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SOH Free Forecourt Concerts Weekend

One of the world’s most spectacular outdoor venues played host to a celebration of live music as the Sydney Opera House presented a series of free, all-ages concerts on the Forecourt.

Spanning three days and some of the most exciting artists in Australian music, the multi-genre, four-show program included live performances from vital pop leaders, Indigenous-led showcases of tomorrow’s game-changers, and a repertoire of classical masterpieces from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Paul Collison was the lighting designer and kicked off the event with ARIA-nominated singer-songwriter Jack River and her band.

“We needed flexibility going from an earthy pop artist like Jack River, to indigenous hip hop through to a performance from the SSO,” added PC. “Three very different genres, audiences and timelines.”

Although there was a live ‘stream’, the focus of the events was well and truly for the live audience, something that was incredibly refreshing after a year of webcasts and broadcast shows.

PC has always loved the sandstone wall in front of the botanical gardens and has tried to include it in any show he’s lit on the forecourt.

“Though I’d never quite managed to do it as successfully as this time,” he said. “The audience capacity on the forecourt is much greater with the stage in the traditional corners which is why we’ve never got to use the sandstone wall as a backdrop. With the Covid reduced capacity, we had the opportunity to place the stage in a way to take advantage of the natural beauty of the stone.”

PC comments that there are always challenges working on the forecourt of the Opera House. Front ‘key’ lights are never in the right place and time is a premium as the site needs to be cleared well before midnight.

“The Opera House staff are amazing at finding ways around these challenges,” said PC. “Preparation is the key to working in this space. Cue lists and all the data entry work was done ahead of time, meaning those precious hours of darkness are used for plotting only and not wasted typing names of cues etc.”

Fortunately, PC had a setlist early for Jack River so he could chase down songs and make some cue lists before getting on-site. He only had a few hours to program her show after the set-up on Thursday. “I’m actually a Jack River fan, so it was great being able to light music I was somewhat familiar with. I was given a fairly open scope which was really nice too. So I could just follow my instincts which was nice” said PC.

“The Saturday show was 100% busked, which is something I hadn’t done in a while,” he admitted. “It was nice to dust the old busking chops off. Sunday for the SSO was a one look wonder. Surprisingly though those one look wonders can take some time to craft”

Chameleon supplied a rig of 20 x Ayrton Bora, 16 x Prolights Panorama Wash, 10 x Prolights Panorama Beam, 48 x ShowPRO EX 36 LED Flood, 80 x CHAUVET Professional Colorado IP Zoom Pars, a Robert Juliat Cyrano Followspot, two Viper Fogger, two DF50 and an MA Lighting International grandMA3 light.

“The EX 36s were on the ground along the base of the sandstone wall. They did such a great job,” commented PC. “I initially thought I’d over catered, but it was the perfect amount to get some intense colour washes. At stage level were 12 x Martin Professional Encore Performances which seemed a little out of place for a floor package, but once again they proved why they are my favourite most versatile light. Between big beam looks from behind the Jack River band, to delicate gobo projections on the sandstone wall, they were immensely useful. Not to mention small and light to move around.”

“I’ve loved the concept of lots of smaller fixtures for a while now. Rather than doing the spot/wash spacing thing, I got as many Chauvet Colorado zoom pars as I could (80) to spread around the stage. On their own, they struggle for presence but in numbers, they were impressive.“

However, PC remarks that the Aytron Boras were the stand out performer with only three lamps providing the stage wash from a 50m throw. Even then they spent most of the first night at less than 50% and on stage they were intensely bright. Having some gobo texture in them made them a useful tool to have.

The Panorama Beams did a great of lighting trees and the architecture, along with the Panorama Wash lights. Certainly not a conventional choice, but the punch from the beams made them ideal for that job.

Astera Titan tubes provided a lovely layer of texture for the Jack River Performance. Nestled in amongst some scenic elements, they provided a welcome fresh look at the right time in the set.

“Lighting-wise, we started off using everything for the Jack River performance on Friday,” PC explained. “Jack River was essentially programmer cue to cue. We added long dried grass as a scenic element which really softened the space and created a particularly organic atmosphere. For the Saturday indigenous hip hop shows, we lost the Titan tubes as there were many stage change overs. For the Sunday SSO performance, we removed the Martin Encores from the floor and all the smoke machines obviously. That Sunday we had a significant wind storm come through. The fact the Orchestra could play the show, let alone soundcheck, was a credit to them. We ultimately had to close the rear of the stage up and lost the Sandstone wall as a backdrop. This was unfortunate but did mean the show could go on. So you could say we started bumping out on Friday night!”

Chameleon Crew: Alex Celi and Shaun Cook

Photos: Jordan Munns

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