The legendary set and stage designer Es Devlin once said, “Theater-makers are aware of the ephemerality of what they’re making… In the end, everything is only going to exist in the memories of people.” This statement speaks to the volumes of a great performance, paired with a fantastic stage.
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From small intimate venues to the massive arenas, the stage’s setting, technology, and effects are equal actors in today’s modern stage. You have probably experienced it at some point, a performance at the opera, from your favorite musician, or an off-broadway actor that has stayed with you to this day.
Yes, you may be happy just seeing your favorite performer set to the backdrop of an intimate coffee shop because of their mesmerizing talent. Yet, even this is considered part stage design.
Stage design is a crucial component to almost any concert or theatre production no matter how small the event. Anything from the super realistic to the emotionally abstract contributes to the overall atmosphere of the performance transporting the audience into the mind of the performer.
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As explored in a previous article modern technology like augmented reality, artificial intelligence and 3D printing have allowed for a host of innovations that changed the realm of stage design forever contributing to some of the most memorable performances in history.
Today were are going to briefly explore some of the most innovative musical, theatre, and concert performances across the many worlds of the arts, inspecting the ways engineering and technology can contribute to telling a story.
Wire/ Es Devlin
On top of Kanye West, you will be also seeing a lot of Es Devlin on this list. Considered one of the best set designers in the world, Es Devlin consistently uses the stage to tell stories utilizing old parlor tricks, sculptures, and modern technology.
For the last performance of the post-punk band Wire, Es Devlin separated each of the band members in their own little cubes, little mini-stages that were open to the audience's gaze. Using simple projections, Es Devlin was able to create performances cleverly showcased the individual components of the punk band, while giving the audience an engaging new perspective.
Kanye West: Saint Pablo Tour
Now whether you like him or not Kanye West has consistently delivered concerts that have garnered the attention of the world, seamlessly fusing aspects of theatre with iconographic symbolism, over the top engineering, and industrial design.
Yet, his commitment to redesign and democratizing the concert experience led to the creation of one the more unique and minimal looking stages on this list. Created by his company, DONDA Surround, a 16-by-20-footplatform floats 15 feet above the ground suspending him just above the audience.
— DONDA (@DondaCreate) March 11, 2018
The aim is to create an experience than anyone can be a part of, purely focused on the music. The stage’s aesthetic takes inspiration from people like Ridley Scott, Daft Punk, Trent Reznor, Radiohead, and Michael Jackson, just to name a few.
Alexander McQueen/ Joseph Bennett
Joseph Bennett was the go-to set designer for the late great fashion designer Alexander McQueen. In a fashion show that will go down in history as one of the most memorable moments in fashion, Bennet and McQueen placed two robots facing each other with a model in between them. The model proceeded to rotate as the robots ambushed her with paint.
The combination of robotics and the arts is an emerging trend in 2019, yet Bennet and McQueen were the first people to do it so elegantly.
Carmen Opera/Es Devlin
Another major Es Devlin designed stage, the stage for the opera Carmen, performed on Lake Constance at the Bregenz Festspiele in Austria is nothing like you have seen before. The 25-meter high hand sculpture features hands holding a deck of cards as they fall apart.
During the performance, values, themes, and numbers are projected onto the cards to match moments during the opera. According to Devlin, "The design was inspired by a sequence in the opera during which Carmen reads her fortune and throws the cards in the air – prepared for whichever unknown direction they would take as they fell.”
Roger Waters: The Wall
What did you expect from the legendary artist from the legendary band Pink Floyd? After his break from the band, Roger Water set out on tour to perform songs from the band without any of its members. Yet this ambition manifested itself into some of the most memorable performances in history.
Using a combination of augmented reality and video projection technology, Waters was able to create a highly engaging performance earning him the record for being the highest grossing tour for a solo musician.
Daft Punk: Coachella Set
Coachella has had a series of historic moments but none as more memorable as Daft Punk’s 2007 Coachella Set. Featuring artificial intelligent controlled lights, the dynamic duo dazzled audiences with their Pyramid booth and notoriously entrancing synths. The performance was considered one of the best in Coachella history.
Es Devlin/ Kanye West and Jay Z: Watch the Throne Tour
Yes, you may not like Kanye but his work has consistently pushed the bounds of stage design to the point where even his critics were taken back by his vision. Alongside frequent collaborator Es Devlin, the duo built modern thrones, huge cubes that projected massive symbolic visuals to the crowd that remained on a theme for the concert.
The stage actually took huge inspiration from the previously mentioned Wire performance above. The performance is considered one of hip hop's greatest and highest grossing tours of all time.
Now if you felt inspired going through the many performances provided today is your lucky day. The Finnish National Opera is looking for immersive creators to partake in an exciting creative competition.
The Finnish National Opera and Ballet is calling on the world's most interesting digital artists, developers, and innovators to submit an idea for an immersive art experience utilizing emerging technology.
Dubbed Memories of the Future, participants will be creating art pieces that parallel and answer the challenge to Esa-Pekka Salonen's music and Paula Vesala’s story challenge. Your creative project should only be 15 minutes long and are invited to submit their concept to Opera Beyond.
If you win, you will gain the opportunity to partner with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet to make your idea a reality with a 75,000 Euro budget. Who knows? Maybe one day IE will be writing about your set design.
For more information please stop by Opera Beyond here.