To say the Imagine Dragons current production has undergone “a few changes”, as Production Designer Nook Schoenfeld puts it, is a bit of an understatement. When the tour started in 2013, the original design had to fit in a 15’ trailer. Since then it has morphed two or Three times to its present arena scaled production. Everyone knew the Imagine Dragons were
good and would go somewhere. Sold out shows for the North American leg were stacking up while the band labored in the club and theater markets globally.

Nook was recommended to Reynolds Management after the Dragons’ agent, Corrie Christopher, saw his work on a Rise Against tour. The band was impressed with the approach Schoenfeld
took with a design that incorporated looks comprising lots of split second accents in a fast paced rock show. “The band told me they wanted a stark and moody look whenever the music applied but stagnant, pretty scenes were something they preferred to avoid for any period of time.”

What the band didn’t know about Nook at the time was his capability to make a small rig look large. This was a valuable asset as the band’s management had booked a variety of capacity venues from clubs to arenas, based on the success of the two hits the band had on the air waves fifteen months ago.

Schoenfeld and his partner at Visual Ventures Design were slammed so he conferred with fellow designer, John Featherstone, and came up with a game plan. Then Nook called upon the creativity of his artist, Chris Tousey, to design these “Tim Burton-esque” trees he envisioned. The “Night Visions” tour has artwork depicting a moon which Schoenfeld wanted to incorporate into the set as well. However,carrying a large moon to hang at the beginning of the tour was out of the question since the initial venues were geared
towards House of Blues-sized stages. There was also that 15’ trailer limitation.

So he added a 14’ tall half-moon and asked Tousey to come up with two other “cool” pieces to go with the shopping list. He wanted a ‘set in a bag’ kind of feel. Chris designed what
Schoenfeld refers to as the“shark fins” - two free standing shapes that could stand anywhere and just absorb light. Gallagher Staging built one easily transportable cart to carry the entire set and it’s still being used daily.

This set served well in 5,000 seat theaters along with added side floor trusses and the rig getting beefed up with more fixtures in general. For part of the theater run, a fly rig provided by ZFX Flying Effects was added as the band’s vocalist expressed a long-standing desire to fly over the crowd.

Then the arena run began. Production Manager Eric “Shakes” Grzybowski explains:

“Angie Warner, the Tour Manager, and I came on the European leg early on in 2013. There were a couple of guys in place who worked directly for the band before full production was brought in for the North America arena leg. They are still with us; Monitor Engineer, Jared Swetnam, and FOH Engineer, Scott Eisenberg. When we started the US arena leg, I brought on Rigger/Stage Manager, Erik Smith, and my long-time Production Assistant, Dez (Douglas Hughes). I’ve worked with Nook a lot over the years but he was hired by the band, and I’ve had Upstaging and PRG/Nocturne out on tours before. So I was very familiar with those guys. It’s a good team out here.”

“Shakes”, as he prefers to be called, continues, “I have to give thanks to this crew. With just one day rehearsal on an arena sized production, we came right out of the box really solid. We’ve got great Crew Chiefs with Andrew Dowling at Sound, Wayne Kwiat for Lighting, and John McLeish as our Video Crew Chief and Director. Things are pretty stellar now. We don’t do more than three dates in a row on this leg and we’re sold out everywhere. The European leg was very demanding. Distances overnight often meant flying to gigs and renting band gear. But the crew stepped up and did what needed to be done.”

“Each department out here has really strong crews, too,” says Shakes. “Really, it’s the whole picture. All our drivers get the gear and crew safely to every gig. Almost everyone out here wears two hats. Our Rigger, Erik Smith, handles Stage Manager duties as well. Kyle Armbruster, one of the two Set Carpenters, shoots the long lens 50 mm camera at FOH during the show. The other Carpenter, Scott Wienclaw, sets up the eight cryo canisters after loading in the set. The two Video Techs, Josh Phebus and Josh Marrano operate handheld cameras during the show.”

“We’re all doing our best to keep costs down for the Dragons. That’s why everyone is wearing multiple hats.” says Schoenfeld. “It is a testament to the quality of this crew that, even with the multiple duties each handles, the show looks and sounds flawless now.”

The lighting crew consists of four people. Lighting Crew Chief, Wayne Kwiat, has been with Upstaging since 2007 and a regular on Coldplay world tours since 2008. He has a very even handed way of overseeing the lighting crew getting the thirty point lighting rig up, running, and at trim in four hours. Side trusses and a DS truss augment the upstage and under hung trusses bring the fixture count to just over two hundred.

Regarding Upstaging, Schoenfeld has this to say, “Upstaging is my favorite lighting vendor. The gear is superb and I can count on every light, every night. Christie Lites did a fine job for us in the beginning of the year but because of the band’s demanding schedule, there were no production rehearsals scheduled. Featherstone and I needed a facility where I could pre-program the lighting in a previz suite, then turn around and tweak the lights while the video hung behind it in a lighting shop. Upstaging had all the gear and space we needed.”

John McLeish, Video Crew Chief, Engineer and Director, who performs each night backstage in video village with a Rick Wakeman-like setup, picks up the previous conversation thread, “Normally three people would hold the positions as Chief, an Engineer shading cameras, and a Director, but everyone on the crew is behind the band, so we’re doing whatever extra we can.”

Schoenfeld emphasizes what a valuable asset McLeish is to him and the production. “I’ll have a look up and tell John, I need something like ‘such and such’ to go with what I have on screen. He knows what I’m looking for and drops it in. He knows the show really well so he can pick up solos when I need them.”

McLeish, who works for PRG/Nocturne, has through his wide range of positions from Projectionist to Director over the years, worked with Schoenfeld on several projects. The two have developed an almost telepathic anticipation of asked and needed visualization to create a cohesive presentation.

“The band is very involved with the look of the show. They will ask for something or Nook will come up with a visual idea. Nook or I pass that info onto John Featherstone of Lightswitch and before we play it live, we run it by the band,” says McLeish.

Schoenfeld adds, “The band does not like that static IMAG type look. They don’t want people watching a TV set. They want eyes on them.”

“Yeah,” says McLeish, “one of the great things about this show is we are not carrying side screens so it’s like a real rock show! Everybody’s watching the stage.”

The video department has a 50mm long lens camera at FOH, two handhelds in the pit and two RoboCams. These cameras feed into a Magic DaVE switcher, then into the MBOX which contains the graphics. Schoenfeld controls the MBOX output via the grandMa. A 21’ x 21’ square 9mm V-9 LED video screen then receives that mix. The square hangs inside a 20’ ID circle. You never see the square as it is masked electronically via the MBOX. A less imaginative designer would tend to go for the obvious Pink Floyd-type effect with this set
up. Not so here. Schoenfeld explains:

“The band just is not into IMAG shots of themselves so I used what we call the ‘Radiohead effect’ where I’ll put up a graphic on the screen with a band member superimposed on or in it.”

To further avoid the Pink Floyd stereotype, he hung a product made by TMB called Solaris Flare on the perimeter of the 20’ circle. These are RGBW strobe/wash fixtures. Schoenfeld uses them mainly as audience blinders....and blind they do. At 1000w, these are intense. An upstage truss with four staggered under hung trusses on each side of the circle make this relatively sparse rig look huge. The Sharpys that hang in these trusses are well known for their brightness but again it’s Schoenfeld’s design and color combination that heighten the emotional content of the songs. The timing is dead on as well, particularly
during the white light chase attacks.

Schoenfeld has an abiding philosophy to make every song in a set look different. Calling on his over thirty years of designing in rock and roll, theater, and corporate markets has given him the tools to accomplish these looks. His last three projects have been diverse, designing Kid Rock, John Legend, and currently Imagine Dragons, to name a few in a long list of clients.

Having seen the Legend show and after watching this show, the first words that came to mind when thinking about the two was, “beautiful”.

While many designers tend to stick with a narrow pallet of their favorite colors, even from one design to another, Schoenfeld utilizes a broad range in the color spectrum available to him. The results are elegant, stunning, and surprising.

John Featherstone of Lightswitch remarked to Scheonfeld at the first show, “I never imagined that you would throw green at my sun image I created for you. It’s beautiful!”

Featherstone is the owner and principal of Lightswitch, a graphic design company, whom Schoenfeld has collaborated with on many projects in the past.

“Collaboration is the right word for what Nook and I do,” says Featherstone. “It is not a hierarchy. Nook could be seen as a conductor rather than a director. He and I will meet with the band, or sometimes it’s one or the other of us, to see what they want or if they like what we have produced for them. We then collaborate on the overall visual architectural language of the show and then we each kind of return to our specialized areas. It is important to understand what you get wrong as well as what you get right. We are not being defensive when we ask the client ‘what didn’t you like about this part we suggested for your show’. We think that knowledge is incredibly important. We want to know what the story is. This is particularly important with a band like Imagine Dragons whose
lyrical content is so important.”

Featherstone adds, “McLeish has been on the last couple of projects and along with my assistant, Austin Shapley, has been invaluable rounding out this four man creative team we have. We all work in the real world of putting on shows and try to find a way to produce efficiently in the most cost effective manner. We don’t just put something together, say
‘here it is’ and move on to the next project. We’ll show the band our ‘first pass’, learn what they like or don’t like and adjust. Austin, my right hand man, stayed out with this show after rehearsals and into the first few weeks of the tour.”

He continues, “Quite often you will see a show that the set looks nice, the lighting and graphics look good, but something just doesn’t gel. It’s like all of the people were isolated in their ivory tower until it all got thrown together at rehearsal. They are all trying to outdo each other. It’s almost like ‘did you people talk to each other at all?’ Constant communication between all parties brought about a stellar show that everyone enjoys.”

Scott Eisenberg is the FOH Engineer on the tour. He has been with the band since the days when they drove their own cars to get to most of the gigs booked at radio stations. When Imagine Dragons weren’t at a radio station, they were on a radio show line up at a venue. They stepped up to vans to haul themselves and their gear at that time. Eisenberg was Tour
Manager, Stage Manager and FOH Engineer. Humble beginnings indeed but listening to the band each night, he knew something was there.

These days his biggest challenge is finding space for the myriad of drums the band keeps adding.

“The band is very bass and drums dominant.” says Eisenberg. Part of my solution was pulling that frequency back where it was not needed, so there would be sonic room for the additions.”

He continues, “The latest addition has been this taiko drum which contains a lot of frequencies. This band though, practically mixes itself. They are really accomplished musicians and that makes an enjoyable job for me just a little bit easier.”

He credits Audio Crew Chief Andrew Dowling and his crew Ted Bible and Ashley Corr for their excellence as well.

Dowling first began working in audio around the age of fourteen and continued his pursuit in school and onto the road as Systems Engineer, teching for a host of talented engineers. He cites longtime friend and colleague, Hugh Johnson, as an influential mentor.

Angie Warner, a past winner of the Top Dog Award in 2011, through mutual friends and business associates connected with the Dragons as their Tour Manager. She has been with the tour since April 2013. During her past twenty years in the business she has worked with Jay Z, all of the Dancing with the Stars tours, and ran both Glee Live tours. Her initiation into the business started right at arena and stadium level tours for the likes of Dave Matthews, Britney Spears and ‘N Sync.

Of the Dragons she says, “They are very independent guys. They have not gotten to the point where they need a lot of stuff. They carry their own bags. They get themselves on and off the bus. They’re still very ‘active’ as I call it. The band makes it easy on us since they are so verbal about what they want. They’re great with accepting ideas and very open to new ones. Most of what they want, they figure out on their own. They have a great sense of what they want musically and visually. These guys are very family oriented too. They want to build a team that will be around for a long time so there is not a lot of transition.”

Warner continues, “This past year has been so staggered as far as where we’ve been. It hasn’t been six weeks in America and six weeks in Europe, it’s been more like two weeks here, two weeks there and then we flip-flopped all over various countries in Europe. It hasn’t been steady growth necessarily but it exploded really fast. We took what crew we
needed and the gear to get the job done. Now though, it’s a sizable crew; we’ve got a Tour Accountant, Production Assistant, and Live Nation Reps travel with us which is all very necessary on a sold out arena tour.”

Bearing all the craziness in mind of the Spartan days of the early dates of this tour Warner says that this probably is the best tour she has done in fourteen years. “To see them at this growth period and be part of it the last year has been an amazing experience.”