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.