Monday, 13 December 2010

Trussing Safety

If you look back at some of my older posts (Oct.28, 07 and Mar.16, 09), you will see my emphasis on safety and effective risk management. One of the biggest concerns for safety is in trussing. I am still amazed at the number of major trussing collapses that occur each year at special events. Here are just a few examples from YouTube that have happened in the past couple of years.

1. Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake Concert 2008

2. Elton John Chichen Itza Concert Stage Collapse 2010

3. Madonna Concert Stage Collapse in France 2009

4. Stage Collapse at Big Valley Jamboree in Canada, August 2009

5. Silverdome Truss Collapse 2010

6. South African Stage Trussing Collapse 2010

7. Roof System Collapse in Turkey

8. Rocklahoma Side Stages Collapse 2008

It's pretty obvious that even production teams for the most well-known stars have problems. That still is no reason to bypass the necessary equipment safety standards and procedures for safe installation of trussing used in smaller events. But we're rushing things a bit. Let's look at trussing from the beginning.

Trussing as we know it, started to develop at the end of the 1970s in response to the entertainment industry’s demand for lightweight, strong temporary structures that could span the width of a stage and be used to hang lighting and audio systems. Familiar with the spatial lattice structures found in bridges, scaffolding, and buildings, manufacturers used this as the basis for modern truss design. Today it is ubiquitous in the industry and comes in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and strengths.

Trussing must be able to withstand loads imposed on it in shear (i.e. force directed along the cross section, such as high loads on top of a vertical truss section) and in deflection (i.e. force directed down and perpendicular to its horizontal access, such as too many luminaires clamped in one position). The amount it can withstand depends of course on its size and rated load. Each type and size of truss is rated by the manufacturer for specific maximum loads under these conditions. It is therefore critical that riggers know the exact loads that will be imposed on the truss in these conditions and what the total weight of the loaded truss will be so that the correct choice of supporting wire rope cable, slings, and chain motors may be made. Not only that, but the truss supplier for an event (e.g. usually the lighting company) is obligated to understand the load rating of their truss and to choose the proper truss accordingly, knowing in detail what the loading will be before the truss is ever rigged into position.

Particularly important are unique loading scenarios encountered outdoors. These include:

  • Wind. Wind can cause damage to canopies and walls, it can overload trusses and towers due to the extra load of attached walls, and it can lift all or part of the complete structure.
  • Rain or snow. This can make trussing slippery for climbing, it can cause overloading of rooftops due to accumulation of snow or water, it can cause short-circuiting in control systems, and it can cause the support of saturated soils to weaken. 
  • Lightning. This can cause severe personal safety risk if it hits towers. 
  • Temperature. Solar heat can cause aluminum to become extremely hot, thus making it unsafe to the touch. It may also cause the safe temperature of any polyester cling covers to exceed their allowable limit. (e.g. surface temperature can reach 150 C, greater than the normal safe limit for polyester of 100 C).
It is therefore imperative that such things as roofs be constructed properly and with due consideration of the expected weather conditions. For example, the inclusion of supporting guy wires, base distance frames (to minimize compression loads), and adequate ballast is absolutely necessary. Additionally, heights of towers and roofs must be restricted to recommended maximums, both indoors and outdoors. For example, the height of a tower grid system should be no more than 6 m if the width of the outrigger tower base is 2 m (outdoors is generally three, and indoors four times the base width as a rule-of-thumb). A properly qualified rigger and the truss supplier should be able to certify compliance with these requirements.

From this it can be implied that to rig trussing at an event without using a properly qualified rigger is asking for trouble. And that goes for trussing hung indoors or roof systems that are ground-supported outdoors.

One positive recent development is the introduction of a North American, industry-wide certification program by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA). This program, called the Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP), requires that riggers pass a three-hour knowledge exam set and scored by an independent body, the Applied Measurement Professionals, Inc. There are two certification categories: ETCP Certified Rigger – Arena and ETCP Certified Rigger – Theatre. For the special event industry, the arena certification is the desired one and it is strongly recommended that producers only work with such qualified individuals.

You wouldn't want your event to end up being a disaster video on YouTube.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Stage Safety

Back in March I detailed how to determine the proper horizontal size of a stage. The topic has proven to be quite popular, so I am now going to add some more to it and discuss stage safety.

Too many event producers and event managers are unaware of the fact that there are currently no North American standards for the allowable loading of stages. Why is this important? Consider the fact that, in the last seven years, at least fifteen temporary stages have collapsed at special events in various countries around the world. Now I'm not talking about the trussing and roof structures over or around or near stages but the actual stage surfaces themselves. Trussing is another serious problem in itself and I'll talk about it in the future. In many of these incidents, people were seriously injured or killed. In fact, some of the collapses were of the stages that major stars were to perform on.

Here are links to several You Tube videos of stage collapses:
Event producers must be aware of the allowable loading for any given stage design, and since there are no standards, it makes this point even more important because, as part of proper risk management, the stage provider, whether it is a venue or a subcontracted staging company, should be able to provide producers with the deck manufacturer’s figures for safe loading limits. In the case of customized staging, the builder should have made proper calculations or should provide proper calculations from a certified structural engineer to prove that the staging will be adequate for the loads anticipated.

If the staging is owned by a venue, that venue should be able to provide an event manager/producer with the documentation for the allowable loading of the staging. Guesswork or corporate knowledge does not suffice.

I'll delve deeper into the actual loads in my next post.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

More New Tent and Tensile Structure Ideas

I have a Russian friend who just won a prestigious award for his tent design from the Industrial Fabrics Association International. His designs are amazing. Check out

While you're there also take a look at other winners who have some very creative concepts with potential application for special events.

Technical and Logistical Requirements for Outdoor Venues

Last time we looked at the techinical requirements for indoor venues. This time, we look at outdoor sites. Outdoor sites present an entirely different set of concerns for producers, some requiring extensive and ongoing monitoring. Some of the key ones are:
  • What is the optimum layout of the site for the most benefit to attendees and the least impact on surrounding neighbors? This includes optimization for foot and possible vehicular traffic.
  • Where will each and every temporary structure be located? How will necessary power be run to them if needed?
  • What is the potential acoustic impact on neighbors and must event parameters be changed to minimize the impact?
  • Where will entrances and exits be located and how many of each will there be?
  • How accessible is the site for technical equipment load-in and also for emergency vehicles (e.g. fire, police, and ambulance)? Where can technical vehicles be parked?
  • What is the ground surface and is there anything required to protect it from damage?
  • Is security fencing required and how much?
  • Are there any dangerous areas or areas that cannot be used because of hidden infrastructure (e.g. water mains, telephone lines, sewage, electrical)?
  • Where exactly are water and electrical power located, if any? Can either be tapped into for use at the event? Is portable power required?
  • What is the best location for portable toilets?
  • What is the best central location for waste and refuse accumulation?
  • Is there any available site lighting and is it adequate or must additional be brought in?
Of course, this is a very basic list, but at least it should get you started on surveying a site and determining if it will be suitable for an event.

Armed with the answers to these questions, the producer can now proceed to drawing a site or venue plan to scale and to producing a preliminary production schedule.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Technical Requirements for Indoor Venues

Once you know the room capacity, then there are many more details to be ironed out for a successful event. Some of the key points to be determined are:

  • Where is power located, what options are available, what is the cost for tie-in, how will it be tied in, and who will do it? Usually lighting and audio prefer power tie-in near or behind the main stage.
  • Is adequate staging available and can it be set up in a timely manner? Is there a cost for staging as well and is the surface appropriate for the show? Is it steady? Are there safety rails? Is a wheelchair ramp necessary and if so, is one available from the venue or must one be constructed or brought in?
  • What are the exact dimensions of the room? Where are entrance doors and exits? Where will catering be coming from? Where will bars and other venue-provided services (e.g. buffets) be located?
  • Where is the best location for the technical riser?
  • Is there a remote house lighting control available
  • Where are the hanging points located in the ceiling and what is their load capacity?
  • Are there any specific restrictions about installation of equipment or décor such as no nails in walls?
  • What will the venue be doing during event setup? There can be no clashes between technical personnel and venue staff, such as setting up tables at the same time as lighting is being flown. Neither can there be conflicting events in other rooms.
  • What time is room access?
  • Is there easy freight elevator and loading dock access and how long does it take to move from the loading dock to the event location? Will all equipment and props fit into the freight elevator or will they have to be brought in via an alternate route and perhaps even at an alternate time? Can all equipment be moved safely through access hallways and doors?
  • Are ladders or automated lifts (e.g. Genie lifts) available for use to help with rigging in the ceiling? Must a venue qualified operator be used?
  • Are there green rooms readily available with all necessary amenities for technical personnel and performers?
  • Is there an area or spare room set aside for technical equipment container (otherwise known as dead cases) storage?
  • What time is strike and will there be any clashes when loading out?
  • Where are emergency exits located and where are fire extinguishers located?
  • What, if any, are the specific venue safety regulations that pertain to any of the responsibility areas of event production?
Following this site visit and as part of the subsequent preparatory event paperwork, the producer must communicate back to the venue exactly what technical assistance will be required from them. This can be done in any number of ways such as by e-mail, fax, or phone call, but the main thing is to have a request on paper. My own company used to create an “Event Requirements” form that would be printed out from our database program that outlined all these basic needs, including such items as staging and the required size, audio needs (e.g. house audio and the number and type of microphones if the event were simple), house lighting and power tie-in needs, changing room (i.e. green room) sizes and additional support (e.g. coat racks, mirrors, refreshments, etc), and any other special requests. This form would also be copied to the client who invariably had the responsibility of paying for some of these requirements (e.g. refreshments, staging, house power tie-in, etc), but of course we would have obtained the client’s approval before sending the form to the venue.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Determining Room Capacity

Event planners often have trouble determining how many guests can fit into a specific room. I have been in too many situations, especially dinners, where guests are cramped or there is a safety issue because aisles are not wide enough for egress. As luck would have it, there are guidelines, thanks to the Convention Industry Council Manual and the expertise of Catering Managers. Here they are.

• Standup reception. 9 – 10 sq ft (.84 - .93 sq m) per person.
• Theater seating (less than 60 people). 12 – 13 sq ft (1.1 – 1.2 sq m) per person. This allows at least 24 in. (61 cm) of space between rows, which is the most comfortable.
• Theater seating (60 to 300 people). 11 – 12 sq ft (1.0 – 1.2 sq m) per person.
• Theater seating (more than 300 people). 10 – 11 sq ft (.93 – 1.0 sq m) per person.
• Schoolroom general. 17 – 22 sq ft (1.6 – 2.9 sq m) per person. This allows for rectangular tables that are 6 or 8 ft (1.8 or 2.4 m) long and 18 in. (46 cm) wide, with 2 ft (.61 m) per person and 3.5 ft (.91 m) between tables as a minimum for optimum comfort.
• Banquet seating (60 in. or 152 cm diameter rounds). 13.5 sq ft (1.25 sq m) per person for optimum comfort for eight persons at the table. A 12 ft center-to-center separation is best for maximum comfort and safety.
• Banquet seating (66 in. or 168 cm diameter rounds). 13.5 sq ft (1.25 sq m) per person for optimum comfort for nine persons at the table. A 12.5 ft center-to-center separation is best for maximum comfort and safety.
• Banquet seating (72 in. or 183 cm diameter rounds). 13.5 sq ft (1.25 sq m) per person for optimum comfort for 10 persons at the table. A 13 ft center-to-center separation is best for maximum comfort and safety.

Note that these numbers do not allow for any staging or other elements such as décor in the venue. The area occupied by these extra event elements must be taken into consideration if an accurate estimate of capacity is to be determined. For ease of illustration, let us assume that an event will have a stage against the long wall of a rectangular room. The calculation for capacity is therefore given by the following formula:

Capacity     =       Useable area        
                          Area per person        

                   =   (Room length x Room depth) – (Room length x Stage depth)
                                                      Area per person

Likewise, the area used by any other décor elements or hard impediments must be taken into account and deducted from the total useable area. This method of course assumes that the area behind the stage or other impediment is unusable area. The figure below is a graphical representation of this methodology. In this case, the room length is 100 ft, room depth 80 ft, stage width 20 ft, and stage depth 16 ft.

Determination of the Useable Area of an Indoor Venue

In this example, the total room area is 8000 sq ft (i.e. 100 ft x 80 ft) but the useable area is only 6400 sq ft (i.e. 8000 sq ft – 1600 sq ft) where 1600 sq ft represents the unusable area occupied by the stage and the area behind the front of the stage that runs the length of the room. Assuming that this event is to be a dinner, then the room capacity in this example would be 592 persons (i.e. 8000 sq ft/13.5 sq ft per person) if there were no stage, and 474 persons (i.e. 6400 sq ft/13.5 sq ft per person) if the stage were to be used in the location drawn.

It's always best to double check all calculations for room capacity particuarly when you expect to be close to capacity or when there are numerous other elements in the mix such as buffet tables, staging, or decor.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Creativity Technique: Reversals

Continuing with the theme of creativity, in this blog I'll give you a useful technique. There are literally hundreds of techniques and methods for generating creative ideas in any endeavour. One of the problems with many of them is that they are better done in groups and with some supervision. In the events industry, we seldom have the time to bring everyone together for brainstorming sessions or to apply strict rules to our idea generation. Luckily, there are much simpler ways to get ideas. One of my favourites is called "Reversals."

The world is full of opposites. Any leader knows that in order to lead well, the leader must learn to follow. Many successful, rich people got there because they once lived poorly. Night turns into day. Winter turns to summer. Problem solving using reversals is a simple and very effective method to get directly to a unique solution if one learns to see things backwards, inside out, or upside down. Here are some ways to do it.

  • State the problem in reverse. Instead of pondering the question, “How do we get more attendees through our gate and avoid lineups,” consider the question, “How do we get more gates to the attendees?” With minimal thought this could lead to a solution of putting multiple gates farther away from the event site, or perhaps even selling combined entrance/transit tickets if attendees take buses or the subway to the event.
  • Do what everyone else is not doing. For example, if everyone else is producing politically correct events, consider producing a tongue-in-cheek, politically incorrect event.
  • Make the statement negative. If, for example, you need to set up all the lights for an event in two hours, consider what would happen if you did not set up any lights in two hours. Where might this lead? Perhaps it would lead to a novel solution of having attendees providing all the lighting using some sort of lanterns they were given as they entered the event. 
  • The “What-If” scenario. This takes any number of situations starting with a “what if” question and applies them to the problem. For example, “What if we ----- magnified it, shrunk it, froze it, heated it, rearranged it, eliminated part of it, put it to another use, changed its shape, etc?” A personalized list can easily be made up for using this method. As an example, how do we solve the rather mundane production problem of ground level dry ice fog being used as a surprise entrance effect, drifting away when the doors open? Let’s apply the “what if” scenario and look at magnifying it (could maybe lead to more fog in the entrance foyer as well), or rearranging it (could maybe lead to putting it in select corners of the event venue at certain times only), or putting it to another use (could maybe lead to using dry ice fog as part of the actual meal service by the wait staff). Obviously, there are many ways to create new approaches to solve the problem.
Try some of these out the next time you need to come up with new ideas in a hurry for a proposal and you will be surprised at the interesting concepts that emerge from your brain.

See one of my new books, Special Event Production: The Process, for more creativity trechniques.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Finding Time for Creativity

In this business, it's the truly mind-blowing creativity that wins contracts. How does one find time in a busy schedule to come up with those winning ideas? Here are some basic tips I have found useful.
  1. During sleep. A pencil and paper or notebook available at all times, including bedside, ensures that ideas will not be lost. Indeed, some of the best ideas come during the relaxed state of “near-sleep” and this is precisely when ideas need to be jotted down. If the ideas do start to form freely, one should avoid the temptation to force sleep to return and continue with the process until all possibilities have been exhausted in that particular line of thought. This notebook can also be used as a “dream diary” to record dreams on waking, which in turn can act as catalysts to ideas.
  2. During a favorite relaxing activity. Massage, sauna, shower or bath, meditation, listening to music, and reading are all relaxing activities that tend to free the brain from unwanted clutter and stress. In turn, one is more able to daydream and take ideas to their logical conclusion. Jocelyn Flanagan president of event management company e=mc² in Calgary, Canada, uses music to regenerate senses and emotions in her staff so that visuals associated with the emotions and memories begin to appear.
  3. During a favorite aerobic activity. As long as it is not overly strenuous, this is one of the best ways to get ideas flowing. Not only does aerobic activity increase blood flow to the brain, but it also releases endorphins to aid in relaxation, thereby triggering the condition sometimes called “runner’s high.” This can be a powerful opportunity to generate new ideas and work them through to conclusion. Examples are jogging, walking, swimming, and cycling. Activity should be for a minimum of about 20 minutes or more in order to have enough time to get into a relaxed state and take advantage of it to generate ideas. 
  4. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In addition to exercise, creativity specialist Linda Naiman recommends eating well, especially vitamin B, and also getting lots of rest, both of which encourage brain activity (Hall, 2004). 
  5. Having fun. The “work” of creativity goes more smoothly in an atmosphere of lightheartedness. Amabile (1996) found that people in companies were more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. Researchers also report that when teams of people are working together on a problem, those groups that laugh most readily and most often are more creative and productive than their more dour and decorous counterparts. Joking around makes good sense; playfulness is itself a creative state (Goleman and Kaufman, 1992).
So get out there and get creative!!


Amabile, T.M. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Hall, Neal. (August 24, 2004). The Art of Creativity. The Vancouver Sun, B2.
Goleman, D., and Kaufman, P. (March 1992). The art of creativity. Psychology Today. ID 1903.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Display Fireworks Safety

We all know how emotional and awe-inspiring outdoor, display fireworks can be, especially after seeing the display at major public events such as the opening of the World Expo. That emotion comes with a price tag, and the price is not just in the cost of the fireworks themselves. The safety factor is undeniably the most important one in getting approval for a show. I'm sure readers have heard of some of the disasters that arise from lack of proper safety considerations, and ignoring safety can lead to exorbitant liability costs. Here is some insight about how to best get approval for a fireworks show.

The USA and Canada have set up stringent regulations that govern the permit requirements, setup, placement, loading, safe distances of crowds, cleanup, storage, and transportation of commercial display fireworks. In the US, the most important documents are the National Fire Protection Association standard NFPA 1123: Fireworks Display (2006 Edition) and NFPA 1124: Code for the Manufacturing, Transportation, Storage and Retail Sale of Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (2006 Edition). In Canada, the comparable governing document is the Display Fireworks Manual, put out by the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD) of Natural Resources Canada. Any event producers contemplating using display fireworks should obtain a current copy of the applicable federal documents, as well as local state, provincial, or municipal regulations which may differ throughout each country. Generally speaking, any event producer who wishes to hold an outdoor fireworks display must have the following in their possession, either personally or through the official fireworks contractor.

  • License or certification to work with display fireworks. This could be either a state requirement (if in the USA) and requirements may differ throughout the country, or a federal requirement (if in Canada). In Canada, certification is the law, and is set to federal standards by the ERD. Anyone who handles display fireworks must be at least an Apprentice. Any producers who are planning display fireworks shows should always insist that the fireworks contractor be fully certified.
  • Approval to purchase display fireworks (usually federal and/or state).
  • Permit to hold a fireworks display (usually obtained from the AHJ or "authority having jurisdiction," such as local municipal fire, parks, or police department). Occasionally, the permit and approval to purchase are the same, depending on the jurisdiction.
  • Permission of land owner, lessee, or agent to hold a fireworks display.
  • Insurance of a minimum amount and type as specified by contract (i.e. the client/producer contract) and local regulations (usually the same organization that grants the permit). The most common minimum amount now required is $5 million liability.
  • A site plan with complete details of crowd and fireworks locations, emergency access, water locations, etc. (usually a requirement of the AHJ).
This is one area where trying to skirt the rules cannot be tolerated. Good luck and enjoy your next fireworks show.

Find out more about outdoor display fireworks and indoor proximate pyrotechnics in my new book Special Event Production: The Resources.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Portable Toilets for Events

The question of how many portable toilets, what kind, and where to put them is always a concern, particularly for large outdoor events. The keys to the successful incorporation of portable toilets into an event are essentially threefold:

1. Correct estimation of the number of units needed. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom recommends that, when estimating the number of units required at an event, consideration be given to the duration of the event, the perceived consumption of food and beverages (particularly alcohol) by the audience, timing of breaks in entertainment performances, provision for children or elderly who make take longer to use a facility, and weather conditions and temperature. In addition, the ratio of women to men is essential to correctly estimating numbers. The figures below are combined averages of several sources (National Event Services, 2006; Government of Western Australia, 2004; and Rutherford-Silvers, 2004), and can be used for general estimates of toilet units required based on event duration (eight hours for both these graphs) and whether or not alcohol is consumed. Note that the straight lines in these graphs are the trend lines of the averages and it these lines that should be used. In addition to the number of toilet units, hand wash stations should be provided in the ratio of approximately 20% of the total number of toilets (i.e. for 100 toilets, 20 hand wash stations are needed). The Government of Western Australia (2004) in their extensive event guidelines, also further recommend that for more attendees:
  • Female toilets increase at the rate of one per 100 females with alcohol, or one per 200 without alcohol.
  • Male toilets increase at the rate of three per 500 males with alcohol, or three per 1000 without alcohol.
For events with different durations, they have the following recommendations for units:

  • More than eight hours, 100% increase over graph values
  • Six to eight hours, 80% of graph values
  • Four to six hours, 75% of graph values
  • Less than four hours, 70% of graph values.
According to National Event Services, in the US, federal and state guidelines also require one ADA toilet unit for each “cluster” of toilets, which works out to approximately 10% of the entire order that should be handicapped units. Event workers and employees must have their own dedicated facilities that should be located near work areas, specifically backstage, near the mixer tower, next to catering areas and car parks, and near first aid and children’s areas. Toilets with hot and cold hand-washing facilities should be provided for food handlers.

Portable Toilet Requirements for an Eight-Hour Event (Total Attendance up to 30,000)

Portable Toilet Requirements for an Eight-Hour Event (Total Attendance 25,000 to 100,000)

2. Correct location of the units. Where possible, toilets should be located at different points around the event site to minimize crowding and queuing problems. Attention should be given to accessibility for servicing and emptying. This may include temporary roadways and dedicated access routes, subject to the site layout.

3. Regular servicing schedule. Depending on the type, portable toilet units have waste storage tank capacities ranging from about 150 liters (40 gal) to 250 liters (65 gal). On average, a single usage will deposit approximately 1.4 liters (.37 gal) of waste. Based on another average of 54 to 75 seconds per use (men versus women), smaller units may therefore require major service and emptying of toilet receptacles as frequently as every two hours, or as infrequently as four hours, but this may need to be monitored if some units receive heavier usage than others due to their location. At a minimum, units should be cleaned and checked for supply replenishment (e.g. toilet paper) at two-hour intervals, and a plumber should at least be on call for short events and on site for longer events. Major service procedure involves driving the service truck to within approximately 20 ft (6 m) of the portable toilet, pumping or evacuating the effluent from the portable toilet receptacle into the truck holding tank, recharging the portable toilet receptacle, and performing minor repairs to the portable toilet as needed.

Read more about toilets in my new book from Elsevier, Special Event Production: The Resources.


Government of Western Australia. (September 2004). Guidelines for Concerts, Events and Organized Gatherings. Department of Health.
National Event Services. (2006). Portable Toilet Calculator for Events. Retrieved September 11, 2006, from
Rutherford-Silvers, Julia. (2004). Professional Event Coordination. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Determining Stage Sizes

I'm going to go back to some technical stuff for this blog. One of the problems I have always had is trying to figure out just what size a stage should be, particularly when there is a diverse mixture of people and performers who will be using it.

Determining the correct area of a stage is sometimes more art than science. Unfortunately, event planners and managers often do not give it enough consideration. The horizontal area must accommodate any and all activities that will take place on it. Even though speeches may occupy 3 hours and 55 minutes out of a 4-hour program with only one speaker appearing at a time, but there is a finale with a 12-member dance ensemble, the stage has to be big enough from the outset to accommodate the dance ensemble. In other words, it must be large enough to allow for the activity that will require the most space, no matter how important or how long that activity is in relation to the rest of the staged program

For most activities, there are no golden rules. Every performing group usually has a minimum size of stage that will accommodate their performance and they should be consulted prior to event setup to ensure that the properly sized stage is ordered. Generally, for speakers at a lectern, a minimum of 15 - 20 ft² is required. Unfortunately, if the event consists of only speeches by one or two persons at a time such as an awards ceremony, having a small stage might not automatically be the correct choice. The stage size in relation to the size of the venue and also in relation to the size of the stage set and any additional décor or audio-visual equipment must be taken into consideration. For example, if an awards ceremony is to take place with a stage set up in the middle of a 150 ft long wall, and two large A-V screens with surrounding drape are to extend to the side walls on either side of the stage, it does not make good design sense to have a stage that is only eight or 12 ft wide as it is completely out of proportion to the remainder of the room’s décor and the scale of the entire venue. The stage must reflect the correct proportion, and should be more in the order of about one third of the total width of the venue or 40 to 50 ft wide, in spite of the small number of persons occupying it at any given time. Part of the extra space may also be taken up purposely with a well-designed stage set.

In the case of musical groups, it is better to compute an accurate size of stage based on fairly static area requirements for individual musicians. The following guidelines are useful for calculating stage sizes for musical groups.

• Electronic rhythm instruments. 25 - 30 ft² per musician (e.g. guitar, bass, keyboards) including amplifiers and equipment.
• Acoustic instruments. 10 – 15 ft² per musician (e.g. brass, woodwinds, strings), including chairs and music stands.
• Drummer. 50 - 70 ft², including all equipment. Drummers are often elevated on a small riser (usually 8 ft x 8 ft x 6 to 12 inches high) for better visualization.
• Spinet piano. 30 ft².
• Full grand piano. 100 ft².
• Vocalists. 10 ft² per vocalist if backup and not moving too much; 30 – 50 ft² per vocalist for a lead vocalist, and possibly more if part of a show band.

As an example, a five-piece regular dance band with a single lead singer, a drummer, a keyboard player, a bass player, and a guitarist, would require approximately 155 to 210 ft² of space using the variable area extremes from the above list. This would equate to a stage with horizontal dimensions of 16 ft x 12ft (192 ft²) for the absolute minimum sized stage, and at least three choices for the stage that would accommodate the band in a roomier manner. These possibilities would be 16 ft x 16 ft (256 ft²), 20 ft x 12 ft (240 ft²), or 20 ft x 16 ft (320 ft²), all assuming single riser dimensions of 8 ft x 4 ft. Since most musicians do not like to play beside a drummer but rather in front, and since a drum kit is approximately 8 ft deep, this means that the drummer occupies essentially the back or upstage 8 ft of the stage alone. Thus, there must still be at least 105 ft² of stage area remaining (155 ft² minimum less 50 ft² minimum for the drummer). If the stage size is 20 ft x 12ft, that means there is only the front or upstage 4 ft remaining for the rest of the band to play on, a total of only 80 ft² of space (i.e. 20 ft wide x 4 ft deep, after subtracting the upstage 8 ft occupied by the drummer), which is inadequate. Therefore, the correct stage size should be 20 ft wide x 16 ft deep, which would leave an ample 160 sq. ft (i.e. 20 ft wide x 8 ft deep, after subtracting the upstage 8 ft occupied by the drummer) for the rest of the band. Although this sounds complicated, it is an exercise that a producer must go through if an adequately sized stage is to be provided for the entertainment planned.

In addition to drum risers for dance or show groups, larger musical ensembles such as symphony orchestras or big bands often specify tiered riser sections on top of the regular stage for the different orchestra sections, such as percussion, strings, brass, or woodwinds. The height and horizontal size of these risers is usually determined by the orchestra leader, and specified in their contract rider.

As far as vertical stage size goes, it is purely a matter of sight lines. The more compressed together the audience is and the farther back from the stage the audience extends, the higher the stage should be.

See my latest book, Special Event Production: The Resources, for more details.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

More Reflections on the Winter Olympics as Spectacle

It's always an interesting exercise to analyze public spectacles with the advantage of hindsight. The Winter Olympics has proven to be one of the more fascinating to apply such analysis to because it is an example of a public celebration done right.

When one thinks about large mega-events like this, one cannot help but notice that they operate on a number of levels. First, they are a reflection of the culture, society, nation, or civilization that spawns them. They form a statement of the past and define who we are as a nation. That was obvious in these Olympics, especially in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Using the Closing Ceremonies as an example, the over-the-top depiction of trite Canadian symbols was an obvious show of what we do not take seriously. What was not as obvious was what we DO take seriously in our society, and that is celebrity worship. The entire second half of the show was a series of mini-concerts by name performers. In antiquity, those celebrity performers would have been images of gods.

At the same time, and in contradiction, such events also seek to establish a pattern or a hope for the future, for the road to a better, improved society and nation. In a sense, it is ironic - and somewhat daunting - that they set a path to influence history, yet in the end must be judged by history. Absurdly, they are like a mentor whose student eventually has the power to fire or to promote his mentor. These Olympics sought to do this by a policy of inclusion: inclusion of first nations, inclusion of founding races, and especially inclusion of spectators. It is this last aspect that will position them well in history.

Why is this? In my own humble opinion, I believe it is mainly because the organizers recognized from the beginning that there is a dual aspect to public events - or to any successful event for that matter. The dual aspect acknowledges that there must be an organized component but just as importantly an UN-organized, spontaneous component that allows for public participation and celebration. By blocking off streets, constructing "party zones," building free-entry pavilions, and having an entire participatory "experience" unencumbered by excessive policing, they endeared this event to the local inhabitants and visitors as well as to a watching world. In this manner, they established a unique model that we as a nation and culture can seek to emulate for future such events. It is indeed no small surprise that there are already calls for Vancouver and BC to seek out more mega-events like the World Cup and for the city to cast off it's undeserved sobriquet of "No-Fun City" by permanently constructing pedestrian-only thoroughfares. No doubt other cities will look to Vancouver and to the model used by VANOC as a template.

Make no mistake, though. History will continue to watch Vancouver to see if we are capable of fulfilling the lofty promises for future, non-destructive communitas.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Winter Olympics Closing Ceremonies in Vancouver

Another Olympics comes to a close - and quite a close it was. The ceremonies, as always, have been meeting with mixed reviews. My own opinion is that David Atkins delivered an eclectic mixture of comedy and music that I am not totally convinced did too much to advance anyone's understanding of our country. They were, however, extremely well executed.

For me, the short comedic opening was the highlight of the entire show. To "fix" the technical glitch from the opening in such a creative manner was brilliant. It's always nice when one can capitalize on a second chance. The oversized Canadian symbols (e.g. blow-up beavers, huge hockey board game, dancing maple leaves, etc) were certainly humourous but not too creative. Atkins relied on the old event producer's trick of going oversize to impress, but that part of the show lacked substance. The Sochi presentation was very creative and bodes well for their games.

The second half - the party half - of the ceremonies was a little disappointing. Yes, great music from some well-known Canadian musicians. However, the input of Canadian entertainment moguls Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman, who together basically control the star machinery in our country and were "advisors" for all the ceremonies, was far too obvious. I will hazard a guess that the lion's share of the funds for the Closing Ceremonies went to their stars and their pocketbooks, but then that is only speculation. I wonder how many arguments went on behind the scenes about creativity vs star drawing power. Hmmmmm!!??

Technically the ceremonies were basic compared to the opening, with not a lot to "wow" me.

Overall, a decent effort, coming off successfully thanks to the overwhelming success of our Canadian athletes and two weeks of "treacly" emotion.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Marketing Power of Games Has Deep Roots

As the Winter Olympics draw to a close, there seems to be no doubt that they have been a success. By success, I do not mean Canada’s medal count, although it is impressive. I mean the use of the games as a marketing tool, a tool to send a message to the world. As we are now coming to know, these last two weeks have given unparalleled exposure to British Columbia and Canada that will help to boost tourism and investment for years to come. In recent years, of course, this concept has come to be known as event marketing. However, harnessing the power of humanity’s emotional connection with such games is not a new concept.

Many people do not know that the Olympics were not the only games in ancient times. Other centres throughout Greece such as Delphi, Corinth, and Athens had their own regularly-scheduled games and even artistic contests with prizes as valuable as for athletics. Some, like Corinth, were almost as big as the Olympics themselves. Often, the games were instituted ostensibly to honour a dead local hero. Alexander the Great, for example, created funeral games in Babylon in honour of his dead friend Hephaestion. They were no small potatoes. Alexander invited over 3000 athletes (our Winter Olympics had just over 2600)!

What all these games had in common was their expressed purpose of sharing the Greek cultural heritage, to bring Greeks together. Why? Because they never did have a formal “nation” and fate had scattered them literally to what were in those days the ends of the earth. From the huge crowds attending and watching our games, we know how well the Olympics still do this. But even the Greeks knew that more than mere patriotism could be squeezed from the emotion of athletic victory. Here’s an example.

In or around 278 BCE (Before Current/Christian Era), King Ptolemy II of Egypt began games called the Ptolemaieia in Alexandria, Egypt, in honour of his dead father, King Ptolemy I, one of Alexander’s generals. As with all the other games, he invited athletes and leaders from all over the world. In the inaugural games, he held what has come to be considered as the most spectacular parade in history, including anything since. The parade took at least an entire day to pass and displayed the wealth of the nation in pure gold (literally billions of dollars’ worth that included hundreds of gold prizes for victors), along with thousands of animals, mechanical marvels and floats, and a march past of over 80,000 soldiers. The purpose? To impress his adversaries with the power of Egypt. This was a political message, much like China expressed with the 2008 Olympics. In the case of the 2010 Winter Olympics, our real message to the world has been, “Come to work and play in beautiful British Columbia.”

We may not have owned the whole podium, but for two weeks we have certainly owned the media. That message has been received by the world loud and clear. Thanks, VANOC. You understand the power of athletic victory.

Job well done!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver

Since 2008 it has been widely acknowledged that the magnitude and creativity of the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics may never be repeated. David Atkins, the Australian-based producer of the Vanouver Winter Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies wisely chose not to even attempt to compete.

As a much smaller-scale producer of corporate events, and one who has frequently tried to transform the elusive Canadian identity into a meaningful entertainment presentation for visitors, I understand the difficult task he was handed. While I would not class Friday's performance as the most imaginative, emotional, or technically complex Winter Olympics Opening, I have to give Atkins an "A" for effort. What was successful and what was not?

In spite of Atkins' vow not to compete with Beijing technologically, I give very high praise for the absolutely incredible programming of the digital lighting. I would have to say that this was the true star of the show, much more than any other element. It made a little - budget, of course - go a long way. Another technological accomplishment - unfortunately one that would later cause problems - was the raised floor of BC Place and the obviously complicated hydraulics installation underneath. This had to be difficult but undoubtedly necessary given the restrictions of the indoor stadium. The ceiling rigging was another accomplishment, with it being used for several interesting segments requiring raising and lowering the large concentric fabric curtain and for flying quite a few performers.

For certain, his subtle combinations of natural phenomena and the Canadian landscape with our cultural diversity was well done. For example, the opening arctic sequence was wonderful, as were most of the others such as the concept of autumn in eastern Canada mixed with step and tap dancing. It would have failed if it had just been the dancing but by combining the scenics with the dancing, Atkins managed to isolate the Canadian versions of the dances from their Irish/Scottish/French locales of origin.

I know a lot of people did not like the pop-stylized version of our anthem, but I enjoyed it; finally, something different. Come on people, you're going to get so many chances to sing along that surely you can tolerate something a little non-traditional. I also thoroughly enjoyed one of the final segments with a virtually unknown "slam poet," Shane Koyczan. It was a nice touch, again something a little different, and Mr. Koyczan had a great delivery, very emotional.

The pre-cultural segment of first nations performances was very inspired, with great staging and some semi-modern music and choreography, at least as much as the governing elders of each nation would presumably allow.

What was not so great? Well, it started with the four first nations leaders being late for their own show. Guys (the leaders), this did not ingratiate you to the public. It just made you look disorganized. This was followed by the raised totems, much too closely resembling giant dildos/phallic symbols. Surely someone could have seen the obvious comparisons long before they were used live.

Second, the extensive - almost complete - lip-synching and fake orchestra playing. Yes, they tried really hard to get it perfect, but there were still subtle clues here and there that gave it away. One not so subtle was the fiddle sequence. Having been part of my fair share of microphone problems in live shows I can understand why it was done. There may never be a perfect solution to this in these kinds of shows.

By now, everyone knows the fourth arm of the flame's cauldron did not rise. That's one of those technical problems that take about ten years off a producer's life. Could it have been prevented? Who knows? It sounds as if they tried everything and the mechanics were working earlier. Forunately, all the torchbearers had in-ear monitors so it did not look completely unplanned and, to the producer's credit, there was a backup plan.

My last gripe - albeit somewhat minor - is that I think they could have chosen a classier way to get Wayne Gretzky and the flame from BC Place to the permanent cauldron on the waterfront. Really, standing on the back of a truck driving through pouring rain? Once there, the whole thing looked good. It was just getting there. Although, when you think about it, what could be more Canadian than a pickup truck?

Overall? A good effort, ranking high, but certainly not the best I have seen.