Joburg Witnesses staging extravaganza with Katy Perry


Renowned American singer and songwriter, Katy Perry recently performed three shows in Johannesburg as a part of her current international tour, titled: Witness: The Tour. The show featured lighting and stage design by some of the leading designers in the world and provided South African audiences with the opportunity to be a part of one of the most ambitiously staged tours of the year.

Katherine Elisabeth Hudson, known professionally as Katy Perry, rose to fame in 2008, following the release of her second album titled: One Of The Boys. The album’s single, I Kissed a Girl topped the US Billboard Hot 100 charts for seven consecutive weeks and her third album, Teenage Dream, released in 2010, became the first album by a female artist to produce five number-one songs in America. Katy Perry released her fifth album, Witness, in June 2017 and announced that she would be promoting the album with her fourth world tour.

Witness: The Tour presents audiences with a multi-media showcase that captures the energy and cutting-edge attitude of the artist on a grand scale. The show features stunning high definition video content and breath-taking props and staging effects, which aims to take the audience on a retrospective journey through Perry’s career, in a two-hour long show comprising six distinct acts. 

Perry launched Witness: The Tour on 19 September 2017 in Columbus, Ohio and took the show on an extensive North American tour which ended in February 2018. The tour visited Asia between March and April, with the Singapore show being hailed as “one of the grandest shows that the Singapore Indoor Stadium has ever witnessed” by online music magazine Bandwagon. Between May and June, the European leg of the tour took Perry and her team on a gruelling trip that included shows in Cologne, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, Copenhagen and Stockholm, before embarking upon an extensive tour of the UK. In July, Perry and her team arrived in South Africa to perform three shows at the Ticketpro Dome in Johannesburg. The away leg of Witness: the Tour concluded in August, with 14 shows across Oceania that included additional dates in Australia.  

Witness: The Team

Perry has collaborated with award-winning Irish-born lighting designer, Baz Halpin for a number of years and once again turned to Halpin to deliver the lighting design for Witness: The Tour. Halpin not only developed a truly spectacular lighting show for the tour but also took on the role of producer. 

Halpin teamed up with Australian creative show directors and choreographers, Antony Ginandjar and Ashley Evans of The Squared Division, who have worked with Britney Spears, Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas to name a few. The Squared Division team worked closely with Perry to provide creative direction for the tour’s staging and choreography. Halpin also worked in close collaboration with London-based stage designer Es Devlin - a multiple award-winning artist whose practice ranges from solo gallery works to kinetic sculptures and dynamic stage design for opera, dance, concerts and theatre. Devlin has worked with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, U2 and Adele, and has received numerous awards for her work, including an OBE in 2015. 

The technical team for Witness: The Tour also included Jay Schmit, who has served as Perry’s production manager for the past seven years, together with the associate lighting designer and video programmer Eric Marchwinski, and lighting director and video programmer Drew Gnagey. 

Witness the stage

Innovative stage design dominates the production of Witness: The Tour, with audiences greeted by a massive main stage, backed by an extra-large eye-shaped video wall, and a 27-meter long runway stage. Perry and her montage of dancers, Parkour performers and stilt walkers perform amid a montage of moving platforms, kinetic stage sculptures and meticulously mapped video content displayed on LED screens that are positioned throughout the set.

Tait, a global leader in the design and construction of live event equipment for the international market, delivered a full stage production for Witness: The Tour, including a custom-built stage, automated rigging, and a performer flying system. 

The 20-meter wide main stage is equipped with eight performer lifts, surrounded with LED video panels that transform into staircase-like configurations that display video content throughout the show. The show ends with a powerful performance of Firework, with Perry sitting in the palm of a giant inflatable hand, supported and lifted by a TAIT performer zip lift, which raises the hand 3.5m into the air towards the audience.

The entire stage, including the enormous props and custom designed LED wall have accompanied Perry and her crew all over the world over the past year, where her specialised crew oversee the installation of the set in each venue. Speaking to ETECH in a recent interview, Jakobus de Wit of Gearhouse – who served as project manager on the Katy Perry shows at the TicketPro Dome in Johannesburg, expressed his pleasure at working with the touring crew. “Katy Perry’s crew are as professional as you get, and proved incredibly skilled at getting the rig set up in record time,” de Wit observes. 

“It was a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with Perry’s technical team,” - Jakobus de Wit, Gearhouse.

Witness the light

Katy Perry’s Witness: The Tour opens with a powerful image of Perry’s eye on an immense eye-shaped LED screen, designed by Es Devlin. The opening image transforms into a galaxy and takes the audience on a journey through outer space before opening to reveal Perry riding upon a star-shaped structure, in an avant-garde red catsuit that has become an iconic image of the show. 

“The production is large format and makes a bold statement with its enormous eye-shaped LED screen,” - Bez Halpin. 

Halpin explains that he worked in close collaboration with Devlin to develop a lighting rig that would embrace the enormous eye-shaped LED screen, rather than against it. “I wanted to make sure that the lighting design complemented not only the screen’s shape but was also able to compete with the incredible amount of light emitting from it,” Halpin points out.

According to Halpin, the lighting and video design team worked in close collaboration with Gabriel Coutu Dumont and JT Rooney of Silent Partners Studio during the development phase of the show to ensure that the screen content and lighting design worked together seamlessly. “We planned out certain songs where the screen would be dominant with narrative content and others where the screens would act as more of a light source,” Halpin explained in an interview with PLSN magazine during the North America leg of the tour.

After discussions with video and lighting designer Marchwinski, Halpin chose the Claypaky Scenius Profile together with the Scenius Unico as the key fixtures in the lighting rig for the eye-shaped LED screen. Halpin’s design calls for large amounts of the single fixture type, arranged in 43-meter spans across the upper lid of the eye-shaped video screen. “We needed a fixture with enough flexibility to act as a key light, wash light and beam effect light, all at once. The Scenius fixtures are wonderfully versatile and have enough punch to stand up to the LED screen behind,” Halpin states. 

The original rider for Katty Perry’s Witness: The Tour called for 112 Clay Paky Scenius Unico and 16 Clay Paky Mythos fixtures. Lighting designer at Gearhouse Group, Robert Grobler proposed that these fixtures be replaced with 112 Martin by Harman Mac Vipers and 16 Robe Robin Pointes, in line with Gearhouse’s available inventory for the Johannesburg shows. “Katy Perry’s production team were satisfied with the response rider, and the lighting rig for the eye-shaped LED screen that is central to the show performed well with the replacement fixtures at the TicketPro Dome,” Grobler told ETECH

Joburg witnesses Katy

Thousands of Joburgers flocked to the TicketPro Dome on the evenings of 18,20 and 21 July to witness Katy Perry first hand. Local media house Channel24 stated in their show review: “Katy’s stage production is insane, making the audience feel as though we had been transported to another planet.” Reflecting on the show, Grobler points out that Witness: The Tour is one of the largest scale productions to visit the country in some time. De Wit agrees, stating that South Africa audiences are rarely able to see productions of this scale, and the show proved a treat for SA audiences, both young and old. 

Story reproduced Courtesy E Tech Magazine

Photo – Jonathan Green

Nov 15, 2018

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