From Dreams to Dazzle: Stage Designer Baz Halpin Brings Taylor Swift’s Visions to Life Onstage
Baz Halpin is an award-winning lighting and touring director who has worked with such artists P!nk, Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum, among others. He worked with Sift on the design of her “Speak Now” and “RED” world tours, and was happy to share his thoughts on how they work together.
“Taylor and I have great shorthand. The process is very fluid and organic. It starts with a listening session where we sit down and listen to the new songs or new album. We generally toss around some rough ideas or concepts, which are really nothing more concrete than broad general notions. Then we begin to work on the tour set list to find the right flow to the show. After that, we start to break it down into themes, sections or acts. The set design follows and the whole tour starts to take on a real identity. Once we have our acts, set list and design in place, then we start to conceptualize the staging for each of the individual performances. After that we hold auditions for dancers, go into months of rehearsal and turn all of the ideas into reality.
“The great thing about working with Taylor is that she is constantly creative. We keep rehearsals fluid so that if we want to add or change things, or if Taylor suddenly has a new idea, we can work it into the show. This continues throughout the tour, and it keeps the show alive and fresh. The production presentations are visual representations of the lyrical narrative of the songs. So they are all Taylor’s original vision that comes to life through interpretation and collaboration.”
THE RED TOUR
“It is a very theatrical show. The scenes vary, from an antique carousel which the band performs on for “Stay Stay Stay” and “Mean” to a haunted, stately home for “I Knew You Were Trouble,” a circus for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” an urban New York cityscape for “Holy Ground” and 1920’s Hollywood for “The Lucky One.” In my mind, Taylor’s songs have always been complete stories, so we like to treat each song in its own world. We never try to brand the entire show in one world or one style because we like to have as much variety and explore as many different styles and interpretations as possible.”
“Taylor is an incredible live artist. Her presence onstage is so powerful that I don’t think we could overpower her with production. She is the puppeteer of the show, the conductor if you will, so really each of the production numbers is a visual telling of the story of the song, whether literal or interpretive. Taylor takes the audience on a storytelling journey with each song. The variety of the style of production reflects the many different types, elements and genres of musical influences within the show.”
“It isn’t hard to keep the sense of intimacy in the show. We obviously have moments where we have stripped-down sections or times when Taylor will move to the back of the arena to ensure everyone in the venue has a great view at one point or another. But I think the real sense of intimacy comes from Taylor’s innate ability to connect and be genuine. The room feels very small when Taylor is there, and there is a palpable sense of connection between the audience and Taylor. There are only a few artists in the world who can do that, and do it so naturally.”
“Taylor is an innovator, and I think that the theatrical elements come from her want to give her fans the most fun, exciting and full show possible. She is changing the game in terms of what is expected at a concert. I don’t know of another country artist that has a show like this. Taylor is fearless, and wants to try new things in her show. She has a lot of fun when she performs, and that translates to the audience.”