Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue recently completed the first leg of her Kiss Me Once tour, which included stops throughout Europe. The second leg of the tour begins in March 2015 with five shows in Kylie’s native Australia. Following the successful tour of Europe, we caught up with Lighting Designer Rob Sinclair and Lighting Director Louisa Smurthwaite to get an insight into the creative processes behind the tour’s extensive lighting design.
Iterative design process
Very early in the process, even before the new music was available, Sinclair had a meeting with Creative Director William Baker and Set Designer Alan Macdonald, during which it was decided that ‘precise geometry’ and ‘Bauhaus aesthetics’ were to be the key themes for the set design, inspired by the lines of the set and the early costume ideas. Baker then created a very detailed and instructive style guideline for each section of the show. For Sinclair, this was extremely useful to begin the process of designing the lights.
About a month before rehearsals, the music arrived and Sinclair began working on the lighting design. Speaking about his methodology, Sinclair said:
“I have my own, strange system of making notes on lyrics and marking structure and cue points.”
Sinclair sent his notes and instructions to Smurthwaite who patched it up and set up the consoles. By now it was time for band rehearsals and Sinclair and Smurthwaite spent two weeks in a small, badly ventilated room to pre-visualize the preliminary design in action and to make adjustments where necessary. Next came ten days of strenuous production rehearsals, during which the duo learned that nothing from the pre-visualization worked. Consequently, the design had to be changed an additional two or three times to ensure all the details were correct as well as incorporate feedback from Baker and Kylie. Sinclair explained:
“Nothing from pre-visualization ever works. It’s useful to have a start but the transfer from screen to reality is always jarring. Baker and Kylie had some great notes about colour and pace and we produced pages of our own. We both have a great eye for detail and had long discussions about the timings of single cues.”
Bright color projection delivered by MAC Viper AirFXs
Sinclair and Smurthwaite’s final design included 12 MAC Auras and 120 MAC Viper AirFXs, which made up the majority of the rig. According to Sinclair, the lighting design was precise and meticulously detailed. Talking about MAC Viper AirFX fixtures, Sinclair said:
“We chose them particularly for their brightness. We wanted a hard-edged fixture that would be visible against a video wall and needed to be seen in the air more than on stage. I did a shoot-out in Vegas and the AirFX was the clear winner.”
Working with this large amount of fixtures was a great challenge for this creative duo as it pushed them to develop designs that were more than just ‘here come the spots or the washes’. Smurthwaite said:
“Having the purity of of one type of light source really captured our imaginations. It allowed us to create a clever and classy lighting design - it wasn’t obvious and I really like that.”
Talking about the lighting design for a particular song, ‘Kiss Me Once,’ Smurthwaite said they were trying to create an intimate experience for the audience by going from warm, soft looks to bold lasers to a petal drop. She explained:
“The lights, the effects and the laser paired flawlessly with both the music and Kylie’s stage presence, and the audience got sucked in.”
When asked about his favorite show moment, Sinclair said:
“The best cue of my career is the point where Kylie jumps, the lights go out and the lasers come on at the start of ‘On a night like this’. It’s so simple, yet so powerful.”
(See the clip here)
Smurthwaite said her favorite bit was the Bauhaus section:
“Musically, I really enjoy the composition. The costumes took a life of their own, the dancers looked incredible and it’s where Kylie appeared so close to the audience on the B stage after an onslaught of laser mapping, video content, lighting and dancers. It’s a special moment.”
Contemplating European tour
Ultimately, both Sinclair and Smurthwaite look back on the first part of the tour as a great success.
Reflecting on the creative process, Sinclair said:
“It was long and at times painful. The drawing of plots and arguing about budgets took most of the summer. I’m not sure that either of us were making sense after so long without sleep but I’m very, very proud of what we achieved.”
“It’s the strangest process I have ever been a part of. I can honestly say that it’s the least sleep I have ever had over ten days. We changed a lot of things, we threw things away, put them back in again. In between making Space Invaders out of pixels and keeping up with meticulous dancer lighting, we made some enchanting moments, which is what we all want at the end of the day.”
While Kylie Minogue prepares for the Australian tour, Sinclair is on tour with Queen and Adam Lambert where he also decided to build an entire rig around the MAC Vipers. He said:
“The MAC Vipers did a great job. They are bright and project colour really well.”
Sinclair will be present for rehearsals for Kylie’s Australian tour and Smurthwaite will be running the shows.
Bio: Rob Sinclair and Louisa Smurthwaite
Sinclair trained as an electrician. He started sweeping floors at Vari-Lite and gradually worked his way up fixing lights in the shop, then fixing them on the road, operating other people’s lighting design, then designing his own. He is a new member of Kylie’s team and also designs lighting for Queen, Peter Gabriel, Adele, Pet Shop Boys, Miley Cyrus, Vampire Weekend and several others. He feels privileged and proud to be making a living doing something he loves so much.
Smurthwaite started in the theatre and corporate events industry but left to try working with other technologies for a design multi-media company. She did projection mapping and guerilla marketing with digital equipment and interactive environments. Here, she got mesmerized by lasers and programmed and designed shows for music tours, where she turned up on Pulp in 2011 and met Sinclair. Smurthwaite came along with Sinclair to join the Kylie tour. Since then she has had the pleasure of working with him on Pulp, Bloc Party, Birdy and Goldfrapp.