Sunday, 29 March 2009

Production War Story of the Month

You can imagine that with 19 years of producing special events I must have a few war stories. I thought it might make for a light-hearted break in the heavy stuff to insert one of these every so often into my blog, so here goes.

We were presenting an evening of what might be loosely termed Asian entertainment. A large stage had been set up on one wall of a hotel ballroom and on this we were to provide a combination of continuous background music and live, interactive acts representing a variety of Asian cultures, throughout the event. Since it was a stand-up reception, the guests were eating and drinking while milling around and networking with colleagues. It was very crowded and the stage was a focal point around which people stood and chatted, on which they placed their plates and glasses, and near which it was almost impossible to move. Being the main organizer of the entertainment, I was required to be near the stage for most of the event, ensuring that the acts came and went according to our schedule.

For continuous background music during this event we had engaged two young – but very accomplished – Japanese koto lute players who were to play from the back of the stage for most of the event and to accompany some of the main acts. (Note: A koto lute is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument played with the musician in a kneeling or sitting position.) The girls were dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos and looked very pretty – but very innocent.

Eventually it came time to bring up one of the main acts for the evening, an illusionist named “The Amazing Jozef.” Now Jozef was a fairly elderly magician. To add to his appeal, he was accompanied by an extremely attractive female assistant attired in a diaphanous outfit that rendered her almost the spitting image of Jeannie in the old “I Dream of Jeannie” television show. (In fact, since I cannot remember her name, we will call her that for purposes of the story.) Jeannie came with her own added appeal - a 20-foot long python. Pythons, as readers may recall, are constrictors, and feed on birds and mammals, killing them by squeezing them to death. They will not usually attack humans unless startled or provoked (i.e. by sudden movements). Naturally, this combination of beauty and potential terror brought a huge crowd to the stage which, once the show had begun, trapped me in a position near the back of the stage. I could not move.

The show went fairly smoothly, with Jozef performing a number of old but uniquely conceived illusions, and alternately working with Jeannie and the python, gradually building towards the show’s climax. For his final illusion, Jozef had Jeannie lying rigidly on top of a vertical sword, an illusion that required his utmost attention. This meant leaving the snake unattended. Presumably being somewhat bored by his resulting lack of participation in the show and perhaps just a touch hungry, the snake decided to explore the back part of the stage, slowly slithering towards the two koto players who had continued to play background music during Jozef’s show. Jeannie, being totally incapacitated, had no clue where the snake was, Jozef was preoccupied, and only I remained to do something. Unfortunately, I was completely trapped by the audience and unable to communicate with Jozef. The audience was enthralled by the show and nobody seemed to care that the snake was on the loose. That is, except the girls playing the kotos. As the snake gradually moved closer to them, their eyes became fixed in a stare of terror and I was half-expecting them to scream and run from the stage at any second. If they did, it would be a question of whether or not they could outrun the snake. Amazingly, they held their ground – and continued to play, not missing a beat. At the last second, with the snake no more than about two feet from them, Jozef for no explained reason, turned around, took one step, and casually picked up the snake, thus saving the girls from becoming an unrehearsed component of the finale!

I learned some lessons from this seemingly minor incident. The first was small: Don’t ever leave an old magician, a beautiful assistant, and a large snake on their own and out of shouting distance. The second was more profound: One needs to develop tenacity or “staying power” to carry on, as my young musicians did, in the face of life’s adversities. Oh, yes, for producers out there, get good communication equipment and use enough people to manage the show properly.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    This is the first time i have been to this site and its very intreseting.

    I read your Production War Story of the Month.

    It was funny, but i can imagine ur postion at that time and it would have gone worse.

    Good learning.


    Emran Khan
    Head - operations
    PDM India