Political Mother: The audio-visual marvel decoded

The Hofesh Shecter Company’s tour of India came to end on Saturday 20 September 2014 in Chennai with audiences country-wide exhilarated with Political Mother, talking not only about the show’s powerful message but also its spectacular presentation. Lawrie McLennan, Technical Manager, Hofesh Shechter Company, on what goes into making Political Mother the audio-visual marvel it is.

The performance has been repeatedly referred to as an audio-visual marvel, what are the various technical aspects that make this possible?
The biggest factor in this is that Political Mother is a tightly-drilled, and well-oiled machine. Every last detail has been rehearsed and re-rehearsed to get the timings finely tuned to complete accuracy. The lighting and sound departments work to 1/24th of a second accuracy. All the lighting and sound cues are carefully synchronised together by the computerised control systems that Hofesh Shechter Company tours around the world. There are more than 150 lighting cues from start to finish of the show that all are triggered automatically. This is what allows the lighting design to let Hofesh’s cinematic style editing of the show really work. It is the combination of having the eyes and ears assaulted at the same time, the music gets loud at the exact split second the stage goes black. It is overwhelming on the senses. There are more than 160 lights hung above, to the side and in the stage. We use a sound system that is capable of making even the most loud and heavy rock band sound excellent. We have up to 4 smoke machines making the hazy smoke that you see when you first enter the auditorium and that allows the lighting design, by Lee Curran, to sculpt the air around the stage into so many different landscapes and scenes, even without any real scenery on the stage.

The stage set up looks complex, what are the building blocks here and how long does the entire process take?
The total set up time for one performance of Political Mother is in excess of 400 man hours. This includes the lighting and sound technicians, the carpenters and stage managers, the dancers and musicians, the rehearsal and technical directors. This happens over two days. The technical set up starts in the morning the day before the show. The stage is made up of a steel platform construction at the back of the stage where the musicians play. In front of this is a black net curtain that combined with the lighting and the smoke allows us to choose exactly when you see the musicians at the back, and exactly when you don’t. There are 35 lights and 13 microphones hidden inside the musicians platform. Then around the stage there are 70 sidelights that accentuate the excellent dancers, and a further 60+ lights hanging above the stage. There is a stage management team that works very hard behind the scenes all through the performance to help the dancers on and off stage in the pitch black without running into any curtains or lights.

How many hours of rehearsal are required for the sound and lighting to ensure everything is in sync.
Every city that Political Mother goes to we have 5 hours of lighting and sound rehearsal. All the dancers and musicians move through their motions of the show, standing in the right place. They put little marks on the floor that glow in the dark so that they know they will be standing in exactly the right places even before the lights come on. We look at every lighting cue and edit it to make it look just right. We listen to many sections of the show with the musicians playing and get the sound just right. After all that we make a full rehearsal from start to finish of the entire show, all before the audience arrives.

The musicians in the background, what kind of instruments do they play?
We have 7 musicians in total. 5 of them play both guitar and drums. The other 2 are drummers throughout, playing even when you can’t see them during the show. There are 4 electric guitars and 1 electric bass guitar. We have 3 snare drums, 1 tom-tom drum and 1 kick drum that is played on end like a normal tom-tom drum. There are also 2 sets of cymbals that get moved around and played by different musicians.

A version of this interview was published in The HinduPolitical Mother

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