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Insiders: The Man Behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Light Show

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Insiders: The Man Behind Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Light Show

Dec 21, 2019 Annie Zaleski

Trans-Siberian Orchestra have been a holiday touring staple since 1999, beloved for their skill at bringing electric rock ‘n’ roll energy to traditional festive music. The troupe’s concerts are a seasonal tradition for many, spreading joy via what feel like large-scale arena rock shows complete with elaborate video, pyrotechnic and lighting production.

Bryan Hartley is celebrating his 20th anniversary as TSO’s lighting designer/director this year, and was more than qualified for the job from the get-go. He cut his teeth working for rock ‘n’ roll bands — in fact, he was Joan Jett’s lighting director/designer for a decade starting in 1985, and he’s also worked with KISS, Megadeth and Anthrax. Hartley is proud of what he’s accomplished with TSO, but is quick to give credit for the band’s success to the late producer/musician Paul O’Neill, who founded the group and dreamed up the stories and music heard on the tours and albums. According to Hartley, O’Neill, who sadly passed away in 2017, was the driving force behind TSO and its ambitious production values. 

Bryan Hartley: This is the 20th year for me. We’re going back to the story that started it all, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, after about eight years of doing a couple of these other stories of Paul’s. This year was kind of special, because I never got to tell [Christmas Eve and Other Stories] with my lights, video, and the productions that I have today. That’s pretty cool. 

With me and TSO — for me to design the show — it’s all about the story. How can I tell Paul’s story through the lighting and the video and everything? That’s where I always start with this show: what the story is, and how I can tell that story on the screen, so to speak, without it being like a movie — but tell it so people can hear the story and then be able to see some imagery [that puts] them in that time.

How long does it take you to plan a show like this, and when do you start planning it?

My design and my show change every year. So I have to come up with something different every year. I usually start during the tour, because the [next year’s] design has to be turned in by April, so management and everybody can look at it — approve it and see what I’m planning on doing. I’ll spend January and February drawing it out and making a small movie of the show. And then that’s how I present it to everyone every year.

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