This year’s Soul Train Awards, held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta were an absolute blast. Having the luxury of working in such a superb and convenient venue with great staff and a fine crew was a key reason why this year’s event went so smoothly and so enjoyably.
Plus the talent on stage was brilliant, from R Kelly’s riveting opening to CeeLo’s totally over the top and spectacular delivery of the notorious F-word song (we had the sanitized version) that went viral this year, this was a night to remember and one that with so many fine performances will make great television.
The one thing we had going for us last year in the Georgia World Conference Center was space and lots of it - and my design exploited that to the full, creating shots with yielded huge vistas and great depth. Coming to CEPAC, the question on everybody’s lips was how do we make this show look as big in a much smaller venue? And, how do we do that and make the limited budget work?
Eventually I decided to make it look big by paradoxically both closing down the space on stage as well as filling up the space in the air. The need to incorporate a house band on stage as well as create lots of levels for dynamic dance choreography drove the decision to build a simple but extensive stepped riser system and to visually fill the space above with stuff that would light easily and create looks in every direction sent the design towards the “bead curtain” concept. The aim - minimal build with maximum impact.
So to make it look big while keeping it small, I came up with a bank of risers that accommodated house band and dancers, with a back walkway to provide a second dance level to create some dynamic movement, and the defining touch - a very 60’s looking giant bead curtain that extended the look upwards into the lighting system. The final touch was to extend the set into the room, by removing seats in the pit and building a catwalk out from the stage.
The producer, Bart Phillips saw the possibilities and signed off on the design, but the set design was only the beginning of the story. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a show where the collaboration of the light designer was quite so essential - sure that’s always a key relationship but here I was handing over to him a much blanker canvas than usual, and what made this design pop was Otis Howard’s creative vision and his stunning lighting concepts. He too was working with limited resources, but what he had he deployed masterfully, creating show looks that sang out loud.
The use of video, especially in the “Soul Train tunnel” as well as in the multiple WinVision screens also filled in the look, but what made it special for all of us was Fatima Robinson’s brilliant choreography and the way she populated and transformed the whole room with eye-popping moves and breathtaking energy. So thanks to her and Otis for completing the design, with a cohesion that was quite remarkable, and to Bart Phillips and Frank Garritano for all their support and for letting me travel on the Soul Train Express. And all success to Soul Train and may it have a fabulous future for many more decades to come!
You can see more pictures of the set on the Portfolio pages
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