Los Angeles – As live shows explode in popularity, so does the demand for performances to be arresting, unforgettable, and – most critically – available to an audience of immense size. Historically, that level of ‘availability’ has been dictated by the class of ticket you bought and, consequently, where you sat; but new advances in stage design, powered by technology, are reducing that hierarchy of experience and delivering shows that can resonate with audience members in the cheap seats as strongly as those in the front row.
Take the Aubrey and the Three Migos tour, a globe-spanning arena tour headlined by hip-hop superstar Drake that took over 43 North American stages last year and is making its way across Europe under a different name this spring. Instead of focusing on the fans near the stage, the show used state-of-the art visual design to broker an intimate connection between Drake and every person in attendance.
Advances in stage design are delivering shows that can resonate with audience members in the cheap seats as strongly as those in the front row
To bring together the lone artist and the thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of fans surrounding him on every side required a production team with expertise across a number of fields. Architectural engineering firm Tait, in collaboration with creative designer Willo Perron and lighting designer Jesse Blevins, fashioned a 300-square-metre LED stage complete with 288 video decks, the low height of which allowed audience members to see directly through to the other side. Two hundred tiny drones flitted over their heads at one point, as did a helium-filled yellow Ferrari made of foam. At another point in the show, the video stage flickered into a crowded summer pool, then a blindingly white iceberg, then a reel of fan-made videos scrolling out from underneath Drake’s feet.
‘The idea here was to give people all the way around the arena the same show and the same view,’ said Aaron Siebert, a senior project manager at Tait who oversaw the tour from production to execution. ‘We talked about how the feel of it should be like being courtside at a basketball game. And there’s even a basketball court in the show, with a hoop installed at one end and Drake summoning up an audience member to make a free-throw at one point.’
In traditional arena shows, Siebert estimates that only around 60 per cent of an audience – those sitting in the rows from the middle of the arena and back – receives a ‘good, holistic view’ of the stage, while the rest of the crowd is shunted to awkward angles. Some shows have opted to ameliorate that viewing problem by extending a runway into the crowd; other shows acknowledge the inevitable and sell a number of restricted-view seats at lower prices. For Drake’s tour, the designers decided to lower the stage itself, so that it appeared almost indistinguishable from the floor, and put in additional features like the whirring drones to help create a unified feel.