Marilyn Lowey
Marilyn Lowey
Marilyn Lowey LOWEY & COMPANY
Lighting Designer / Consultant

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Returning To Love September 2000-Glamour returned to arenas across the country as Diana Ross and the latest version of the Supremes went on the road with their Return to Love tour. The show, which opened in June, was headed up by production manager Lars Brogaard, and featured the lighting design of Marilyn Lowey, and video support by Screenco of London and San Francisco.

The initial meetings for the tour began in January, and there were a variety of topics discussed, including the placement of the stage. "When I met with Miss Ross in January, we talked about doing the show in the round," says Lowey. But as time passed, the parameters of the show changed, as they often do. "When I definitely came onboard in April, the stage had moved to the end of the arena,"
she reports. The location of the stage wasn't the only factor that changed throughout the production. "Every bit of the way was a work in progress," Lowey continues. "At first, it was just Miss Ross, the two Supremes, and a 14-piece band. Then it grew to a 35-piece orchestra, then we added 10 dancers, and then three backup singers."

Lowey used a veritable cornucopia of equipment to create a visually elegant show. "When you have a medium-sized budget, you really need to be creative in the fixtures that you select to create your layers of light," she says. "We started with the basics--PARs with color faders on them, and then I added [High End Systems] Cyberlights, Studio Colors, and the Coemar
C7s." Overall, the lighting of the tour reflected the evolution of concert lighting over 30-odd years. "I basically brought the 60s and 70s into the show and, using color, made them look quite different from the 80s and 90s," the LD adds.

There was also more to lighting the tour than one would expect. "One of the most important things that I was told early on was that the relationship         between Miss Ross and the audience was one of the most critical and fascinating things you'll come across working on this show," Lowey says. "Once I started working with her, I realized how important that relationship was, so in every song, I illuminated the audience in front of her so she can see them at all times. For this show, the moles were more like a base, and I used the C7s or the Cyberlights and the Studio Colors on top of that," she adds.

To complete the look of the show, the tour featured quite a bit of video support. There were three video screens on stage, two in the arena on stage right and stage left, and one large LED video screen upstage. Although the video was always a planned part of the tour, Screenco, the supplier of the projection equipment, didn't get involved until very late in the game. "The show was being thought about for some time, but it was really only 10 days before it went out that we were formally onboard," says Screenco managing director Dave Crump. And by that time, Screenco was in one of its peak seasons, and had rented out the bulk of its equipment. "We ended up subcontracting a system from Saco in Montreal, which is the manufacturer of the system," Crump reports. "Actually, the system that was used on the Return to Love tour was originally built for Celine Dion," he confides.

The primary video system consisted of an LED video screen 10 modules wide by five modules high, which was configured in a widescreen format. "Lately, shows are using video more and more creatively, and they are tending to go with a widescreen look, because it fits the conventional shape of the stage, and the screens are being used more and more as a backdrop behind the stage, as opposed to something that is stuck out on the side in the wings to show people in back some closeups," Crump says.
Another interesting aspect of the show was that it used picture-in-picture technology on the upstage screen, mixing live images with stills, which was accomplished through the used of an Electrosonic vector. "The vector differs from normal video wall controllers in that it can do a lot more effects and it runs in the high resolution computer domain, so we don't have to do as many stages of signal conversion," Crump reports. "All of the switching between widescreen images, the live images, and the archive images are all done in the vector, and it's all preprogrammed. It's not a regular switcher, because it's actually doing image splitting."
But, at the end of the day, it wasn't technology that got the reviews--it was the music that spans four decades. "We all grew up to this music, and it's still great," concludes Lowey.
-Sharon Stancavage Copyright ETEC, 2000. All rights reserved.
Marilyn Lowey
Marilyn Lowey
Marilyn Lowey