For established artists with a deep catalog of hits and a vision that lends well to spectacle, a Las Vegas residency is no longer the end of the line — it’s a creative dream and a career milestone that proves they’re still evolving and going strong.
Among the artists who’ve powered that residency renaissance, Shania Twain has emerged as one of the top performers: Her first residency, Still the One, played the Colosseum at Caesars Palace for two years (2012-2014), and her second, Let’s Go!, will soon wrap after another two year run; both raked in nightly grosses comparable to residency mega-successes like Backstreet Boys, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears, according to Billboard Boxscore.
And Twain has distinguished herself behind the scenes too. While most artists work with a dedicated creative director to realize their residency vision and liaise with the disparate parts of their team, she acts as her own creative director — and by her own admission very much enjoys all the nitty-gritty work that comes with the job.
Before her final run of Let’s Go! shows (it plays the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood through September 10), Twain spoke to Billboard about her unique creative role — and shared the above behind-the-scenes documentary look at her process in the weeks that led up to her show’s debut.
It’s rare that artists act as their own residency creative directors — what made you decide to take on this role?
It’s really just a continuation of the way I’ve always worked, but on a bigger scale. I’ve always been very much involved in directing my videos from scratch — the treatment, the styling, I’m very hands-on with the lighting, the production side of it, and the editing as well. So when it came to my first residency at the Colosseum, it was still about getting a storyboard together, creating a vision, visiting the venue, getting the blueprint of that space in my mind, and starting to search for an actual director who’s going to realize the vision.
How do you choose who that collaborator is?
First, it’s how they interpret my ideas and my plan and vision. They put together their own mockup storyboard of how they interpret or perceive how I’ve explained things. And then it’s really more about the things I didn’t think of; if they add something or develop something from my plan that I didn’t think of myself, that gets me very excited and motivated, and I’ll always go with that producer. I want to learn from them. I want to grow with them. I’m really just a collaborator, too.
One of my first questions is always, “Tell me what’s not doable and let’s start there” — so I can adapt my vision from the get-go, so I’m not working with an element that’s not going to be possible. There’s a lot to consider: weight loads, portability of things, so many engineering elements. I have to be aware of these things; I can’t just throw a little dream at somebody. Cory FitzGerald [Twain’s creative producer on Let’s Go!], he just had every answer, and that’s the guy I needed. Definitely the guy to tell me what wasn’t possible! [Laughs.]
To put your vision into place, what kind of preparation do you do?
Of course I visit the venue in person, and I’ll go in with measuring tape and pace out the depth [of the stage], the width. Cory probably thought, “How weird is it that she brought measuring tape with her?” [Laughs.] But he knew the room so well. Space is everything – what space do I have to design with?
And of course, there’s the artistic vision as well. I do things from a skeleton, so putting the song list together is one of the first things I do. The dynamics of the show are determined by that: when do I get quiet, when do I get loud, energetic, personal? And that sets the stage for what comes next with the color palettes, the storytelling in the graphics, and then deciding whether you have LED or not… it’s really a lot like building a house.
For Las Vegas I really am very pro-hit list. I think it’s the perfect place to play the hits. People from all over the world who may not even necessarily know all my catalog, they’ll know the hits – and I enjoy giving it to them. That’s at the core of the set list always. This current show is definitely a hit list show.
What has a typical day been like for you as creative director for this show?
My relationship with the stage and production managers is very close — we communicate all through the week, show day or not. We’re always improving things, troubleshooting. And my role carries on even after the show is done. There are always decisions to make — it’s a living, breathing entity. And wardrobe is a big part of it as well. The first thing I do when I get in is usually go to wardrobe, make sure everything is good there because I’ve got a lot of quick changes. There’s a lot behind the scenes that has to really be working well for the show to go on without a hitch. And if something isn’t working, I have to be part of the alternative. The show must go on! Never a dull moment, but it’s always satisfying.
How was your experience creating your first residency different from this time around with Let’s Go!?
That first [residency], I was like a kid in a candy store, because it was such a huge stage. Like, “Okay, I want horses and all this stuff!” And it was actually possible! Because the stages are so completely different and the rooms have entirely different personalities, this show had to be totally different. The residency at Zappos was a little bit of a challenge to give more dimension to the stage in that room; it’s a fairly shallow stage, much narrower, more square, a lot more edges. The graphics were designed to give the illusion of less edges, more dimension and depth — that was the goal with the Let’s Go! residency.
Vegas residencies are really having a moment for vital, established artists like yourself. What’s the ongoing appeal of doing a residency for you?
The whole attitude of the city as far as entertainment goes is: What can we do better? How can we get better all the time? That attitude, for me — that’s growth. That’s a healthy, positive way to look at entertainment. There’s nothing stagnant about it. Creatively, it’s: “Let’s push the limits.” You’re not gonna shine any better than you shine in Las Vegas, and they set it up that way! Everyone wants to win, everyone wants success for every show. I feel like it’s a community in that sense.
And I’m so inspired by what goes on to create these spectacles. The shows in Vegas are unique to Vegas; you can create things that you can’t take with you. They’re not portable, they’re custom for that stage, which makes them unique and really exciting for that room. Whenever I’m in Vegas, I’m like, “Now I get to play in my little house I’ve created” – it’s like revisiting a home you built and enjoying that space in a very intimate way. I hope I’m invited back, because I love it. To me, that’s my stage home: Las Vegas.