A high note: Helene Fischer on tour
Currently undertaking one of the biggest European tours of the year, Schlager superstar Helene Fischer is thrilling audiences with her unique brand of entertainment, mixing her soaring vocals with daring acrobatic performances. Gordon Masson reports on her extraordinary Rausch Live tour…
With more than 715,000 tickets sold, Helene Fischer’s ongoing 71-date marathon around Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands is undoubtedly one of the standout tours of 2023, featuring a swathe of never-seen-before elements, both front of house and backstage.
In addition to singing and dancing, Fischer’s role in the extravaganza sees her performing aerial stunts, accompanied by nine musicians, and a Cirque du Soleil cast that includes a ten-strong dance troupe and ten acrobats, who contribute to a hit-laden show offering ticket holders a three-hour visual and aural feast.
Rausch Live is filling arenas throughout the GSA region, typically in week-long mini-residencies where the production loads in on a Monday, before Fischer and the rest of the cast take to the stage for five dates – Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – to sold-out auditoriums where audience demographics cover everyone from kindergarten to great-grandparents.
The tour’s producer and promoter, Live Nation GSA chief executive Marek Lieberberg, is just one of those in awe of Fischer, with whom he is working for the first time.
“We were with our previous promoter for about ten years, but sometimes you need to shake things up, so that’s why we ended up going to Marek and Live Nation”
Indeed, Lieberberg admits he was initially cautious about getting involved in Fischer’s career, despite the fact she is one of Germany’s biggest stars. “German pop music is not my expertise, and I had really refrained from promoting artists in that genre, so I had to ask myself if this was the right thing – would it fit the later days of my career? And was Helene an artist that would match well with Live Nation whereby her career would benefit?” Lieberberg says.
“Contrary to the rumour mill in Germany, I did not approach them; Helene’s manager, Uwe Kanthak, and I met by coincidence. And then, basically, it was down to meeting Helene: getting to know her and allowing her to understand what I’m all about. It was not a matter of us pitching for it, nor putting in an offer.”
Kanthak confirms this, telling IQ, “We were with our previous promoter for about ten years, but sometimes you need to shake things up, so that’s why we ended up going to Marek and Live Nation.”
Having first spoken to Kanthak three years ago, Lieberberg says he and Fischer first met over an informal dinner in Hamburg to explore common ground and figure out if working together would be a good move. “I think it’s very important that the formula of characters and of interests mix well,” says Lieberberg. “Thankfully, we both felt good about it and decided to re-meet and meet again. And through the meals we grew closer and developed an understanding that we would get along well.”
Recalling his initial reticence about Kanthak’s approach, Lieberberg reveals, “I looked at Helene’s previous tours and her versatility, which is absolutely unique. Globally, I don’t see any other artist that combines the capacities of singing, dancing, and acrobatics in the way Helene does. And that mixes in with a genuinely mellow, pleasant, understanding character. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean Helene is not one of the most demanding artists on Earth. But that’s in a good way: she is looking for the Olympic record – faster, wider, higher. And those demands are all directed toward herself.”
“She is one of a kind. She has the capacity to learn and be ramped up to an acrobatic performance level at a very rapid pace. The acrobats are super-impressed by her: she’s very daring”
Resident show director Gabriel Dubé-Dupuis has been working with Helene since 2017 and has been involved in more than 100 shows with the artist. He agrees with Lieberberg, noting, “One of the challenges is that Helene wants to be pushed to her limit and beyond. She is one of a kind. She has the capacity to learn and be ramped up to an acrobatic performance level at a very rapid pace. The acrobats are super-impressed by her: she’s very daring.”
Hitting New Heights
With spectacular pyro, an incredible water installation, a giant robot called Pauline, and breath-taking individual and ensemble performances by Fischer and the acrobats, the production that the artist, Cirque du Soleil, and Live Nation have produced is setting new standards, prompting creative directors from around the world to sit up and take notice.
“The show is exceptional,” states Lieberberg. “It’s a three-hour show, and costume changes aside, there’s not a moment that Helene isn’t present. And she takes her audience very seriously: there is no way she will perform to a click track. Even when she is on the trapeze or is hanging face down or doing a somersault, her singing is always live. And I think that’s why every- body in the entourage and all the acrobats from Cirque du Soleil have learned to respect her.
“It’s Helene who pushes everything and everyone forward. And she has been relentless in that way. Wherever we were – rehearsals in Antwerp or Montreal, it was always Helene asking Cirque du Soleil certain questions. It’s a quest for excellence. It’s a quest for beauty. And it’s a quest for entertainment in a wonderful way, be- cause she embraces the audience every night and makes them feel that they’re so special – that’s something she really cares about.”
Resident show director Dubé-Dupuis comments, “We are tweaking the show on a daily basis because Helene can see little things that she wants to improve. You can rehearse everything except the audience, so there are programming things where Helene wants to hold and pause at certain moments for her fans, for instance.”
“We went to Las Vegas – Helene and her boyfriend, and me with my wife – and when we saw the Cirque du Soleil shows that is what gave us the idea to do something a bit different”
Joining The Circus
Explaining how the concept of involving Cirque du Soleil evolved, artist manager Kanthak says, “We went to Las Vegas – Helene and her boyfriend, and me with my wife – and when we saw the Cirque du Soleil shows that is what gave us the idea to do something a bit different.”
Kanthak says that they arranged an initial meeting with Cirque du Soleil, and as a result, the Helene Fischer Live tour that straddled 2017- 2018 was created in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil Special Events Division.
On the current tour, the Cirque du Soleil elements have taken the show to the next level, necessitating a seriously complex and technical production that requires more than 100 crew members to build and operate.
“It’s our second collaboration with the Helene Fischer team,” confirms Marie-Hélène Delage, creative director for Cirque du Soleil. “Having worked with Helene back in 2017, we know that she’s really strong, and she likes to be challenged – she always wants to try something new. And because her music is at the core of the show, what we create has to be connected to the feeling and emotion of each song.”
In addition to Cirque du Soleil’s 20 performers in the show – split evenly between dancers and multidisciplinary acrobats – the resident show director, Dubé-Dupuis, is a long-time collaborator with the circus troupe, while the personnel can also count on a head coach and an athletic performance therapist “to make sure that everyone stays healthy and can offer the best performance every night,” says Delage. The tour also employs specialist acrobatic riggers, as there are no fewer than 14 automatic winches that Fischer and the other performers fly from during the show.
“We were literally ready to start the race and were waiting for the flag. But then that flag was red, so it was a real shocker”
An Unexpected Break
Despite close to seven weeks of rehearsals, the intricate timing, complexity, and danger of the show was highlighted in dramatic fashion when Fischer had an accident and fractured a rib during final preparations, throwing the entire project into jeopardy.
“It was devastating,” says Lieberberg. “We were literally ready to start the race and were waiting for the flag. But then that flag was red, so it was a real shocker.”
Nevertheless Helene and her team took a pragmatic approach to the setback. Delage reports: “It was just a few days before we were launching the tour. We made the best of a dire situation by analysing, reviewing, and improving the scenario with Helene to ensure flow and finesse when she was ready to perform again.”
Lieberberg recalls, “We quickly had to scramble to find substitute dates. Our best-selling city is Cologne, so the fact that we had to reschedule those dates and try to salvage that situation was incredibly challenging. But we kept our composure, analysed our options, and found a solution. I always had a plan B, but I don’t think too many people want to see Marek Lieberberg on the trapeze,” he laughs.
As a result, the tour was put on hold for two weeks, during which Fischer’s injuries quickly healed, meaning that Hamburg’s Barclays Arena became the first dates for the tour.
That enforced downtime gave everyone involved in the production a few days off, while the decision was made to schedule a further five-day rehearsal before the premiere show in Hamburg. “Everyone was a little bit more rested and super-energised, so it actually turned out to be a great way to launch the tour,” adds Delage.
“The postponement was a real challenge because we had to cancel hotels and reschedule everyone going home and coming back when Helene recovered”
Such an unexpected spanner in the works put the skills of tour manager Dave Salt and his team to the test, having to quickly arrange travel for all the international personnel on the road – a major task given that the tour party and crew hail from 23 different countries.
“We had 127 people touring, including the dancers, band, and Cirque du Soleil performers,” says Salt. “So, the postponement was a real challenge because we had to cancel hotels and reschedule everyone going home and coming back when Helene recovered. We use IBERA as our travel agent partner and can access part of their booking system so we can do the bookings directly on a daily basis, which helped,” he adds.
Helping Fischer and the other performers to entertain hundreds of thousands of fans is a small army of live music professionals and experts, giving a very international feel to a production which is, to all intents and purposes, a national tour.
Lieberberg pays tribute to his colleague Robert Fülöp, managing director of Live Nation Theater GmbH and his team for taking the helm in getting the show on the road. “That’s the difference – we are not just the promoter, we are also the producer, who is employing 150 people, putting them on the road, and taking care of them. Anyone can buy a show, but to be part of the creative, organisational, and financial process all in one, is far more complicated.
“Thankfully, we have a wonderful group of international people – the best of the best in the mix. We’ve got the greatest people for video, we’re the first tour to use this fantastic new sound system that doesn’t need delays, and then of course there are the fire elements and the water elements that nobody has seen before. In that respect, we pitched for the best companies and people, and we got them.”
In charge of the various departments is production manager Sebastian Pichel, who is genuinely relishing taking such a ground-breaking show on the road.
“We need 31 trucks for the tour, but once we get to each venue, we maintain a core team of drivers, allowing the others to take on other duties during the week”
“We load-in to each venue on a Monday,” he says. “In the beginning, load-in was 12 hours, but that’s speeding up week to week. We have a core crew of 70 people assisted with up to 100 local crew for load-in at each venue and as many as 150 local crew for load-out.
“Then, on a Tuesday, every element has to be validated for safety, and there’s a full rehearsal with all of the performers, because we have A-, B- and C-trims for the production depending on the height of the roof for each arena.”
Those roof configurations mean that Fischer and the acrobats have to retrain for the different heights, while winches and other automation needs to be reprogrammed, along with the centrepiece water feature.
The mini residency feel to the tour also presents an alternative routine for Pichel’s drivers. “We need 31 trucks for the tour, but once we get to each venue, we maintain a core team of drivers, allowing the others to take on other duties during the week.
“However, we keep our buses and use them for shuttles to and from hotels, while the night-liners can be used by crew to rest during the day if they can find the time.”
Steven Kroon at trucking contractors Pieter Smit says, “We have four drivers that remain with the tour permanently, while the rest we re- call for the duration of the stay in each city and then have them return for load-out.”
“It’s a gigantic show, in many ways”
While all of the company’s trucks are the lowest emission – Euro 6 – Kroon says figuring out how to most efficiently use the fleet can become convoluted. “We try to minimise the empty kilometres, so we can opt to leave the truck and trailer behind and get the driver to travel back to base by train and then have them on another truck. Or they can drive the truck away to the next job if that makes more sense,” he says.
Kroon discloses that while the original plan for the production was 20 trucks, as the company’s drivers picked up equipment from the likes of WICreations and various other vendors, it became apparent that more of the Pieter Smit fleet would be required. “That’s how we ended up with 29 plus the two rigging trucks,” he says. “We have some stadium business this year, too, but Helene Fischer is definitely one of the biggest tours we’ll be working on in 2023.”
However, there could have been more vehicles involved had sound, lights, and video supplier Solotech not taken a chance to become the first tour to use L-Acoustics’ brand-new L Series speakers, which are smaller and lighter than anything else on the market according to the manufacturers.
“L-Acoustics are massively important to the show because we have weight issues everywhere we go – we’re flying 75 metric tonnes. The L-Acoustics speakers allow us to do that without compromising anything else,” says Pichel.
“It’s a gigantic show, in many ways,” says Germain Simon, head of product and technology marketing for L-Acoustics. “It’s gigantic in the technicality of the system, the way it’s deployed, but also involves a lot of acrobats – there’s a lot of things happening in the air, which brings a lot of restrictions, in terms of placement of product.
“It’s the first time that the L Series system has gone on tour in a real-life environment, and it’s started at the maximum – Helene Fischer is using the largest array that we can do, so it’s super-exciting and scary at the same time.”
“If, at the end of the day, the production can save one or two trucks, it’s drastic for them in terms of budget”
Noting that the speakers’ sound quality remains the number-one criterion, Simon notes that the smaller, lighter units – which are still in their pilot phase – offer huge benefits. “If, at the end of the day, the production can save one or two trucks, it’s drastic for them in terms of budget. But it also means that the show consumes less power and has lower emissions as well.”
Pichel notes that the innovative speakers allow better sightlines for the audience – a factor that was taken into account throughout the production design. “We also use robotic remote spotlights so that we don’t have to take out any seats in the arena for the spot operators,” he says.
Heavily involved in the production planning were set and automation wizards WICreations, whose equipment accounts for 14 trucks on the tour, while up to 16 staff from the company are working on the crew each week.
Among the show’s biggest features is a giant water feature that WICreations teamed up with French special effects pioneers Crystal to perfect for touring. Using 800 nozzles assembled in a ring above the stage, the water feature is a pixel-fall system that allows operators to create images with the cascading water – an effect Crystal has been honing in environments such as theme parks in recent years.
Crystal project manager Ysabel Vangrudenberg says, “It’s a 4,000-litre, closed-circuit system, which allows us to recycle the water. We use industrial quality pumps and nozzles to minimise the maintenance, while there’s also a heating system for the comfort of the performers, meaning the water temperature is a constant 33 degrees.”
“We use the water feature immediately before the interval so that we can clear up the splashed water from the rest of the stage”
Taking such an intricate system on tour is no mean feat. The water installation splits into five parts and takes one and a half trucks to transport. And while an onstage waterfall poses obvious hazards to the electricity powering the show, WICreations’ Raf Peeters highlights one of the main challenges that they had to overcome with Crystal’s designers.
“Some of the venues we use have ice rinks, but if there is any leakage at all from our production onto that ice, it would be catastrophic,” he explains. “We had to assume that we’d always have leaks on the seals between the units, so we included a series of gutters beneath the seals to negate that issue.”
Vangrudenberg notes that the installation, which also features a reflection pool, was designed with minimal connections but needed to be retrofitted with special filters to prevent confetti from blocking the water nozzles. “There’s a real danger of leakage when the unit is dismantled, but we’ve been able to meet that challenge,” she reports.
The results make all the effort worthwhile. “We have 40 different images we can show in the water to suit Helene’s thematic. But those images have to be altered and reprogrammed depending on the venue and the height restrictions we have to meet,” adds Vangrudenberg.
Production manager Pichel applauds those efforts, “Crystal had a steep learning curve to make their installation something that we could use on a tour, but I’ve been really impressed by the way they’ve worked with us to achieve those goals.
“We use the water feature immediately before the interval so that we can clear up the splashed water from the rest of the stage.”
“I am not exaggerating when I say that the concert and the acrobatic performance of Helene Fischer and her team was one of the best I have ever seen”
And embodying Fischer’s desire to pack in as many elements as possible to entertain her fans, the show’s interval sees her technical crew perform another unusual trick.
“The B-stage ‘sails’ into position through the audience during the interval, after it is detached from the main stage,” says Peeters. Not content with that impressive deed, the B-stage splits after its use by Fischer and slowly glides back through the audience to its original position as part of the main stage during Fischer’s visit to the C-stage – a giant industrial robot arm, named Pauline by the production crew.
Playing down the complexity of the automotive robot’s part in the show, Pichel notes, “Pauline is approved for industrial use, but she was not cleared for use in an entertainment role, so it was an interesting process getting that approval.”
The tour is providing some welcome business for the cities and venues it is visiting, with arena bosses keen to highlight their part in the process.
Steve Schwenkglenks, managing director of the Barclays Arena in Hamburg, which hosted the tour’s first shows following the premiere’s postponement, says, “Helene Fischer is one of Europe’s most successful female pop stars, and we were the first to experience her new show live for the tour opener at Hamburg’s Barclays Arena – five shows that were sold out completely. Helene not only has an incredible voice, but the athletic performance of her at the age of 38 is absolutely admirable. I am not exaggerating when I say that the concert and the acrobatic performance of Helene Fischer and her team was one of the best I have ever seen here at Barclays Arena.”
“There aren’t many German artists left who can sell out five shows in a row”
Those sentiments are echoed by René Otterbein at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in Stuttgart. “It fills us with great pride that we are part of the selection,” he says. “There aren’t many German artists left who can sell out five shows in a row. It was thrilling from the beginning until the end, and we were very happy when we finally made the contract.
“It’s a great honour for the capital city of Stuttgart. The hotels and all the other tourism benefit from the shows and over 55,000 visitors. This encourages us even more that we absolutely need a new big arena for Stuttgart.”
Mirco Markfort of SMG Entertainment Deutschland comments, “We are thrilled to welcome one of Germany’s most successful artists for five amazing shows. Helene Fischer goes above and beyond in order to put on a phenomenal show for her fans, and we are expecting a [fantastic] stage spectacle that will leave everyone in awe. It makes us proud to be able to put Oberhausen on the map of such an extraordinary tour and contribute to increasing the occupancy rate of our city’s hotels and restaurants.”
And in Cologne, which Lieberberg refers to as “Helene’s special city,” Lanxess Arena boss Stefan Löcher underlines this status by noting that she has confirmed seven concerts at the venue. “Hosting the highest number of shows per city on the whole tour in Germany makes us very proud,” says Löcher. “For the arena and for the whole city of Cologne, her visit has a great cultural value since Helene’s shows are always unique and popular. Therefore, we will be welcoming a huge fan base in August and September. Our whole team is looking forward to this exciting time.”
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, promoter Rob Trommelen at Mojo Concerts is counting the days until Fischer’s 13 September show at the Gelredome in Arnhem for what will be the biggest date of her Rausch Live tour. With the stadi- um roof closed, the capacity for the concert has been set at 33,000.
“We sold 22,000 tickets in the first day, and we’re currently about 90% sold for the show,” Trommelen states.
“I did a lot of research on Helene Fischer back in 2017 and discovered that she has a massive following in Holland, mostly in the east and the south of the country”
Having missed out on Fischer’s last visit to his market, Trommelen reveals he’s delighted to be involved this time around, working with Live Nation colleague Lieberberg. “I did a lot of research on Helene Fischer back in 2017 and discovered that she has a massive following in Holland, mostly in the east and the south of the country,” he says. “In the end, the 2018 date went to Greenhouse Talent, so the date in September will be the first time I have promoted Helene – I’m really looking forward to it.”
You Let Me Shine
With several cities now complete, the production crew is steadily becoming more efficient, but on stage, the evolution of the show continues on a day-to-day basis, according to Dubé-Dupuis.
“We are still tweaking things, and I’m confident there are still some surprises to introduce,” he tells IQ. “We have eight weeks off in the summer, then five days of rehearsal before we resume.”
While Dubé-Dupuis believes the tour provides Cirque du Soleil with a platform to develop content for other live shows, he notes that Fischer’s unique talents mean a similar production to Rausch Live would be unlikely.
“Her ambition and work ethic are incredible – if she calls, I am here,” he says. “But if I need her on stage at 4pm, I tell her that I need her at 3:30, because she needs to hug everyone and have a chat with everyone on the crew before she gets to the stage. That’s created a strong bond and a very happy touring party.”
“I must say, in my short period of 50-plus years in this industry, I have not met an artist with such a unique attitude”
It’s also made a certain promoter ecstatic.
“Helene is on stage bang on eight o’clock every night, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And she’s the last person off stage, caring for her ensemble, the crew members, and so forth,” reports Lieberberg.
“I must say, in my short period of 50-plus years in this industry, I have not met an artist with such a unique attitude. She puts herself forward in every which way as the best example – the leader. And she will not ask anyone to do anything that she wouldn’t do herself.
Lieberberg has worked as Cirque du Soleil’s partner in the German-speaking territories for many years, while his history of promoting some of the biggest acts in the world dates back more of those 50-plus years.
Nonetheless, he states, “I don’t think there is a show that can rival this. I must say, I was blown away by Lady Gaga last summer. It’s tricky to make comparisons, but I would say that Helene has reached a new level.”
And harking back to some of the initial conversations he had regarding Rausch Live – and the very different ways that artist manager Uwe Kanthak wanted to market the tour, Lieberberg admits that he is beyond impressed by Fischer’s pulling power.
“We are not playing to Germans in the GelreDome – these are Dutch people who are coming to see the show. So, it definitely translates”
“It was a dogma of Uwe to play five shows per city and to put all the shows on sale at the same time – the Tuesdays and Wednesdays on sale alongside the Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. That was a hurdle, and I have to admit we would have liked to do it a little bit differently. But it was a precondition, so we were happy to go along with it. And, of course, it worked.”
Indeed, Lieberberg pays tribute to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino for his faith in Fischer. “He was not really familiar with the artist, at first, but he trusted our opinion, and trusted our expertise, and completely endorsed the project.”
As for future plans beyond the 2023 tour, it’s evident that Lieberberg and Live Nation believe Fischer could take her talents to other countries – a fact backed up by September’s stadium show in Arnhem. “We are not playing to Germans in the GelreDome – these are Dutch people who are coming to see the show. So, it definitely translates,” says Lieberberg, noting that if Fischer had some more English-language repertoire, he has no doubt her superstar status could be replicated internationally.
But he concedes that what comes next is truly in the hands of the artist. “After 71 shows, Helene will take a very well-earned break and a leap back into privacy that she deserves (after devoting so much time to being on the road) with her family.”
He concludes, “I must say, this tour is one of the pillars and one of the highlights of my career. I’ve had the privilege of dealing with some incredible artists over the decades, and I’ve also had the great pleasure of falling out with some of the most incredible artist managers. But I’m so pleased that at this stage of my career there is something so unique and so successful to be involved with. That’s what we promoters live for. We work for success, and we strive for perfection. And I’m very, very proud of Helene, her whole entourage, and especially of my team here at Live Nation GSA.”
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IQ 119 out now: Helene Fischer, Summer Marshall
IQ 119 – the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine – is available to read online now.
The June 2023 issue sees us go behind the scenes of one of the biggest European tours of the year, as German superstar Helene Fischer’s daring Rausch Live tour hits the road. Plus, CAA agent Summer Marshall spills the beans to Lisa Henderson about her first 20 action-packed years in the music industry.
Adam Woods learns how live music’s corporate juggernauts are transforming Belgium’s independent landscape in our latest market report, while music’s specialist travel agents educate Gordon Masson on the challenges and opportunities for the sector in 2023.
Elsewhere, we preview 10 festivals planning to make their debut in 2023.
For this edition’s comments and columns, NEC Group’s Guy Dunstan reveals some of the challenges and trends that he and his team are identifying through venues customer feedback, and Steve Jenner examines the various areas where he believes artificial intelligence can deliver improvements to the live music industry.
The Your Shout panel, meanwhile, recall the funniest or most bizarre thing they’ve seen at a festival.
As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.
However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £6.25 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:
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