LD Ariel del Mastro Lights American Idiot in Buenos Aires

by Michael Eddy
American Idiot was lit by Ariel del Mastro in Buenos Aires
American Idiot was lit by Ariel del Mastro in Buenos Aires
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A top Argentinian creative team including director, set and lighting designer Ariel del Mastro, award-winning lighting director Ariel “el gato” Ponce, and video designer Maxi Vecco have created a stunning production design for Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot, currently playing at the Broadway Theatre in Buenos Aires. It is the first time that the show has been sung in Spanish, and in fact the first time it has been produced in any language other than English.

Robe moving lights are central to creating the raw, edgy vibe with Spiiders, Spikies, and Squares prominent in the rig, and being used to the maximum by del Mastro and Ponce in their creation of a colorful, dramatic, contrasty, fast-paced lighting aesthetic to complement the punky rock sounds and gritty narrative. Both del Mastro and Ponce were instrumental in specifying the Robes on the rig after previous good experiences with all these fixtures.

American Idiot is playing in rep at the Broadway Theatre with two other shows, Mahatma a cirque-musical extravaganza, and the adult-orientated erotic show, Taboo. These Robe products were chosen for the flexibility and creative scope they bring to lighting three very different and dynamic shows. Having Robe on-board—along with a selection of other moving lights and generics—made the imaginative challenges they faced infinitely easier. While the three shows utilize the same rig, they all look completely different. Some of the Robe fixtures are re-positioned and re-rigged in between, and Mahatma also utilizes some additional Robe Pointes.

American Idiot—the stage adaptation of Green Day's 2004 critically acclaimed and commercially successful album—was inspired by many things including the ground-breaking work of The Who and their original rock opera Tommy. It was set against a backdrop of the 2003 Iraq War and, the Bush-era in U.S. politics and corporate imperialism routinely choking individual enterprise and spirit. Its striking red heart-shaped hand grenade has become an iconic symbol.

Hard-hitting, energetic music and lyrics with attitude, cynical yet positive and an in-the-face call to action to all those fighting for a bit of identity; the lighting and visuals needed to match this vibe. Ariel del Mastro—a larger than life character who thinks big all of the time—first saw the show on Broadway around 10 years ago and, captivated, dreamed about bringing it to Argentina. It took some time for the circumstances to be right, he persevered, purchased the rights and looked for a producer; and this is the result.

The decision to perform in Spanish gave it much wider appeal to the local audience and was crucial to understanding the nuances of the narrative; a smart move as the crowds have been flocking to the theatre to catch the action for the four-month run. 

del Mastro also designed sets for the trio of productions mentioned above and came up with the ingenious idea of masking the extensive video elements installed for Mahatma, to produce the fragmented back wall look that defines the American Idiot performance space. “Effectively it’s more like a rock concert with a storyline than conventional theatre production,” explained del Mastro, “and so that’s how we approached and lit it." del Mastro, based in Buenos Aires and working internationally, has quite recently started using Robe, and has specified the brand for 90% of his work over the last 18 months. “Basically, because I think they make absolutely great lights!” he declared.

At the theatre—on the frenetic Avenida Corrientes, a main Buenos Aires artery along which a number of theatres are located, Ariel Ponce operates the show each night. Fresh from winning a coveted 2017 Hugo Award—honoring the creative and technical talents of those working in musical theatre—for his fresh and inventive lighting design work, Ponce chats about how the fixtures are positioned and used on American Idiot.

The 32 Spiiders are all on overhead trusses installed in the theatre roof and are used for all the stage washes and color—of which there is plenty in the show. Spiiders were picked for their big zoom and the quality of the beam—in both narrow and wide modes—as well as for their map-ability with the individual LED pixels, ideal for some of the chaotic and jittery effects so appropriate for this show. Ponce also uses the Spiider’s flower effect which he thinks is “Magnificent”. He’d first used this new wash-beam collaborating with Ariel del Mastro on the launch of the Mahatma show earlier in the year at the Luxor Theatre in Villa Carlos Paz, Cordoba.

They also like the amber colors and the realistic range of whites that they can get from the Spiiders. The Spikies are dotted all around the video screens upstage where their small size, light weight, and the high speed continuous pan and tilt made them ideal for the position and the tasks being asked.

Twelve of the 16 Squares were used upstage of the back wall, blasting through the 6mm video screens, with four on the floor—brought on and off and positioned manually for certain scenes—for more in-the-face effects. Again, the first time the two Ariels used this 5x5 matrix style luminaire from Robe was Mahatma in Cordoba. They loved it for the myriad of different effects and the mapping capabilities which create numerous different shapes in American Idiot like crucifixes, X’s, square / circular borders etc. These are the first mainstream shows in Argentina to use these types of effects and the idea is still experimental and the source of many wows.

Ponce enjoyed the many challenges that they have encountered in lighting American Idiot. The programming was an intense process. The video content was finalized later on in the pre-production process, so they had to start programming—there are over 230 multi-part cues in the grandMA2—without having the material to refer to and then tweak once the video was programmed in the media server. Ponce has been using Robe for around six years through different rental companies and also on his own lighting design clients.

CDM Productions are supplying all the lighting for American Idiot, Mahatma, and Taboo having made a large Robe investment earlier in the year which was delivered by Argentinean distributor, TSD Group.

Further information from Robe: www.robe.cz