⛈ RAIN ON ME OUT NOW ⛈

Sign in to follow this  
other

Telegraph[UK]: Stage designer Ric Lipson on the BTW set

Carpet Shark
Posted (edited)

Stadium castles, human motorcycles, broken hips: inside Lady Gaga's most dangerous tour

The ludicrously ambitious Born This Way Ball broke Lady Gaga in more ways than one. Stage designer Ric Lipson reveals how it was built

By Alice Vincent 28 May 2020 • 5:23pm

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/artists/stadium-castles-human-motorcycles-broken-hips-inside-lady-gagas/

 

In the morass of the pandemic, a multi-coloured ray of light: Chromatica, the new album from from pop’s gleefully weird superstar. Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta) has previously said the electronic album has been inspired by “mental health, healing, and finding happiness through hardship”. It couldn’t have been better timed. 

The future of the The Chromatica Ball tour, however, is more uncertain. Announced in March, the six-date stadium-filler is due to travel across Europe and North America in July and August, seeing Gaga’s return to Twickenham Stadium for the first time since 2013, when she brought The Born This Way Ball to the London suburbs: a beserk, $200-million-grossing tour of  her 2011, hit-packed sophomore album in which Gaga performed inside a four-storey castle and danced herself into debilitating, tour-cancelling injury. 

The Born This Way Ball proved the peak of Gaga’s madness, and the years since have trodden over more earnest terrain: a jazz covers album with Tony Bennett; Joanne, a poignant if pedestrian collection of stripped-back Americana dedicated to her late aunt; and A Star is Born, for which she was Oscar-nominated in 2018. Her red carpet appearances have stayed well clear of the 2010 meat dress fiasco.

In short, Gaga has been firmly on planet Earth for a good while, but fans are hopeful that Chromatica will see a return to form for Mother Monster. Chromatica, after all, is another planet. “I live on Chromatica, that is where I live,” she told us when announcing the title. “I went into my frame. I found Earth, I deleted it. Earth is canceled. I live on Chromatica.”

Almost exactly nine years after the release of Born This Way, could Gaga be returning to the artistic surreality that once defined her?

While The Born This Way tour was unprecedented in terms of scale – more on which later – Gaga was no stranger to pushing the boundaries of pop touring. Her 2009 Monster Ball Tour, her first in arenas, landed her $3 million in debt. Not because it wasn’t successful – it grossed nearly $260 million. But Gaga’s insistence on redesigning and reformatting the tour during its 203 shows cost her so much she wound up losing a fortune. 

Undeterred, within 18 months she was plotting her next takeover: this time, of stadia and arenas around the world, inside an enormous gothic castle known as the Kingdom of Fame. Despite witnessing the show first hand, the narrative behind it was indecipherable, but the general concept was this: the castle was on a mythical planet of GOAT, where a tyrannical Mother GOAT ruled supreme (Mother GOAT was represented at the event by an enormous floating hologram of Gaga’s distorted face, inside a diamond-shaped cage) and wanted to “kill the bi---” - the bi--- being “alien fugitive” Gaga.

Gaga, trapped inside the castle, must free herself to survive. A two-hour cat-and-mouse chase, involving countless costume changes and elaborate props, ensued before (spoiler!) Gaga eventually killed Mother GOAT with her “disco stick” and announced that she must leave, but that her fans have “made us into a real culture, a cult, a family”. Obviously, it was awesome. 

Ric Lipson, stage designer and partner of entertainment architects Stufish, who conjured the Fame Kingdom into being, can’t reveal how much the project cost – not least because it’s near-impossible to total up the sums – but nevertheless tells me “it wasn’t the cheapest set we did that year.”

The design process alone sounds like its own unique kind of torture: the castle had to be four storeys high and be both small enough to fit into arenas yet large enough to fill stadia. Gaga, who at this point had only played supporting stadium shows, was insistent against screens, so these had to be smuggled behind a further painted backdrop.

The front looked like a castle, but needed to open and close several times off their own steam, while containing props, dancers and a live band, during the show. The back needed to accommodate huge lifts to move props such as meat grinders and a bath up and down. The whole project was so heavy, a structural assessment of each of the 64 venues was necessary, and then an entirely separate stage to support the castle. As Lipson explains: “a normal stage is only rated for people to jump around on it; now you’ve got a tank driving over it.”

And so a special stage needed to be built to bear the load of the whole thing. All of it needed to break down into chunks small enough for a human to carry (an estimated 1,000 in total) and then construct and take down within four hours. “Eight or nine” trucks carried the whole thing around the globe. 

“No-one’s ever built a four-storey castle that has to tour,” Lipson points out. In order to figure out quite how, he and members of the StuFish team relocated to Tait Towers, a fabrication company located in, of all places, Amish stronghold Lititz, Pennsylvania. “They make all the Listerine in North America, they fix Rolex watches, and they just happen to be the centre of the rock’n’roll world,” says Lipson.  

For several weeks, Stufish took an office in their building and set upon meticulous testing of castle bricks, which had to put up with all manner of unthinkable circumstances: not only meeting Gaga’s aesthetic demands and the logistics of a lighting designer, but also being tough enough to tour and construct every night, and withstand both the heat of a truck in the Arizona desert and the chill of the Finnish winter. “There were four turrets, two that were habitable, two were not,” he continues, “we had to establish whether they should have gargoyles [they decided against]. This is not just a castle. This was Gaga’s castle. Every single thing has to be perfect.” 

A hand-sculptor was brought in from Hollywood, where he worked on film sets, to finish detail on each of the castle’s bricks. “This isn’t something we do in rock’n’roll that often,” Lipson explains. “It’s a lot of pieces when you’re working on something that’s bigger than a house.”

Until a few months before showtime, most of the designing had been done conceptually, on computers in CADdesign. “Then we had a team of 10 touring carpenters come in for a week before the set leaves, to put it together and find the problems,” he continues. “It’s all very good what the theory was, as someone who sits and draws all day, but there’s nothing like a guy who’s been on the road for 25 years to say, ‘well, that’s not going to work, I need to be able to hit it with a hammer.’”

Gaga wouldn’t see her Kingdom of Fame for another few weeks, after the band and dancers had rehearsed on the set in Sony studios. “She was amazed, obviously,” Lipson says. “People never understand quite how big this thing is, how complex, how expensive, until they see it. Certainly for her, when she saw it for the first time it was quite emotional.”

Of course, this was just the stage. What ensued within the Kingdom of Fame almost made it seem comparatively normal. Over the course of more than two hours, Gaga, in no particular order: simulated oral sex while dressed as an alien on a desk; gave birth to herself via the means of a giant inflatable uterus; humped some castle crennellations; serenaded a photograph of herself as her drag alter-ego, Jo Calderone, while wearing a pink origami dress and hat so enormous she couldn’t get through the castle doors; emerged from the stage cradled in a steel crucible wearing a hat made of three-foot long spikes; wheeled herself out onto the stage seemingly enmeshed with a motorbike; married a man called “Black Jesus” and, perhaps the show’s peak, appeared between two inflatable animal carcasses while wearing a mini-dress version of her infamous meat dress, before descending onto a matching meat sofa. 

It wasn’t just the castle that was made with industry greats (although Lipson humbly admits that the show was “probably slightly ahead of when we were ready to make such a hugely complex show”). The now-cancelled fashion photographer Terry Richardson was on hand to document. Costume design was provided by Calvin Klein and an accompanying handful of up-and-coming designers. Atelier Versace designed a “face-lift” wardrobe for the US leg; in the end, very little of it would get much showtime. 

Gaga only performed a month of the three-month North American leg of the tour. On 12 February, 2013, she wrote a post on her fan website, LittleMonsters.com, explaining she needed to undergo surgery for a “labral tear of the right hip”. After performing in Montreal the night before, she was left unable to walk. Gaga had been suffering in silence: “I hid it from my staff, I didn’t want to disappoint my amazing fans.”

What nobody – including Gaga herself – knew at that point was that she had broken her hip. As she later told WWD: “When we got all the MRIs finished before I went to surgery there were giant craters, a hole in my hip the size of a quarter, and the cartilage was just hanging out the other side of my hip. I had a tear on the inside of my joint and a huge breakage. The surgeon told me that if I had done another show I might have needed a full hip replacement. I would have been out at least a year, maybe longer.”

The Kingdom of Fame never did arise at Madison Square Garden, nor at another dozen of the venues lined up on the tour schedule. Gaga had to, physically, lay low. It meant the show was never officially filmed for DVD. To revisit the sheer mania of The Born This Way Ball is to watch some of the painstaking fan-made recreations of the show, stitched together from hundreds of hours of different fan footage from around the world.

The result gives an overview of Gaga’s relentless tweaking of the show; of how her hair and costumes change (the toy machine gun bra is, disappointingly, short-lived), how fans from across the globe react with similar overwhelm when they join her on stage. 

The Born This Way Ball has its origins in other boundary-breaking pop shows: David Bowie’s notorious Glass Spider Tour, Madonna’s history-making Blond Ambition World Tour. But it also set a new bar, one subsequently reached by extravaganzas such as Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Gaga left her own legacy. “It pushed people into the understanding that a show didn’t just have to be a pers on turns up, has a video screen and some lights, and the odd prop that they interact with. That you could create a whole world,” Lipson explains.

After nearly a decade, Chromatica will enable Gaga to create a new one. No wonder the fans can’t wait. 

 

Edited by Carpet Shark
more, as requested
  • Like 4
  • Love 4
  • Shook 1
  • Thanks 4

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
Benji

Could you post the full article here please?  I don’t want to start a trial with them to read it.

  • Like 5

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
JRCF29

Ma'am I'm not subscribing so I can read this:selena:

Don't Call Me Gaga

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
Carpet Shark
12 minutes ago, Benji said:

Could you post the full article here please?  I don’t want to start a trial with them to read it.

Done.

 

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 3

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
ThisBitch

Design a set for the Chromatica Ball!

  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
littlepotter
20 minutes ago, Carpet Shark said:

The now-cancelled fashion photographer Terry Richardson 

:air:

This was such a nice and nostalgic read. It's really one of Gaga's biggest career tragedies that she was never able to film this.

click... you won't regret https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uvz2DrqbjLo
  • Like 1
  • Sad 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
Borislshere

I think the BTWB is my all time favorite gaga stage. From the moment i saw the drawing she shared, I was captivated. I remember watching so many low quality videos from the first show where the lighting wasn't all too great but was still in awe at how big it was and how it operated. Truly a work of art and it pains me i wasn't able to witness it 

EWn4VD4WoAA3yEE.jpg

  • Like 2
  • YAAAS 1
  • Love 1
  • Sad 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
darkpaw

By far the best stage design of any concert.:ohwell:

  • YAAAS 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
MrJDickinson

Does anybody know what happened to the castle. Does she have it in storage now or was it disposed of? It was such an amazing thing to see and would be such a shame if they just got rid. Would love to see it in some huge Gaga museum one day. 

  • Like 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
Terrence

Omg I truly hope Chromatica can be the BTWB 2.0

 I’ve never been a fan of the backdrop screens either in any concert by her or any other artist.

the stage design is what made TMB and TBTWB outstanding experiences. I really hope HOPE Chromatica Ball has grand props too.

  • YAAAS 1
  • Love 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
BlackCrown

"Stadium castles, human motorcycles, broken hips"

:air:

That escalated quickly

 

I'm so sad that I missed the BTWBT, it looked so unique and creative. If there is a Chromatica Ball next year I hope she'll have someone as creative as Ric Lipson to design the stage. If there's not too many dates maybe she can do something huge, we need to feel like we're on another Planet, take us to a new world :pray:

My crown is black, like the soul of fame
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
BlackCrown
2 minutes ago, Terrence said:

I’ve never been a fan of the backdrop screens either in any concert by her or any other artist.

the stage design is what made TMB and TBTWB outstanding experiences.

whitney houston agree GIF

My crown is black, like the soul of fame

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
PlasticWeave
41 minutes ago, MrJDickinson said:

Does anybody know what happened to the castle. Does she have it in storage now or was it disposed of? It was such an amazing thing to see and would be such a shame if they just got rid. Would love to see it in some huge Gaga museum one day. 

It's in storage in the warehouse she has that holds like everything she's ever done

poordat
  • Love 1
  • Shook 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites
PlasticWeave

she needa to create a 'Gaga World' theme park and this could be the centerpiece :giveup: 

poordat
  • YAAAS 1
  • Shook 1
  • Thanks 1

Share


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...