VARI-LITE Extravaganza Tours Australia With Britney’s Circus

Posted on Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009


The Britney Spears travelling carnival that is her “The Circus Tour” is designed to evoke the wonder, magic and mystery found under the Big Top. It features twelve dancers, four aerialists, eight circus performers, five band members and of course Britney herself; all of whom perform on a massive in the round stage. All of them needed to be lit with speedy, accurate lighting as they parade, tumble, fly, dance and generally appear and disappear all over the place.

No easy task, but one that lighting designer Nick Whitehouse has met head-on, resulting in an amazing lighting design featuring well over 200 VARI-LITE automated luminaries. The VARI-LITE tally includes 58 VL500s, 80 VL3000 Spots, 64 VL3500 Washs, and 16 VL3500 Spot fixtures. Nick is one of the world’s top lighting designers (Justin Timberlake, Kylie) and naturally he makes sure that he is up to date on all lighting technology available. He always however, ends up with VARI-LITEs stating that they’re reliability and their optics surpass everything else on the market.

Covering a set designed in the round, accentuating the movements of circus performers, keeping the band lit, and making sure that the lighting design can hold up against the controlled chaos onstage are all challenges successfully overcome by Nick. Fortunately, he was also a member of the production team that invented the set design, as well as, the video and lighting and this is evident in the seamless integration of all these elements. Steve Dixon, Bryan Leitch and William Baker were the other brains behind the production.

Inspiration for the set was the traditional three-ring circus and naturally the trussing mirrors this. The large central circular stage incorporates a large circular video screen above it and this also houses VARI-LITEs enabling Nick to bring them down low and behind the performers onstage. The ring of VARI-LITEs include 16 VL3500s and 16 VL3000s, whilst within that, rigged from the underside of the “doughnut” deck, is a ring of 10 VL500 washes. The two small rings of trussing hold 12 VL3000s and 12 VL3500s.

Nick also developed a unique setting of placing lights around the outside rim of the centre stage ring inside the stage floor. The ring of beams shooting upwards is both effective and creative. The ring consists of 16 VL3500 Washs and 36 VL500s sitting in a custom height stage channel so they are flush with the stage.

“I love the VL500,” remarked Nick at Sydney’s Acer Arena. “I always loved the VL5’s and these are really the brand new version with DMX and everything onboard, making it a simple, light weight, little fixture that looks amazing. I love the beam and I love the colours. And of course they’re tungsten too.”

Another idea to ease the difficulty of lighting in the round, is the eight pods that provide the top and side light. Carefully engineered to ensure that they don’t block sight lines yet deliver lighting down low where required, each pod holds 2 VL3500 Washes and 2 PRG Bad Boy spots

Nick’s affections also spread to the VL3500 Wash, which he describes as the best wash light on the market.

“I use them on everything that I do,” he said. “The ones I have placed outside of the set do a lot of the key light on the dancers. They’re great because I can zoom down almost to a pinpoint and pick out the performers I want. The ones above the stage and in the stage floor are simply amazing. Again, I love the beams that come out of this light. I really like that you can turn them into a Syncrolite-style light or into a 65 degree wash. The colours are great and the brightness is brilliant. The ability it gives me to go from a washed-out look across the whole stage to a fantastic series of tight beams shooting across a sold-out arena is unmatched in the lighting world. It is the only wash I need.”

“The VL3000 Spots are my spot of choice. I know what they do, I know where they do work and where they don’t. I think their optics are excellent. The VL3000 Spots are my texture. They do a lot on the stage and they are the backlight for the performers. They’re also key light on the stage as well. To me they help bring the energy off the stage out into the crowd. We use them for their great beams and the gobo break-up’s. They are always out in the crowd doing something.”