TSO Tour puts Hartley in the Spotlight
Published Thursday, February 3, 2005

In its six years of existence, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's winter concert has grown into one of the most popular tours of the season. A key reason the holiday extravaganza has made the jump from small theaters to sold-out arenas night after night is because of the impact the lighting has on the audience.  

Unlike most concerts, where the lighting is secondary to the performers and the music, with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Bryan Hartley's lighting design is part of the overall experience. Rather than being an unnoticed guy in front of a lighting control board, Hartley is the conductor of the symphony dancing through in the air, across the stage and spilling onto the audience.

"It's a combination of the music and lights," Hartley says of the nightly performance. "It's 50 percent music and 50 percent lighting. When you combine the two, it makes one huge emotional experience. It's flattering when people tell me the show would have been great with only the lighting, but the truth is, without the music, I wouldn't get to create all of the cool lighting."

As the venues have grown, the shows have also gotten bigger and better, with Hartley challenged to top his lighting creation from the previous year. For the 2004 winter performances (the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has an East Coast and a West Coast tour that run simultaneously) Hartley added 44 VL3000™ Spot luminaires to each tour. The VARI*LITE® fixtures were all supplied by Q1 Production Technologies in Vancouver.

"The VL3000 Spots are nice and bright and have a good beam," Hartley noted. "The zoom on the fixtures is great; that was the selling point. You can zoom out really wide and still focus the fixture, or you can tighten it down and do a small beam. It's something that you can't do with any other light."

"I have some looks where the zoom is really wide and the gobo is huge," Hartley continued. "At other times, I take it down really small. The fact that you can zoom it out and focus is good for lighting the entire truss or the back of the truss, and the entire stage as well."

The rig consists of two arches that cross each other over the stage. For this year's tour, Hartley wanted to bring the audience into the show even more. His lighting design called for four "finger-like" trusses extending 40 feet out over the audience. In addition to covering the audience with light, there are five snow machines blowing a soft snowfall onto the audience as well.

"I'm really proud of this year's show, and tour director Elliot Saltzman has really worked to make this the best tour to be on," Hartley said. "As for the lighting design of this year's show, I took a chapter out of Pink Floyd's book with the arch and half circles. It's really a Pink Floyd generated show. The moodiness, the lights and the pyro are all very much like you would expect from a Pink Floyd show."

Hartley designed the winter holiday tour during the middle of summer while on tour with KISS in Australia. Ironically, the KISS tour and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra shows are also as different as summer and winter.

"With KISS, the audience never really notices the lights, it's all about the video and the four guys on stage in make-up," Hartley notes. "With TSO, it's totally different. There are times during the show when you don't even realize there's a band onstage because you're so absorbed in the light show."

"It's a simple, but complicated show," Hartley continued. "There's a lot of quick color changes, and I'll snap the gobo from one to the other without any time between. I definitely use the lights to their full extent."

The results speak for themselves as the show has grown to one of the most popular tours in the country year in and year out. The East Coast tour recently sold out six shows and played to more than 60,000 people in four days in Wilkes-Barre and Hershey, Penn., which are just 90 miles apart. It followed that with two sold out shows at Gund Arena in Cleveland.

Another big reason for the success of Trans-Siberian Orchestra is that the show owners invest the money from the tours back into the show, which allows the performances and extravaganza to grow even bigger each year.

"People come to see the show, and they're blown away," Hartley explains. "They come back the next year, and it's even bigger and better. So they tell their friends, and the audience just multiplies. It's great to be a part of something like this, especially since the show is heavily lighting based, and I can really feel like I've contributed to the success of the tour."

Not only are the audiences large in number, they are also diverse.

"A lot of people come to the show expecting to see an orchestra in the traditional sense, but what they get is more like a rock and roll show," Hartley said. "You get thrown through a lot of emotion throughout the show. Some of the older audience members walk out and they're saying 'amazing, just amazing.' It's definitely a lot of fun."

And the recognition isn't bad either.


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