: The Drowned World Tour stage has a number of asymmetrical elements within a symmetrical plan. You once said that those elements were driven by the emotions you felt listening to Madonna's music.

BR: As a child I liked to draw faces noticing early on that faces are both symmetrical and asymmetrical.
I think when you are being talked to you want to see the speakers face. In performance design it"s only fair that everyone has the same experience, the feeling that sightlines are great for everyone, that the audio experience is equal for everyone.

Because of this I think the majority of any performance design should be symmetrical…but within that symmetry it"s good to mix asymmetrical forms and functions.

The Drowned World Tour set also includes a series of components with a strong sculptural presence, the metal tree, the spanish chair, the temple walls, while basically all the rest is suspended from the ceiling.
Not only the spaceship, but big and small screens, as well as the entire sound system that was incorporated into the design were flying above. Was that a part of the design strategy to separate heavier and so-to-speak "naturalistic" elements from lighter and more technolody-related ones?

BR: It"s nice to be interviewed by someone who recognizes space and movement. It was my goal in this design to have everything that isn"t light source seems to come from the ground or below ground: from "hell". Even the softgoods are quick lifted up! by way of cable hoists.

The lighting for the most part was from above, from "God".

MT: Did you design every single element of the stage design? There are the "spinning record" in "Music", the "garage doors" and the "spanish chair" that were all great ideas that worked very, very well..

BR: Yes and no, everything the audience saw was designed by me and built by AllAccess inc.
The underbelly of the mainstage, the lifts and the hydraulics were designed and built by B&R Scenery.

Madonna asked me to get the graphics for the spinning record designed by her album art designer Kevin Reagan who is a very talented guy and a good dude.

A lot of the props were designed by Joyce Fleming (an unsung hero in many productions) and a really good touring prop guy whose name escapes me.

MT: We had a chance to chat with director Jamie King who confessed his obsession with the way he's going to "present" Madonna on stage.
The opening act of the Drowned World Tour is probably one of her strongest presentation... Would you like to tell us something about what you use to call "Cousin It"?

BR: I knew I needed to give Jamie and Madonna a set with lots of layers and zones, and I wanted to make a statement. In the concept phase I knew I wanted the spaceship/lighting rig to lift up but I didn"t really want Madonna to be lowered from a cheesy spaceship. I came up with the idea that she would float forward out of the darkness at center stage at an elevated level about 8" off the stage deck. I also needed a huge staircase for later in the show so I thought it would be good to have a staircase that also hinge lifted at it"s bottom landing to a raised position. We nicknamed this staircase “Cousin It” after the character in the Adam"s family tv show. In that silly show the staircase lifts up for the family to feed the monster that lives under the stairs.


MT: The Music" performance at the 2001 Grammy Awards featuring that fantastic limousine and that backdrop projection that I've always considered a sort of "visual resume" of Madonna. "Music" in the Drowned World Tour had a similar footage, but the limousine was not there anymore. Was it ever considered to be part of the show? It would have fit the act's theme perfectly...


BR: No, it was only meant to be used for the Grammy performance. The real story behind the limo for the Grammy"s is a funny one.
We knew we needed a real limo because there was no time to build one from scratch. We also knew the Grammy stage could not support the weight of a real limo which is about 9000lbs. Madonna"s production manager Chris Lamb located a limousine from a family in east LA that had the limo in their family funeral home for years and years. He paid them $10k for the limo. Little did they know that as soon as it arrived at the set shop it was gutted down to 2500lb.s, reinforced for dancers, cut into three rolling elements for easy install, and skinned in holographic vinyl mirror tiles.

MT: You told "Entertainment Design" that one specific element Madonna asked to be changed was the metal tree you created with Mark Fichou for the "Geisha" act of the show, with that "blowing air" and "butcher knives" request. I bet it's an interesting story to tell...

BR: Actually she didn"t ask for the tree to be changed just altered. We had built a small scale model for her to approve before we built the actual tree. The actual tree was very expensive and made entirely of aluminum. It was great but she wanted it to be more dangerous so she asked if we could get a 100 butcher knives and attach them to the ends of each limb…instead we made sharp shapes out of hard rubber to give her the more dangerous effect.

MT: What was the symbolism behind that tree? How was it different form the ones you created for Ricky Martin?

BR: My friend Marc Fichou, the metal artist, built the trees for both Ricky"s and Madonna"s shows. Madonna wanted a tree mostly for the iconic image as used in classic kabuki theatre and also because she would need a platform in the tree to launch or fly from in her fight scene. I suggested the tree should be all aluminum and more sculptural in form rather than realistic. It"s also important because of the bird symbolism.

MT: Everybody knows Madonna as someone who always has the strongest control of every aspect of her shows and productions. But also, as a true artist, she's a lot into inspiration and gives plenty of support to the talents she works with. How was the experience for you? You once said that it was like "building a house with Madonna"...

BR: Madonna was involved in every aspect of the production and seemed to be very aware of everything going on around her I think. Some things were out of control and it was frustrating. For instance a lot of the important personnel around her didn"t manage her money very well. For example the shops were on hold for three weeks because her production manager kept account of his multi million dollar budget by hand …wow.)
The first phase of rehearsals had her and the dancers in one stage and the musicians in another while the shops were busy in remote locations. I know she rehearsed her dance and stage movement for days and days and days and during breaks she would walk to another soundstage on the studio lot and work on her music.

But her involvement in the design was more of a royal blessing ceremony where as she would be presented a model or a sketch and she would nod yes or no. I usually stood several feet behind Jamie while he presented the royal sketch to her. It was funny.

Otherwise once we were all in the same production rehearsals where dancers, musicians, sets and lights were meshed on the stageset she made the atmosphere very professional. It was great. She was a dream client to work for because she was serious and on a sort of a quest. We all joined her and it was actually very exciting!


MT: Do you have a fondest memory of that experience, or any other episode or anecdote you like to remember, something funny or maybe some panic scenes?

BR: A funny story happened in the design process that I should talk about. After Madonna approved the concept design she pretty much left all the decision-making up to Jamie and me. Her direct request was for me to give her a set with the same vibe as Ricky"s La Vida Loca set: "silver shiny and modern".


During her dance rehearsals I had my studio make a "white study" model of the design because I wanted her to have a 3-d version of the set to look at for spatial inspiration.
During the fabrication of the actual set I was ready to paint it all shiny, silver, modern - just like Ricky's La Vida Loca set that she loved so much.

However, in a series of private meetings between Jamie and I, Jamie decided he wanted the set to be painted brown like a volcano and Jamie said that she wanted it done that way. I argued but finally said ok and we painted the set like a giant brown volcano rather than a shiny, silver, modern temple.

When we loaded in the set for production rehearsals she was shocked to see the brown set…she didn't comment on the color for a few days I think out of politeness - until finally she called for a huge production meeting in front of everyone.
Her reason for calling the meeting was to tell me she hated the set. I asked her why and she said because it was brown. Evidently she had not asked for a brown set. Jamie was sitting there next to the white study model and didn't say a word - he was sort of in shock - I guess it was uncomfortable for Jamie but he didn"t manage to take responsibility for calling for the brown finish.
Madonna pointed at the study model and said 'that's what I want! if it were silver I would love it!!”.
It was a classic moment where everyone in the entire production was watching to see how someone was going to deal with the situation. I took responsibility (much to Jamie"s relief) and I told her I could paint it over night and we did.

It took 4 scenic painters 12 hours to paint the brown volcano into the silver temple it was meant to be. When she came in the next evening she walked up to me with a hug and asked if I liked it better and I said yes…
The lesson here is to always communicate directly with the client even when you think you are.

MT: Are you satisfied with the final result or do you regret something you conceptualized that didn't managed to be included in the stage as built?

BR: I wanted to have a huge red silk sail deploy in a reverse kabuki during the Japanese fight scene. It would have been 120" wide x 48" tall. I didn"t get this effect in Madonna"s show but I used the idea for a huge Vogue Fashion Show a couple years later.

MT: Which were your emotions the first time you saw the entire show complete? And what about the first time you witnessed the reactions of Madonna's live audience?

BR: It was exciting, I was happy for everyone involved.

MT: Where did your involvement with the tour stopped, did you follow the show on the road or it just ended up on the opening night?

BR: I"m happy to say my involvement ended at the end of production rehearsals.

MT: A set is also a complex technical machinery where mechanical and engineering sometimes force specific choice and limit certain possibilities to turn a concept into a built stage. How was that like for the Drowned World Tour?

BR: Good question. It took a lot of money and energy and interface to bring this production together. It was very emotional at times but the payoff was worth it. I found myself fighting for the design every single day. A lot of the staff that was between me and Madonna were setting up road blocks hoping to reduce the scale of the theatrics I was going for and it got downright dramatic…I had to threaten to quit and walk away three or four times but Madonna and her manager Carese always fought for my designs. Madonna is great like that! One more note: I had some amazing touring carpenters on the Madonna show.

MT: The tour was originally scheduled to open in Germany but the first dates were cancelled due to some technical problems. I've been told that the height and shape of the roof at the Koln Arena was not allowing the "Crouching Tiger" number to be performed. Was that the real reason?

BR: I"m not sure. The crouching tiger number was very simple and didn"t require any out of the ordinary weight or rigging requirements.

How long did it take to assemble the entire thing in a new venue and get ready for rehearsing?

BR: From the time I started sketching to the first day of production rehearsals was about 8 weeks.


The first 7 weeks of this period was spent in fabrication. (three weeks of this 7-week period was used for budget accounting and discussions) We rehearsed on the set for about 4 weeks. Once the tour got rolling the amazing crew was able to load-in the entire 24-truck production in only a few hours.

MT: From an architectural point of view, the use of the giant LED screens was pushed to the limits in the re-Invention tour, at the point that you can somehow say that there is no stage at all in the conventional sense of the term, it's only Madonna, her dancers and the images on the screens. It is definetly a radical choice, and very different from the DWT design. Did you have a chance to see the show? What do you think about it?

BR: I didn"t see her RI Tour…
I hear Jamie designed it. Knowing Jamie I've always said he could make a great dance production with only a candle and a cardboard box…he"s very talented. And Madonna is a great presence with or without any setting. However - I didn't see it and can't comment.


: Maybe it's just my architectural background, but when I read about Tribe,inc I can't help thinking about the Taliesin experience. How is it working in Tribe, inc?

BR: At times it works and at times it doesn"t. In that way I think we are exactly like Taliesin. The fun part of having several designers under one umbrella is interesting if the atmosphere is free and open. We were only 7 people and now we are four but it"s still great to have a working design team that is more family than employees.


MT: The sketches and renderings you create for you stage designs are amazing, powerful hand drawings, which is probably quite unique today as everyone else seems to be modelling on machines and there's and be obsessed by photo-realism in architectural renderings.
At the same time, when you move from concept design to construction design you can't avoid the help of technology and CAD drawing.
Do you have your very own equlibrium between craft and technology at Tribe, inc?
How is the job done? How many people and what kind of professional specialties are involved?

BR: I like it when a client says the set looks like the drawings/models…or in this case when she says she wants it to look like the model!
I can"t understand how a "designer" or even a "director/choreographer" who does not draw can take credit for a built or illuminated design. For example alot of "lighting designers" are so quick to take credit for a lighting fixture"s qualities.
And a lot of these "directors/choreographers, lighting and set designers" who give royal yes or no nods to ideas or colors aren"t designers they"re shoppers.
I"m proud to be able to draw. It"s what I do best.

Mark Fisher (U2, Ka) is a real designer. His napkin sketches and his drawings prove the real connection between imagination and reality.
I wanna be him when I grow up. But to answer your question My studio uses autocad and vectorworks, 3-D Studio Max and Final Cut Ppro, Photoshop and Maya to design with. All my people are master model builders, artists, sculptors and draftsmen.

MT: How important are models and 3D designs in developing a concept for a live show and how helpful they are when it comes to prepare a client presentation?

BR: I have 18 years of models in my Venice studio and often I will have a first conceptual meeting with a client there to walk them thru the various sets I"ve been involved with.
So in a sense the models are useful before and after each project.

MT: As you know we're called "MadonnaTribe" and fans usually refer to us as "Tribe", which I bet is something familiar to you... We use "where the tribe adores the idol" as a headline meaning that we are a bunch of people gathered by a common passion. What would you say is the biggest passion for you guys at Tribe, inc?

BR: I chose Tribe inc. for my company name for similar reasons except that idol worship is not part of it.

The common worship or focus is toward one meaning or belief system. I think we"re talking about the same thing though. I like the tribe mentality at concert settings.

I like the fact that that same tribe that attended Madonna"s show will join other tribe types at work the next day but work thru the day as a working tribe and that same tribe may disperse and join other tribes for a football game or yoga workout and so on.

It"s kind of simple in thought but it"s true. We are as a world body a tribal people. That brings many negatives but real beauty comes from tribal associations and gatherings too.
Guess what I"m in the U2 tribe… but I"m also a member of Sting"s tribe, and oh yeah I"m a huge Italian architecture tribe member.

MT: Let's talk a bit about one of your most recent designs, Sting's Sacred Love Tour.

BR: This project came to me through two friends that were involved with Sting on his Tuscany DVD project.

Meeting and working with Sting"s production team was quite an experience. He"s the coolest, most calm Zen-like person you could imagine but his team is an insane crotchety group of mad men if there ever was one. And I love him and them equally.
I made a point to first show my concepts to the crew the evening before my meeting with Sting.

One of the guys lit my model on fire and the others spent 2 hours telling me what sucked about the design. I felt like I was a lonely prisoner in a torture room with a gang of thugs. It was great.

Some of their ideas were good and some were bad. I left that "meeting" and went to my hotel room and stayed up all night re-working my design to incorporate their good ideas with mine and surprised them all in my first pitch to Sting the next evening.
They were impressed and I was in. The rest of the experience was a beautiful thing. Look for the DVD soon.


MT: Which are the main projects currently going on at Tribe, inc? Which is the one you are looking at with the biggest expectation?

BR: We are suddenly working internationally with two projects in Japan and one in italy…. Other than that we stay busy with about four tour designs a year.

MT: Thanks so much bruce for stopping by at another "Tribe". We wish you all the best!

BR: Thanks


Back to Part One


MadonnaTribe would like to thank Brice Rodgers for his kindness, for his patience,
and for sharing his precious time and his art with the Madonna fans.

Copyright 2005 MadonnaTribe
Pictures and sketches courtesy of Tribe, inc


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