Bass Coast caught up with Neil Johnson, Bass Coast's 2022 Main Stage Designer to explore his Art Grant origin story, the dynamic relationship between lighting and form, and his advice to future stage designers.
You were the first-ever recipient of a Bass Coast Art Grant. What was that project, and how has your creative process evolved from then to now?
In 2012, I emailed the Bass Coast Girls and asked them if I could build something for them at the festival that year. They let me know that for the first time ever, they would be accepting proposals. I put together a proposal for an igloo that was made out of recycled 2x4’s stacked on top of one another. I built it with my friend Mark, and it was a huge success. After this experience, we put together a collective ‘Of Trees’ and designed art pieces based on the material we already had. Then came the stage opportunity, which was way different than anything I had ever done before.
You submitted this design with Bass Coast Lightning manager Michael Hydro. Instead of adding the lighting package onto the stage after it was built, the stage was designed for a lighting package. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of collaborating with Michael?
I've known Mike for years. We first met collaborating on a project back in 2014 and since then he helped out on a few different art installations for Of Trees and for years we’ve been talking about collaborating on a bigger project. When the opportunity came up to do Main Stage, I knew I needed to reach out to him.
Lighting is such an important part to the stage, so I really wanted to nail it. We had a lot of late night phone calls and we started to hone in the design.I’m a builder and Mike’s a lighting guy and so we both had our own agendas. For example, Mike had ambitions to do some crazy concepts and and I wasn’t sure if it was going to look good, and he wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pull off such a huge build. In the end, there was a nice balance of trust between us. We landed on the wormhole design, and Mike had the great idea to put the LED pixels around the ellipses. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I can’t wait to do it all again.
What’s the most important thing to consider as a stage designer?
As a stage designer, I think that ther are two important things to consider, and the first one is the audience. It's got to look good for you guys. I spend a lot of time looking up at the DJ in the 3D model and making sure that it was going to look good from all angles, because at the end of the day, I want you guys to have the best experience possible. The second most important thing to consider is more on the building side of things, and that's to be flexible and listen to the things that are happening around you as you're building and arriving to site. Things might not be as expected. It’s really important to be able to adapt and change and be flexible.