Light beyond BLINK

SkyStar Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and has 1 million LED bulbs.

SkyStar Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and has 1 million LED bulbs.(Photos: David Murray)

By David Lyman

BLINK alums spark two very different projects

This is a story about light. Light and Cincinnati. Not streetlights or traffic signals. Not neon light, though that is a marvelous creation.

Specifically, this is about light as inspiration, as entertainment, as a great beacon that attracts humanity every bit as palpably as your front porch light attracts moths in the heat of summer.

This autumn, we have a couple of reminders of how powerful light is as a technology that can inspire and unify us.

Round and round she goes

The most obvious is SkyStar, the towering Ferris wheel – organizers call it an “observation wheel” – ensconced in The Banks until early December. You’ve probably heard all the stats: It’s 150 feet tall. It’s festooned with 1 million LED bulbs, and for $12.50, you can experience four 360-degree revolutions of the wheel. Located on the river side of the Freedom Center, the views should be spectacular. 

For those on the ground, it is pretty imposing, too, especially after dark, when they crank up those LEDs. Possible patterns number in the thousands, with light skittering up and out and all over the wheel. Clamber aboard the wheel, by all means. But set aside time to linger and immerse yourself in the visual wonderment of the entire spectacle. 

SkyStar Ferris wheel

Josh Stout, an event manager for the Cincinnati USA Chamber – the wheel’s sponsor – has been eager to bring a tall wheel here since he helped organize 2017’s BLINK for ArtWorks.

“I grew up on the West Side,” Stout said. “And I still remember the Ferris wheels from all the church festivals over there when I was a kid.”

He rattles off a list of favorites: St. Ignatius Loyola, St. James, Church of the Assumption and others.

“I loved them,” Stout said. “I remember the excitement I felt as a kid as we walked down the street. You’re about to go to this festival and the first thing you see is that giant wheel.”

And that, of course, is what this is really about. The extraordinary visual image of some giant wheel breaking up the rectangularity of the downtown landscape – and the childlike anticipation that something remarkable is about to unfold.


Some of the visual building blocks created by Brave Berlin, on which other elements of the scenic projections will be based in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “1984”

Some of the visual building blocks created by Brave Berlin, on which other elements of the scenic projections will be based in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “1984”

“We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” – George Orwell, “1984”

One of BLINK’s other big organizers, Brave Berlin, also is embarking on a new project this month. In case you’ve forgotten, Brave Berlin was founded five years ago by Steve McGowan and Dan Reynolds, two executives who left Landor in search of new creative adventures. One of their first big projects was LumenoCity.

The client was the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, in that case, but the biggest beneficiaries were the people of Cincinnati. For that, Brave Berlin bathed the facade of Music Hall with an array of fanciful images and colors that danced across and, at times, seemed to redefine the architecture of the building. It was breathtaking.

This month, Reynolds, McGowan and their designers are creating a visual scape for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of “1984.” The project is unlike anything they have done before. It’s not that the technology is so different. It’s that what they are creating now is not the centerpiece. Along with set designer Justen N. Locke and lighting designer Andrew Hungerford, they are creating the multimedia world in which the play exists.

Some of the visual building blocks created by Brave Berlin, on which other elements of the scenic projections will be based in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “1984”“We had hoped to use Cincinnati Shakespeare’s new theater as one of our BLINK locations,” said Reynolds. “We weren’t able to make it happen then, but we were still hoping to do something in the future.”

“1984” is that future. Before entering the world of commercial agencies, they had other passions. McGowan‘s was theater, while Reynolds’ was filmmaking.

CSC executive director Jay Woffington saw this edgy project as a way to feed both of those passions. After all, Brave Berlin is known as a company that does things with light and technology that no one thinks are possible. In this case, said McGowan, it’s not just about wowing an audience with eye-popping image manipulation. It’s about how the audience will feel.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company actor Michael Morrow is filmed by Brave Berlin in the Gano Building. The sequences will be used in the projections that will become part of the visual environment of “1984.” (Photo: Snow Rowe/ Courtesy of Brave Berlin)

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company actor Michael Morrow is filmed by Brave Berlin in the Gano Building. The sequences will be used in the projections that will become part of the visual environment of “1984.” (Photo: Snow Rowe/ Courtesy of Brave Berlin)

“This play is timely in that it reflects Orwell’s dystopian future,” said McGowan. “We see in popular culture today this extreme paranoia. Is Alexa listening to our conversations? Should I tape over my computer’s camera? Is Big Brother really watching ME? The popularity of the series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and others have people totally freaked out. We plan to tap into that and create a twisted visceral experience that is immersive and at times completely terrifying.”

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