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THE UNSEEN MOVES FOR MADONNA : Intricate Planning, Bustling Operations Sets Stage for Star

July 18, 1987|RICK VANDERKNYFF

The 63,000 fans who will watch Madonna and three male dancers go through their moves tonight at Anaheim Stadium probably have no idea of the intricately choreographed maneuvers that have been going on behind the scenes all week.

The logistics of mounting the singer's high-tech stadium concerts can be dizzying, and precision timing plays as big a role as it does for the dancers on stage. Even a rare July rainstorm in Southern California, which may dampen the proceedings, is not expected to change tonight's plans, although rain caused the opening act, Level 42, to bow out of a show in Miami. But the concert promoter said Friday that tonight's sold-out show will go on rain or shine.

For the promoter--Avalon Attractions--the mammoth Madonna show lands during an already-busy stretch that will see the company present 24 concerts in the Southland over the next 14 days--nine this weekend alone.

In the five days leading to today's 7 p.m. show time in Anaheim, Avalon brought in a fleet of 16 trailers for dressing rooms for Madonna, her band, entourage and for Level 42. The huge stage structure--one of two identical stages that leapfrog from site to site on the tour--was built in three days by a crew of 60. And finally, Madonna's 50-person road crew came in to install lighting and sound equipment, while Anaheim Stadium personnel placed 12,500 seats on the field.

While the recent rush of activity is impressive, the production work for tonight's concert actually began two weeks before tickets even went on sale. For Avalon's chief of production services, Danny O'Bryen, and for stage manager Joe Barry, the first step in the long process of putting the show together was measuring the field by hand, because no accurate blueprints were available.

That done, they entered the data into their computer and decided exactly where to place the huge stage, which is 152 feet wide, 88 feet deep and 57 feet high. "What you have to do is figure out the dimensions of your stage, and where it fits into the curve of the building," O'Bryen said at the stadium.

Because it's baseball season, Barry and O'Bryen had to keep the stage structure off the playing field. And to get the maximum number of bleacher seats within the sightlines, they moved the stage back as far as possible, even cutting off the back corners of the structure.

With the stage position set, they turned to their computer drafting program again to design the seating chart for the field. Here, too, there were complicating factors: The aisles had to be wide enough to meet fire regulations, but not so wide that patrolling them would be difficult.

They also had to make room for a sound booth and 50-foot lighting tower, all the while knowing that the infield grass was definitely off limits ("That's the holy grass," joked Barry).

Most of all, the chart had to be accurate because it would be used to sell tickets for the concert (seats on the field are reserved while bleacher seats are general admission).

Then came the work of lining up companies to provide power, trailers, tents and trucks for the show, hiring workers to build the stage and union crews to run the lights and sound, and arranging the catering that would feed up to 200 people in the final days before the show.

Two things have made the task easier for Barry and O'Bryen. This summer has been a busy one for stadium shows. Avalon is involved in most of them. Much of the preparation work Avalon did for the Genesis show at Dodger Stadium in May did not have to be duplicated for the Madonna concert and upcoming Grateful Dead/Bob Dylan and David Bowie shows. "It just makes it easy, because you're not going through the entire production, in and out, every time," O'Bryen said.

Second, computers are used extensively in the concert business, from keeping track of payrolls to designing seating charts and even printing guest passes.

Still, there can be surprises. Minutes before a scheduled interview and tour of the stage being built on Thursday, Barry received word that two flatbed trucks he had hired for the next morning were suddenly unavailable, so he had to scramble to find last-minute replacements.

But Barry and O'Bryen agree that careful preparation will head off most problems, and they recited one of their favorite sayings: "Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part."

"When you come into a gig, it's really nice when nobody's screaming and everything's under control," said Steve Rennie, Avalon vice president.

"So it's a tremendous asset having (production) guys like Danny and Brian (Murphy, president of Avalon) and Joe Barry, because they make it really smooth."

As hectic as putting a show together can be, taking it all apart can be even more strenuous. For David Bowie's 1983 Anaheim Stadium concert, the Avalon crew had to work all night after the show to have the field clear for a football game by 8 a.m.

O'Bryen said: "The follow-through is it. You've got to make it all the way through to the end. On this on we have a little more time. We don't have to start right after the show; we can start the next morning."

Even after the field is clear and tonight's show is a memory, though, there will be no time to rest as the blitz of concerts continues in this "Summer of the Stadium Show."

On top of the Irvine Meadows and Forum concerts to come, there are Anaheim Stadium shows with the Dead and Dylan (July 26) and Bowie (Aug. 8 and 9) to contemplate. For O'Bryen and Barry, the dance is just beginning.

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