MT: 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.
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.
MT: 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
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?
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..
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.
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.
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?
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".
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.
MT: 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
would like to thank Brice Rodgers for his kindness, for
and for sharing his precious time and his art with the Madonna
Copyright 2005 MadonnaTribe
Pictures and sketches courtesy of Tribe, inc