News

17 Mar 2021

Magic Mike Live

by Jimmy Den-Ouden

With the Magic Mike films being well received in Australia, the MML producers were keen to send the live stage show here. Because Magic Mike Live is an immersive and all-encompassing experiential performance, it’s not the kind of thing you can just throw into a normal theatre. The solution was to build a custom, tourable Spiegeltent called The Arcadia specifically to stage the production.

The Arcadia was built in Belgium by specialist firm Het Spiegelpaleis, and the full cast and crew actually flew there to rehearse. At the conclusion of that process, the whole thing was packed into 34 shipping containers and sent it to Australia. Covid-19 necessitated a consolidation down to 27 containers along the way, and naturally this presented some challenges when time came to put it all together in Moore Park. Still, in a mere three weeks, the entire Spiegeltent and adjoining structures were built and themed, and ready to go.

Looking at the production spec and walking through the space, you come to realise what an undertaking this must be for the producers. The ground support for the tent is rated for 18 tonnes, which is just wild.

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The experience of the show commences before you even get into the room, with a comfortable bar area, box office and merch counter at the front of the space. Upon entering the Spiegeltent proper, audience members are guided to their seats, and the drink ordering system explained. This is a hospitality-heavy show – use a QR code to order, and it’s swiftly delivered to your seat. Some glitchy delays experienced on preview night were quickly ironed out, and the service was slick and efficient the second time I attended the show; just the way we media types like it.

Aside from delivering the booze, the floor staff also looks after the all-important task of collecting items of clothing discarded by the dancers throughout the show.

On both occasions I was taken with how gorgeously well-designed the pre-show preset is. Lighting was perfect, pre-show music selection and volume were perfect, even the temperature of the venue was perfect. I’ve never before felt so comfortable sitting in a venue waiting for the show. The eight very large air-con packs outside the tent no doubt contribute to his, as do the opulent timber floors, bespoke seating, and warm inviting lighting state. It’s a genuinely lovely space to be in, and it’s great that Sydney audiences get to be the first in the world to experience the venue. The show will do six months here, then move on to Melbourne and eventually the rest of the country.

In my books a bunch of hot shirtless dudes doing slamming dance moves with tight production doesn’t really need a story, so the fact there is one is a bonus. It also elevates the show and adds a touch of class, which I think is nice. I found the first ten minutes of the show a bit cringe-worthy, but it turns out that’s a deliberate choice so as to set a contrast for the remainder of the show. It’s hard to tell what’s a dream sequence and what’s reality, but there are elements of female empowerment, music, raunch, celebration, and even a unicorn. I didn’t really follow the story, but I was happily entertained regardless. The hens’ nights in the house seemed equally titillated.

On a technical level the show is very impressive. 360 degree audio coverage is provided courtesy of 10 d&b audiotechnik line arrays interspersed with fill speakers as needed. The stage incorporates more subs than could ever reasonably be needed, but whatever – it works. As a guy who’s fussy about how loud things are and how they sound, I thought the show sounded great. Yes, it’s largely dialogue on one mic and playback but I maintain that there’s an art to simple things done well. This is done well, as is the dynamic of the show – impactful only when it needs to be. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the show, despite varied mic techniques and performer positions.

Audio is driven from the only technical operation position that’s actually exposed in the room, and even then it’s kind of only half in the room. A DiGiCo SD10 console sits atop racks of interesting outboard toys, with various playback and monitoring systems off to one side. I didn’t look too closely, but whatever audio mic magic (see what I did there?) is going on in there is definitely working.

Lighting, stage management and automation all have their own operation booths with various windows screens and IR cameras to see in the dark. Lighting is full on, but not in a tactless over-the-top way. Lighting the performers is of core importance, and the surrounding effects are ambience.

BlackTrax beacons on the dancers allow various fixtures to track the performers in real time as they move throughout the venue. The tracking is really good; I don’t think human spot ops could do it so well and with such repeatability. I took a friend to the show who had some misgivings about the system, and afterward he conceded that he was actually quite impressed with how well it worked. I think it comes down to how well the technology is deployed and maintained. Operationally it’s a win, and I reckon it’s probably a solid budgetary choice too.

While most dance routines are done on the stage, others see the performers move out into the house and dance on podiums, pianos, balconies, staircases, and even the bar at the end of the room. Lighting is used to great effect to pull audience attention to these performances so that such necessary tasks such as mopping water from the central stage can be carried out unnoticed. It’s such a simple bit of theatre, but it works so well.
In aid of this need, the lighting rig extends well beyond the confines of the stage and into the far reaches of the tent. Some fixtures such as the Ayrton MagicDots by nature have a fairly limited effect repertoire, so they are used suitably sparingly. No effect is overdone. LED profiles light the aisles and perimeter floor area, with soft edges and subtle intensity. LED strips up-light the stage perimeter and do a fabulous job of highlighting the rippling abs on stage. The walls are lit with LED battens, which are used to good effect to focus attention to certain areas during the show.

Undoubtedly the coolest lighting element is the “spider grid” – an 8×8 array of Robe Spiiders directly above the stage. The grid is trimmed at such a height that it’s a really versatile feature – the fixtures can provide singular tight beams for intimate scenes, or punch out those big pixel mapped colour looks. It’s super cool, and it get even better when it splits in half and a platform with a drum-kit (and drummer) lowers from the space between. That bit actually blew my mind.

On that note, the drums are an electronic kit which is played live. Also live are all the other instruments, and the singing. Musically it’s pretty good, especially considering that the core element of the show is dance. Again it all sounds great; the mix is lively, punchy and clean.

There are many other mechanical elements to the show; a piano which tracks out from the grand staircase and revolves. Dancers being lowered from the sky. A bed that raises from centre stage during a stunning aerial performance. There’s even a flying Unicorn. While lighting and audio are largely driven from timecode, for safety reasons the automation is all manually operated by a human.

I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the whole structure including the grid, and it’s obvious a lot of thought has gone into how to deal with the various set elements. A track system allows different pieces to be wheeled in and out above the spider grid, then lowered and raised as required. Did I mention the rain chandelier? Now you know why they need to mop the stage…

Adjacent to The Arcadia, a large Höcker marquee forms the venue foyer and bar, with another similar structure at back of house for dressing rooms. Most of the tech that drives the show (think amp racks, automation and LX distro) is built into a container that sits behind the main tent, and there’s a bit of a compound area out the back for various cool rooms and such.

The talent in the show are impressive – tight dance routines and solid performances. Even if you’re not there looking for your next husband, it’s well worth going along to see the show for the production value alone. Staging something this complex is impressive in its own right, but the fact it’s been built to tour makes it even more so. Ultimately Magic Mike Live is a hell of a lot of production, and a lot of production values jammed into what is, at its core, a tent.

Crew List

International Production Manager – Don Gilmore
Production Manager – Brendan Maher
Head Mechanist – Rob Canning
Deputy Mechanist – Maddison Ohl
Head of Automation – Scott Madden
Head LX – Adam ‘PNUt’ Mc Doughall
Deputy LX – Pat Smithers
Head of Audio – Evan Drill
Deputy Audio – Tracy Leong
Swing Tech – Rachel Ewins
Production Stage Manager: Noah Sharwood
ASM: Benjamin Cooper
ASM: Stephanie Grima

Lighting

1x ETC Gio@5 24k
1x ETC Eos RPU3 24k
8x ETC Net3 4 Port DMX Gateway
28x Martin Encore Performance (cold) / SolaFrame 1000
12x Robe MegaPointe
62x Robe Spider
4x Mac Aura XB
55 x GLP X4 Bar 10
10x Robe Super Spikie
32x Ayrton MagicDot-SX
40x ETC Source Four Lustr Series 2 all with top hats
50x Martin Rush Par 2 RGBW Zoom
16x Chauvet Colordash Accent RGBW
2x MDG ATMe Haze Machine
2x MVS Haze Machine
1x DMX ZR25 Machines
1x Power Tiny smoke Machine
8x Martin Jem AF2 DMX Fan

Audio

DiGiCo SD10T
D&B DS100
8 x d&b audiotechnik T10 arrays, 8 boxes per array
10 x T10s
6 x D&B JSubs
24 x D&B Vsubs
Sennheiser capsules and Shure Axient mics

Automation

Control System
Bed Lift
Drop & Slide Doors (Sloat)
Sliding Lighting Grid
Pool & Drum Platform Fly
Centre Aerial Point (also Unicorn Fly)
Waterfall Chandelier Fly
(4) Rappel Aerial Points
Serenade Piano Track (in Grand Stairs)

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