light the all of the
onstage flights, including when
Arachne is flying. Three followspots
isn’t that many for a show of this size;
with these auxiliary units, we’re pretty
well covered.”
Holder adds, “Overhead positions
are very limited because of scenery
and rigging; the bulk of the overhead
plot is composed of automated
lighting. This is the largest moving
light rig I’ve ever used—because the
demands of the production are so
immense and space is so limited.
There are about 160 units, and they’re
spread all over the theatre. As the
show kept evolving, Julie kept asking
for a cool white HMI light on the
actors—and that limited the use of
typical tungsten halogen fixtures. The
arc sources became more important,
because those units give off the kind
of light she was looking for.”
Of course, as noted, Holder had to
work intensively with Tsypin and PRG
staff on set electrics. Speaking of the
city legs, Mark Peterson says, “The
requirements were endless. Even
though they were to be built as lightboxes, they could not be too deep,
front to back. They had to be internally lit with RGB color, and also
individual windows in the front panel
graphics had to be able to be lit and
controlled. Also, the rear had to be
able to be backlit with automated
lights, which also meant there could
be no shadows from internal framing
needed to prevent twisting or
torqueing. It was both a lighting and
scenic challenge.” Holder adds, “The
City Legs are only 6” deep, but 9’
wide and 40’ tall. I’ve lit enough lightboxes to realize that it would be
difficult to provide even lighting with
a range of vivid colors. We did
several mockups at PRG. We tried
mini-strips, but they wouldn’t fit in
the space. We looked at LED fixtures,
and decided on Philips Color Kinetics
ColorGraze units. However, they
didn’t solve the problem completely,
because there were times the center
of the box would be dark, because
you couldn’t get the light through
such a narrow opening. I needed to
backlight the legs as well.” Peterson
adds, “For the overall RGB lighting,
we ended up using ColorGraze linear
units, which had a nice, tight beam of
10° x 60°. We ringed the inside of the
City Legs with the ColorGrazes and
got a nice even light with no
scalloping. The window lighting was
a little more complicated, but we
found single LED puck lights and
mounted them on round ½”
aluminum rods; we positioned them
where the windows were and welded
them into place.”
Holder seconds Werner’s
comments about the color-matching
process used to unite lighting and
video. “Howard and I had a very good
collaboration, making the lighting and
video work together, especially in ‘A
Freak Like Me,’ which is about using
an iconic color for each super-villain.
A lot of the lighting and the video
cues are driven by the same console.
It was a very intense and involved
collaboration. It was overwhelming at
times, trying to figure it out. When
you see the end result, it doesn’t look
complicated—it seems pretty
effortless and transparent—but it took
a lot of work to get it there.”
Holder and his team, including
associate lighting designer Vivien
Leone, wrote over 600 cues. The
PRG lighting package includes more
than 1,800 focusable fixtures, with
157 automated fixtures, 554 LED
fixtures, and over a quarter mile of
linear LEDs. There are 551 ETC
Source Fours and Source Four PARs
in various models and degree sizes,
two Strand 8” Fresnelites, 18 twocell focus cycs, sixteen 9LT T-3
striplights; thirty-one 6” MR16 striplights, six 2’ MR15 Vegas strips, 250
MR16 units of various types, three
Lycian M2 followspots, 16 MiniTens, 20 Micro Fill units, 113
Wybron Coloram II scrollers, and 17
Wybron CXI scrollers. For effects,
there are four C02 jets, four confetti
cannons, four High End Systems AF
1000 strobes, 19 Martin Professional
Atomic strobes, eight Diversitronics
Mighty Lite strobes, eight
Diversitronics Superstar strobes,
three MDG Atmosphere hazers, four
MDG MAX 3000 foggers, two Look
Solutions Power Tiny foggers, two
Scotty 2 foggers, 11 Look Solutions
Viper smoke machines, one Bowen
fan, seven Martin Jem fans, and one
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 71
28” wind machine. The moving light
component includes six Coemar
Infinity Wash XLs; 27 Philips
Vari*Lite VL3500Qs, ten VL3500
Wash units, 22 VL2000 Wash units,
two VL2500 Spots, three Martin
Professional MAC 2000 Wash XBs,
40 Mac 2000 Performances, 27 Mac
700 Profiles, six High End Systems
Studio Colors, and 14 DHA Digital
Light Curtains. The LED component
includes 56 Altman Spectra Cycs,
eight Altman Spectra PAR 100
MFLs, 12 Philips Color Kinetics
iColor MRs, 70 Philips CK 12”
iCoves, four 6” iCoves, 90 CK
ColorBlast 12s, seven CK
ColorBlaze, 312 CK ColorGraze
Powercore strips in various sizes, 91
LED MR16s, 15 LED RGB Light
Tape, 535 LED nodes for the deck,
147 Endor 7007 LED nodes, Boca
Flasher LSS30xx strips and SMX006
LED modules, CK EW MR16 units
and EW SLX strands of LED nodes,
one Neoflex LED tube, 31 miscellaneous LEDS from LEDtronics, and
two Suberbright Flex LED strips.
Discussing certain aspects of the
rig, Holder says the Mac 700s “are
small and fast; they illuminate a lot of
the flying. They’re very facile units;
they can accelerate quickly and their
movement pattern is always smooth.
He also notes that the Coemar unit
“became very important. It’s like a
1,500W ACL, with very rich color
production; I use it to do big strong
slashes of light in the air.” The
VL2000 washes, he adds, “are used
to backlight many of the drops and
they illuminate the starscape in ‘If the
World Should End.’ These wash units
also animate the text on the “revenge
drop,” [lighting up words like “pow!”]
in ‘Bouncing Off the Walls.’”
Speaking of control, Holder says,
“We used the first 20,000-channel
[ETC] Eos console for the conventional lighting, mostly for the LEDs.
The automated lighting is controlled
by a PRG V676, which is also
driving the video system. We used
72 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
two V676s during the cueing, and
now one console runs both lighting
and video. Richard Tyndall, who
programmed the lighting, did
something that shocked some
people. People ask me, ‘How did
you light all the flying? Was there
some sophisticated tracking
system?’ Actually, Richie did it with
helium-filled party balloons. We
realized we’d get no time to light the
actors, so, using the flight data from
Fisher, he figured out the flight
paths, their acceleration and deceleration, and, at each point along the
path of travel, Richie, aided by his
assistant, Porsche McGovern, would
create presets for all the appropriate
moving lights. These presets were
used to create a complex series of
follow cues, and then it was a
matter of finessing each step along
the path until it resulted in a smooth
and continuous pattern of
movement. At its core, it’s a fairly
simple solution; there were days and
days of party balloons.”
Somehow, during Spider-Man’s
tumultuous winter, Holder managed
to light two more Broadway shows,
Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Stephen
Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf—ker with
the Hat. This was possible, he says,
because “after February 7th, the
show went into a state of inertia”
while its future was being worked out.
He adds, “I had a day and a half to
tech Arcadia, and a week and a half
of previews—after working on a show
that teched for two months, it was
really thrilling.” Then, when Taymor
exited and McKinley took over,
Holder, a longtime Taymor collaborator, experienced feelings of divided
loyalties. Ultimately, he says, “I
wanted to see it through; that was
very important to me.”
Holder quickly learned that the
lighting approach he had devised for
Taymor’s vision—with lots of cool
HMI lighting on the actors, set against
backgrounds of deep color—didn’t fit
with McKinley’s approach. The
designer adds that he worked with
McKinley on the hit musical The Boy
From Oz, “so we had a working
vocabulary.” Overall, he says,
McKinley “wanted the lighting to be
less cool and edgy and more textured
and colorful. I had to smooth out the
edges, making it softer, lighter, and
more kid-friendly. At first, I was taken
aback; I thought, how can I do this?
We had taken a very specific
approach, and it was hard to accept
the direction show needed to take.
Thinking about it, reading the new
script, and seeing it on stage, I
realized I had to get with the
program. But if I told you it was easy,
I wouldn’t be honest. On some level, I
didn’t want to mess with Julie’s work;
ultimately, I tried hard to be a conscientious collaborator.”
However, he adds, “I feel good
about what we did. I feel that we
have a strong point of view, visually,
and, on many levels, we help to tell
the story. We went in there every day,
trying to do the best work we
possibly good. It was frustrating and
disappointing at times, and it wasn’t
always easy to stay motivated. The
show was expensive for a lot of
reasons, but we never veered off the
path of what the design needed to
be. The sheer amount of technology
in the production is overwhelming,
but I don’t feel there’s anything in the
show that we didn’t really need to do
the job.”
Spidery sound
In some ways, despite all the
complex technical challenges listed
above, sound proved to be the most
difficult aspect of Spider-Man,
especially since the early, unauthorized set of reviews complained that
the production was, at times, hard to
hear. This seemed almost impossible
to believe, as the production’s sound
designer, Jonathan Deans, had
worked fruitfully in the Foxwoods
Theatre several times before, on such
shows as Ragtime, The Pirate Queen,
and Young Frankenstein. (You could
argue that Deans’ shows were the
only intelligible productions in a
house that another sound designer
once described to this magazine as
“an absolute sonic disaster.”) Deans
departed the production, early in
2011, to work on another Broadway
musical, Priscilla, Queen of the
Desert. Peter Hylenski, a former
have proven to be acoustical
obstacles. But the scenic design and
flying rigging system posed new
challenges that weren’t easily solved.
“In Version One, we had three things
going against us,” he says. First,
unsurprisingly, was the battle for
space. “Everyone needed something
in every location. The flying
department needed landing
Tsypin’s set for the Oscorp Laboratory has an inside-the-test-tube feel; it also has one
of the show’s two bridges. The set’s “sun” is a backlit effect created using the goalpost
installed upstage by Holder.
Deans assistant and a designer with
more than a dozen Broadway shows
on his resume, took over. As Simon
Matthews, who worked as SpiderMan’s production sound engineer
before leaving to take a full-time job
with Meyer Sound, notes, the road to
getting an effective sound system
was a rocky one.
Interestingly, Matthews says, in
one respect, the job of the sound
design team was made easier. The
pre-load-in structural work included
the removal of the proscenium header
and parts of the ceiling dome, architectural elements that in the past
platforms. The lighting department
needed positions for side light.” He
adds that everyone strove to accommodate everyone else, but, at times,
solutions were hard to find. “There’s
so little room behind the proscenium;
in some spots, its 6’ off the wall—
and, in some spots, it’s 6”. Also,
when you look at the house left
proscenium, you don’t see that one
part of it has a fairly substantial pitch
coming out into the house. I asked if
we couldn’t hang speakers off of
that—but, if we did, the speaker
would be shooting 20’ in the wrong
direction. If we had been hanging a
small trapezoidal cabinet, it might
have been all right, but we were
hanging a line array.”
This, Matthews note, was the
nature of the game: “We spent a lot
of time negotiating what little space
there was on the proscenium. We had
several versions of plans; we’d hang
boxes, then something else would
come along and they wouldn’t work
in those positions. That is the nature
of this type of production; it’s an
installation and you just have to roll
with it.”
The second issue was Tsypin’s
highly dimensional proscenium,
“Because of its angles—and the
structure placed behind it to hold
those angles in place, there was no
room to put loudspeakers. Where you
could put them, they wouldn’t be
audible to the audience. There’s not
much magic to sound; if the speakers
aren’t visible, they won’t be audible to
the audience.” The third issue, he
says, was that the proscenium was
covered in what he describes as “a
perforated RP material, like, say, a
perforated shower curtain. “Some
materials can be used without
impacting the sound,” says
Matthews, “but not this.” He adds
that, by the time it became clear that
there might be a problem, “some of
the scenery was already built. At that
point, you can’t say, ‘That’s impossible.’ You have to fix it in the
theatre.” Ultimately, he says, after a
demo that proved how much the
system could be improved, the
speakers were brought out from
behind the proscenium, with many of
them being retained in floor positions.
Even so, it’s a very tight fit.
From the beginning, he says,
Taymor’s vision involved three distinct
treatments of sound. “There was the
theatrical world of the main
characters; the astral plane, where
Arachne lived and which was
supposed to have a floating,
surround-sound feeling; and the
super-hero scenes, which was
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 73
Spider-Man flies in front of Tsypin’s sinister, angled, Expressionist
supposed to be very rock ‘n’ roll.”
This idea, coupled with the show’s
original orchestrations, made the
challenger harder: “We put in a set of
pitch and delay effects in the scene
with Arachne’s loom; it was okay, but
they wanted to hear every word.”
Similarly, he says, in one of the Geek
Chorus scenes, “the characters had
three brief lines, but there was also a
horn fanfare going on.” Ultimately, he
adds, “I think we did nine real system
designs, apart from various small
changes and tweaks.”
The show’s main proscenium
system consists of Meyer Sound
M’elodies—eight per side at left and
right—with Meyer JM-1Ps in a center
cluster made up of two rows of four.
Originally, says Matthews, “Meyer
Sound MICAs (for the sides) and LAcoustics v-DOSC (for the center)
were specified, but the latter didn’t
work well with the proscenium
structure and, as the system was
revised, the Micas weren’t available,
so we went with the M’elodies.”
Anyway, he says, “The M’elodies
were the smallest boxes we could put
in there and pull it off. We knew they
had enough punch for a theatrical
event.” The surround system features
74 • September 2011 • Lighting&Sound America
The flying effects send the performers into the auditorium.
d&b audiotechnik E8s, with more of
the same units used in underbalcony
positions; Meyer UPJs fill out the
surround system. Overhead are eight
Meyer CQ-2s, with UP jrs providing
side and cross fill, and M-1Ds
providing front fill.
Because the orchestra pit contains
scenic elevators, the band, which
consists of 18 musicians, is found in
two locations. “The live room, which
is off the trap room—formerly the
green room—houses the strings and
horns. The core band room, with
guitars, basses, percussion,
keyboard, and a monitor mixer, is in
the basement down the hall, on the
stage-right side.” This decision was
taken after many other avenues were
explored and rejected. At different
points, the band was going to be
located in the house, on two sides of
the room; in another scenario, the
guitars and drums were to be placed
in the proscenium header. Other ideas
had the drummer in a plenum behind
the house left proscenium leg or
suspended in a glass box over the
house left exit door. During Version
One, the guitars occupied a spot in
front of the proscenium at stage right,
but this arrangement was dropped in
Version 2.0.
]Because of the musicians’
isolation, says Matthews, “We went
through a number of iterations,
looking for video monitors to allow
them to see each other and the
audience. We tried several things and
went back to CRT projectors. People
wanted bigger screens, so we
installed 42” LCD screens. We have a
Barco Image Pro to convert the
image from its native resolution to fit
the screens.” He adds that the
musicians can see the audience, and
a set of four mics in the auditorium
feed the audio to both band rooms,
each of which has a pair of speakers
and a sub. In addition, the musicians
have Aviom personal monitor mixers,
“because some numbers are on a
tempo clock. There’s one click track
with vocals, but the rest are
metronome clicks that give them the
first eight bars of a song.” This is
necessary, he adds, to keep everyone
strictly in tempo during the flying
sequences, which are cued to the
music. Also, he says, “The Edge’s
guitar style uses a lot of delay effects,
and they need to be timed to the
music as well. The guitar players—
who are phenomenal—spent a lot of
time working on this style.” He notes
that the guitar players use a Fractal
Audio Systems Axe-FX all-in-one
preamp/effects processor: “Everyone
is really impressed with it. You can
say, ‘I want this pedal and this brand
of amplifier head,’ and it’s truthful.
Prior to this, a model guitar box
sounded like a model guitar box. This
was the first I’ve heard that can really
fool your ears.”
The entire cast is on boom mics,
says Matthews, citing what he calls
Simon’s Law of Center: If you want
the ultimate reinforcement, the mic
must be as close to the performer’s
mouth as possible. Commenting on
the typical Broadway practice of
putting mics at the center of
performer’s foreheads, he says, “No
sound comes from there.” The mic
systems are Sennheiser, with SK5212
wireless systems, 3732 receivers and
HSP-2 capsules.
Sound is controlled by a Meyer
Cue Console, which features the first
major D-Mitri system used in New
York. “We needed the recallability and
functionality that we had become
accustomed to in LX300 products,”
he says, mentioning the Cue
Console’s previous effects engine.
“So we took the plunge and said,
‘Let’s get D-Mitri.’ It’s pretty
awesome. Although it’s a magnitude
of order more complex in many ways,
it programs in much the same way as
the LX300. We also do speaker
management using five [Meyer]
Galileo processors.” The D-Mitri
system also includes 48 tracks of
playback for sound effects. The onstage monitor mix is generated
through the front-of-house console.
As you might imagine, communication is a critical issue in SpiderMan, and the show makes use of a
Clear–Com Eclipse system. “There
are two stage managers calling the
show—one for scenery and flying and
one for lights,” he says. “The first of
them needs to be able to communicate with a great number of people;
he has the hot button, which
connects to anyone in the show who
flies, via in-ear receiver. These are the
navigator cues; he’ll say, for example,
‘Navigator 300 and go,’ and the
performers know that they’re about to
go to flight. With their in-ears, they
clearly hear the stage manager call
the cue. To conceive of that without
the Clear-Com system would be very
difficult; it gives you enormous flexibility and capacity.” Also used are
Telex TR-82N wireless belt packs and
a Clear-Com Cellcom system.
Like everyone else involved in
Spider-Man, Matthews says that the
long hours and uncertain production
schedule took their toll. “Everyone
had to figure a way to deal with the
process,” he says. “I’m surprised
everyone worked together as well as
they did.”
Aside from those mentioned in
the above text, production
personnel include Hilary Blanken, of
Juniper Street Productions
(production management); C.
Randall White (production stage
manager); Kathleen E. Purvis (coproduction stage manager); Sandra
M. Franck, Andrew Neal, Jenny
Slattery, and Michael Wilhoite
(second assistant stage managers);
Theresa A. Bailey, Valerie Lau-Kee
Lai, and Bonnie Panson (sub stage
managers); Rob Bissinger (associate
scenic designer); Arturs Virtmanis
(pop-up and dimensional design);
Baiba Baiba (illustration and
graphics); Sergei Goloshapov
(cityscape graphics); Anita La Scala
(first assistant set design); Sia
Balabanova and Rafael Kayanan
(assistants, graphic art); Nathan
Heverin (assistant, pop-ups); Eric
Beauzay, Catherine Chung, Rachel
Short Janocko, Damon Pelletier, and
Daniel Zimmerman (model makers);
Robert John Andrusko, Toni Barton,
Larry W. Brown, Mark Fitzgibbons,
Jonathan Spencer, and Josh Zangen
(draftsmen); Tijana Bjelajac, SzuFeng Chen, Heather Dunbar, Mimi
Lien, Qin (Lucy) Liu, Robert
Pyzocha, Chisato Uno, and Frank
McCullough (assistant set design);
Lily Twining (previsualization); Vivien
Leone (associate lighting designer);
Caroline Chao, Carolyn Wong, and
Michael Jones (assistant lighting
designers); Porsche McGovern
(assistant to the lighting designer);
Richard Tyndall (automated lighting
programmer); Sarah Jakubasz
(assistant video designer); Phil
Gilbert (video programmer); Brian
Hsieh and Keith Caggiano (associate
sound designers); Jason Shupe
(automated flying programmer); Jack
Anderson (production carpenter);
Andrew Elman, Dave Fulton, Hugh
Hardyman, Kris Kenne, Matthew J.
Lynch, Mike Norris, and Geoffrey
Vaughn (assistant carpenters);
Randall Zaibek and James Fedigan
(production electricians); Ron
Martin (head electrician); Jason
Lindahl and Chris Herman
(production video electricians),
John Sibley (head sound engineer);
Dan Hochstine (assistant sound
engineer); Joseph P. Harris, Jr.
(production properties supervisor);
Timothy M. Abel (associate
properties supervisor); and Martin
Garcia, Gonzalo Brea, and Thomas
Andrews (E-stop personnel).
Other contributors included
Excitement Technologies (special
effects); I. Weiss and Sons (soft
goods); the Spoon Group, the
Rollingstock Company, Paragon
Innovation Group, Illusion Projects,
Beyond Imagination, Cigar Box
Studios, and Hamilton Scenic
Specialty (props). Puppets were
executed by Nathan Heverin, Michael
Curry Design, Paragon Innovation,
and Igloo Projects.
All of them have managed to
survive the most crushing and
notorious preview period in the
history of Broadway. Whatever
happens next, they—and SpiderMan—have entered the Broadway
history books.
www.lightingandsoundamerica.com • September 2011 • 75