Designing Drake's 'Boy Meets World' Tour

Designing Drake's 'Boy Meets World' Tour

Guy Pavelo brings some of music's wildest ideas to life. As Creative Director for GP-SK design, he's the technical go-to guy behind stage designs for Kanye West, Rihanna, Future, Van Halen, and, for the longest time, Drake – including on the Boy Meets World tour currently making its way around Australia. 

This show is a technical vision, one that pushes stadium logistics to their absolute limit (seriously, I saw it last week and am still picking my jaw up off the floor). Anchored by a system of 1,000 kinetic globes, programmed around a neverending array of spotlights, lasers and a giant 'dying sun', the show is a formidable opponent to Drake's ferocious onstage persona, but that's kind of the point. We spoke to Guy about lights, lasers and design for October's Very Own. 

Can you maybe introduce yourself and how you ended up working on the Boy Meets World tour? 

Well, my name is Guy. I got my start maybe 17-18 years ago working for Disney on Ice, which I did for about seven years. I met a bunch of great design teams and moved up the ladder of knowledge to the point of touring, eventually designing my own works, working with other design teams and firms until I started working with Drake. I've been with him for seven years now, to the point where they just started having me work hand-in-hand with their art team to create his shows. At that point, when I was doing work on the side it was called GP Design. One of my good friends Steve Kidd then came on board – he's a Tour Director/pseudo Production Manager – and started working as my creative collaborator and teammate. That's when we pulled GP-SK together around 4-5 years ago. I do a lot of the creating and drawing, plus the programming, execution and technical direction, Steve is great with the production discussions, dealing with all the background stuff, working with vendors and making sure the execution comes out right.

So let's talk about the Boy Meets World tour, partly because it's topical, but mostly because I saw it last week and still can't get over the logistics of it. How does a stage show of this scale get briefed? 

So this one was derived from the Summer Sixteen tour, which started at the tail end of 2016. We knew we wanted a larger scale production; at that point, they came to us and said 'we know we're gonna tour...you start making something and we'll start discussing it'. We'd already figured out the larger end-stage footprint, the lift systems, the half-pipe video screen and some of the lighting rig behind it, but in doing all that we knew we'd need another element – something was missing. At that point, one of Drake's teammates had seen a video of a Japanese installation at an airport of these little balls that move on their own through the course of the day; this was a time-lapse video, but the concept and ideas were there. So they saw that and said 'we want something like this'. We researched and talked with a bunch of different vendors and came up with this kinetic ball system; we overlaid it with a bunch of drawings we had already worked on, and that's how the Boy Meets World tour began in Europe. 

He showed up in Auckland (first night), said 'this is awesome' then left. We were like 'aren't you going to rehearse or something?' He said 'no, it's exactly what you told me it would be. It looks great, it's the size I want, I'll have to figure out how to play 360, and cool...cya tomorrow' and we were like 'oh, okay'.

Guy Pavelo

We knew coming out of the European tour that we were going to do an Australian leg. In the beginning, we thought it might be an entirely new system, but we also knew that would be very costly. But Drake was like 'no, it needs to be derived from Boy Meets World, but I want a different show.' So we kept the giant Sun – that was really successful on the B-Stage and he did about 30 minutes per show in-the-round. So we said 'why don't we just do the whole damn thing in-the-round.' So it's a new, fresher approach. He wanted to make sure he kept the 'Death of the Sun' concept (originally an art installation by Director X, who also directed the Hotline Bling video), so we built that in first, and then made the 360 stage second. We knew we wanted the kinetic ball system but I wanted it bigger, so we brought in the most units we've ever had – it's literally 1,000 balls, which is the limit of the companies we were dealing with. But because of weight concerns I also knew we couldn't put a lot of the lighting into the kinetics, so I started doing a big exterior treatment which actually worked out much better in-the-round; we did more distinct graphics and visuals utilising the main stage and making it the focal point as opposed to the other stages. 

When we came back to him and said 'we literally have no vendor who can do it' he said 'ok, that's cool... keep looking'.

Guy Pavelo

At this point, we were like 'ok now we have the elements, we have the Death of the Sun, we have the kinetic balls, it's bigger, its a new stage...we need to make the kinetics do something else. Everyone's seen it go up and down, everyone's seen it turning on and off – whoopty fuckin' do'. So we reached out to Strictly FX to create laser-tracking; keep in mind, we saw from other vendors and corporate shows that nobody was willing to tour this and come to terms and make it work. But Strictly FX said 'we'll figure it out, we'll write more software, we'll make it happen'...and we did. We wrote some custom software, we spent a lot of time failing at it, then finally we had the lasers track certain spheres as they were moving around, and it gives us a different perspective and a different approach. So we built the whole thing in Vegas, spent about 3 weeks building and producing and making sure it all works and was legit. Then we put it in 38 containers, floated it on over and went to work. And it worked out really well and has been received really well.

What are you personally really happy about with the new show? 

I like the fact that it's a different experience no matter where you are. If you are on the floor you're heavily immersed in everything overhead. Sure, you can't see some of the graphics, but you're in it, you could practically touch it. If you're on the end-stage, you're perfect for certain numbers; if you're side stage, you're perfect for others. Every seat is a different view, a different look, and certain seats don't see the same thing. We made the show evolve for everybody, and everybody gets their own look and their own component of the show. We were really happy with that. 

You don't see swoopy motions on this show, they're quite strict: point A, point B, nothing in between, and no bullshit.

Guy Pavelo

Drake is a fairly (extremely) energetic performer. He uses every inch of that stage for nearly the entire performance. Does his energy change the way you design the show?

It's tricky sometimes with Drake. Just going back to what you were saying – he's an energetic performer, running around, good stuff like that. So sometimes you think a number is gonna be big and like a pseudo-nightclub with a huge light show. But often the most energetic song has the simplest look. We'll build this huge show, then he'll be like 'no no no no, turn that shit off, one light, I want it with one light' and that takes you back – it doesn't make immediate sense. But at the end of the day there's a couple of things: Firstly, he's the one paying the bills. That's what he likes, that's what he gets – there shouldn't be any question about that, period. But two, sometimes (this has happened over a few different tours with him) he comes in and says 'turn it all off'. We'll build and perform a number with 2-3-4 lights, and we'll give it character and depth using a minimum of fixtures for a totally different approach, and they're the ones that make everyone go 'holy crap I would never have thought of that'. We have times where he's energetic and we'll make the number big and it all works together and it flows and we're done. Then there are other times when we'll build it, knock it down, and the reverse approach is actually what is most successful. 

Does his team come in with really specific references? Or is it more broad themes. 

We try to use a lot of organic references. Drake likes distinct, solid shapes and forms. The big, half-curved video screen (or half of a half-pipe) on the European tour was a big element for him. All the lighting is very strict and straight and literal, and quote-unquote "masculine" as opposed to smooth shapes. He's not really big on a lot of motion, which is surprising, but that's something that's evolved over time. You don't see swoopy motions on this show, they're quite strict – Point A, Point B, nothing in between and no bullshit. Sometimes there's very minimal progression; it can be difficult for me because in my head I say 'ok we did the interlude, now we're on the final chorus, there should be some progression, but he'll say 'no no no, let it be'. 

We don't do much photo, book or treatment references because we've been burned in the past. We've got things like the Hotline Bling video, with pseudo-versions of artistic forms coming in, then a year later the artist says 'well I know it's not my work but it's close enough so what the hell' and we're like 'God dammit'. It's easier with his prestige to have solid foundations and build it from there, instead of pointing at a book and saying 'I like this' and then drawing something that's so similar the artist comes out again. 

And so how involved is he in this process – are there many iterations that you go through?  

It depends on how busy he is. After the tour kicks off and we're in production rehearsals or the tour itself, he's relatively hands-on: "I like this, I don't like that, what the hell, don't make it pink" (laughs). But it's usually broad strokes – big, broad paint strokes. With OVO Fest 8 (the one where GP-SK were tasked with recreating Toronto's CN Tower), it was exactly 'I want the tower, we're going to make it a celebration of Toronto this year, figure it out'. When we came back to him and said 'we literally have no vendor who can do it, who can handle it' he said 'ok, that's cool...keep looking'. Fortunately, our touring vendor shut down their shop. We bought the entire shop for 3 1/2 weeks and built this thing. And it was awesome. 

The Summer Sixteen tour was a bit more relaxed. We were wrapping up another tour and he was literally going to an afterparty. We caught him on the way in, showed him some iPad renders with the kinetic balls, the screen, the winch, all that. He says 'I like this and this and this, but don't do that there' and that's it. Literally 30 seconds of conversation and then we went into the build. For the 'Drake vs Lil Wayne' tour, we showed him a concept, he liked it, and we were done. Two weeks later, he was in town, we shot the show for him and showed him what it looked like. He said 'ok great' and left. No big deal. 

Every seat is a different view, a different look, and certain seats don't see the same thing. We made the show evolve for everybody, and everybody gets their own look and their own component of the show.

Guy Pavelo

For 'Would You Like A Tour', he was involved from the beginning with the two rings, like daily back and forths: 'I like this' 'change this' 'up down, left right'. And it was interesting because he was so involved, which is different for us. Then Drake v. Wayne was afterwards, and it was almost none of that.

So it depends on what's going on, how busy he is, how much faith he has in the production team – he just needs to know we have his back and he doesn't have to worry about it, and this show (Boy Meets World) is a good example of that. [Before the tour] we showed him the updated components, then he showed up in Auckland (first night), said 'this is awesome' then left. We were like 'aren't you going to rehearse or something?' he said 'no, it's exactly what you told me it would be, it looks great, it's the size I want, I'll have to figure out how to play 360, and cool...cya tomorrow' and we were like 'oh okay' expecting to have big adjustments.

It's nice because this version of the show is only going to be seen in Australia. In a week when we're done, that's it, the ball, the spheres...it's all over. A lot of people in the States and Canada are like 'woah is that what's coming over here? Because we want that' but it's special for here. Drake's putting down a lot of money to put on a show for the people. We're bringing out the show to give the people something that's new to them. That's what's more important to him. Drake's evolved and grown up as well, he's realising what's more important in life.

With all this in mind. Where do you hope to push your work?

Towards new creative elements via scenic, set-piece and automation. We have a bunch of ideas that could be evolved. We're talking to some potential clients about different options for the future. Using the balls, the winch, going worldwide – and the safety factors and the background BS that has to happen (as we say, it's no good if somebody gets hurt). Learning what we could do, can't do, working with new vendors... we have a lot of ideas about how to make things move, and how to make things more interesting and intricate then what's been done. Everything is the same, so we're focusing on how to make something different. This doesn't need to go so far as the Kanye-esque, so different that nobody understands what the fuck is going on (laughs) because people don't do that many drugs anymore. They need things to make sense. 

I know the guys at bionics (who work with Kanye) who push the envelope, and make something interesting - that's what Kanye loves and it's great, but with Drake, it needs to be more literal. I see a shape, if I don't know what shape it is, it's not gonna be in the show. I had a bunch of neat patterns written for this tour, but I'd say 'that's a neat pattern, kinda abstract, it doesn't move, why? What does it do, where does it go? So it doesn't go in. With Drake, everything needs to be literal and to evolve and be organic and to make sense. You need to look at it and say 'I know what that is' – 'that looks like a butterfly' 'that looks like a hand that's gonna come down and eat me' – you look at it and say 'I know what that could be'. Some of our abstract shapes,  you would look at it and go 'uhh I dunno, a wrinkled blanket maybe?' and that stuff went away. We have an emphasis on new elements that could bring a new approach and perspective to the same old tools. 

All images courtesy Mushroom Creative House. 

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