Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Calling a Show: Part Two

Yes, calling the actual show can be scary and intimidating. It can also be extremely satisfying when completed. It's not really that hard. Here are some basic guidelines (thanks again to http://www.simply-communicate.com/).

Do exactly what is in the script and what has been rehearsed but watch and listen to what is going on onstage and all around you constantly; don’t relax. The secret is to get a flow established.
  • Be consistent. If you always say it in the same order, then people will get used to it (e.g. SND, LX, VT, etc). 
  • In general terms, three to four words is about a second when spoken out loud. 
  • Cue process one: standby. Remind crew what they are standing by for in general terms at the beginning (e.g. a speaker changeover, the name of the video, etc). Then put everyone on standby together, saying what each is to do as you go (if you have time), particularly if video or music is to be used; (use specific names to be absolutely sure). Standbys are usually given around five to 10 seconds before a go, subject to how many people you have to standby and how long you have between cues. You should also allow time for people to acknowledge their standby and a bit of space before the cue. 
  • Cue process two: go. Allow time to state the item to be cued first, then say “go” (never the other way around or they will all go and that may not be the creative direction). 
  • Performers, presenters, and other individuals who know they must appear onstage during an event program (i.e. are not award winners) should be escorted to the backstage or holding area so they are standing by at that location a minimum of 10 minutes prior to their appearance onstage. This means that the show caller – and especially the stage managers - will have to gauge the time it takes to travel with these individuals (or groups for that matter) from their green room or other location to backstage and be ready to go at the correct time. This is not necessarily as easy as it seems, since the green room may be on another building level, there may be large crowds or long convoluted hallways to navigate, and some groups may take time to assemble themselves. It is always better to err on the side of arriving backstage earlier rather than later. 
  • If there haven’t been cues for a while, then let everyone know there are two minutes to go before the next cue so they wake up, set up a CD or VT, or prepare accordingly. 
  • React to changes that may occur once in show mode (e.g. a speaker is faster or slower than you thought) and immediately adjust your running order as needed.
In the example below, the Production Manager or TD (TD) is “Doug”, who is “calling the show,” the Stage Manager (SM) is “John,” LX is Lighting, and the Video Director is VD.

TD: “Doug for John.”
SM: “Go for John.”
TD: “Standby with Mr. Smith at stage right and put him at stage right lectern after this speaker finishes.”
SM: “10 – 4.”
TD: “Standby lighting with new wash for Mr. Smith.”
LX: “Standing by.”
TD: “John, Mr. Smith onstage. Go.”
SM: “Mr. Smith is onstage.”
TD: “Lighting, change to a blue wash for Mr. Smith. Go.”
LX: “Blue wash is on Mr. Smith.”
TD: “Standby video with the next clip after Mr. Smith. It’s the clip for the new sales program.”
VD: “Standing by with video clip of new program.”
TD: “Video clip of new program. Go.”

And so on as per the show running order and script. To reiterate, there is a standard sequence for giving verbal cues:

"Standby Sound Cue 19" (The word “Standby” first).
"Sound Cue 19 Go" (The word “Go” last).

Repeat this same order for the next series of presenters or stage segment and try to keep it going throughout the event. The key is to anticipate and know exactly what must be done at least four or five steps ahead of where you are in the show running order or script. Give everyone lots of time to get to their assigned positions and complete their tasks. Check off each item on the running order or script as it finishes. Try to keep calm and not get flustered if things go wrong. Think logically. Keep in mind that, like an airplane taking off and landing, the first and last 10 minutes of the show are the most critical and they are the times when something is most likely to go wrong. If you are new to the game, start on a really simple show and work your way up from there.

You can find more about calling shows and the equipment used in my book Special Event Production: The Process.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Calling a Show

A producer works hard to create and bring together all of the elements of an event - and today's events can be technically complex. However, some producers are either not confident enough to bring the actual show together on cue, or may be spread too thinly with the added responsibility. In these cases, the producer may hire either a Technical Director (TD) or a separate "show caller." Show callers are usually people who have worked in theater and called cues in theatrical extravaganzas as stage managers (in the theatrical definition). They are seasoned and experienced in interpreting a producer’s requirement for the crew to make sure everything happens at the right time and with maximum theatrical impact, where appropriate. If a show caller is hired to run only the show, that person is coming in to the event “cold” with no knowledge about it whatsoever and must therefore be brought up to speed very quickly. We will assume this scenario for the following explanations, much of which has been provided courtesy http://www.simply-communicate.com/. For purposes of easy explanation, the show caller’s job will be divided into two main segments, pre-show and show.


Before the actual job of calling the show begins, a certain amount of preparation is required. If time permits, a separate briefing for the show caller is helpful and avoids any last minute panic onsite. The show caller then needs some time to prepare for the show by reviewing the material provided. This is typically followed by a rehearsal, particularly if the show is complex.

A show caller will need the following information which will usually be provided either by the Producer or TD:
  • Names of all crew members on intercom
  • Any announcements needed (e.g. asking the audience to turn off cell phones or any health and safety announcements) 
  • Running order 
  • Scripts (including entrance and exit points) 
  • Print outs of PowerPoint slides (for checking if correct ones are projected) 
  • Video play list showing each video’s duration time 
  • Music play list showing each track’s duration time 
  • Production schedule showing crew call times, any rehearsals, and all show times (to be reviewed throughout the day with the producer) 
  • Presets (i.e. required pre-placements of persons, props, or other items at specific points in the program)
  • Creative interpretation of the running order 
  • Background of any speakers or other useful information.
Typically, there are some procedures that a show caller will use to prepare the script and himself/herself for the show. Much of it is personal preference, but the following are general guidelines:
  • A show caller will need: pencil and/or marker pens, rubber bands, ruler, stopwatch (with big numbers and preferably no beeping noise), watch (synchronized with the producer’s), water, mints, plain paper. 
  • If you are the show caller, have the script on a right hand page and your writing on the left hand page. Write alongside where the cue in the script needs to happen (on the left hand page) and use a ruler to draw a horizontal line (in pencil) to link into the cue point. At the point where the cue happens, draw a short vertical line up from the horizontal line to mark this cue point. 
  • Plan timings for when you are going to do certain things. 
  • Ensure all technical crew members are on headsets. 
  • Make an announcement for crew to turn cell phones and pagers off. 
  • Put in all presets to check they are all in place. 
  • Put in cues for yourself for announcements (e.g. to announce “10 minutes until doors open”). 
  • To minimize the amount of words or space used on a page when you are writing in information, you can use abbreviations for key elements to be used, such as “A” or “SND” for audio/sound, “L” or “LX” for lighting, “V” or “VT” for video, etc. 
  • Try out cues by speaking out loud, never in your head or you won’t get a sense of the timing.
A technical run-through of the script is a must if there are numerous technical cues and a long program, such as an extended awards show. The show caller can once again make it easier to run the show by considering the following during rehearsal:
  • Create your space. For most show callers or TDs, this is usually at the technical console position, next to the producer. Position yourself so your free ear is next to the producer, when you are on headsets. Again, everyone has a preference. I personally prefer to call a complex show from the rear of the venue from a central communication station that is connected to all the technical people involved, and from where I can see the whole picture. Other times, if the show involves a lot of entertainment that might be entering and leaving from different parts of the venue, I work better calling the show using wireless comm that gives me the flexibility to move around and change the way the show flows if I see it needs it, or to talk directly to an entertainer or presenter. See the figure below for a typical TD or show caller position.

TD Calling a Show (Courtesy Darren Dreger, BC Event Management, www. bceventmanagement.com)

  • Talk to the crew casually before the technical rehearsal to determine: Have they got all their software? Do they know their running order? Is there anything you need to know (e.g. how a piece of technology works and what you need to cue)? 
  • Agree to cue numbers if the crew wants to use those. (LX usually does; others probably don’t but it’s worth asking.)
  • Tell the crew what sort of cues you are going to give them. 
  • Always get crew to acknowledge stand-bys. 
  • Be firm but fair, listen for their feedback or suggestions but remember you are in control. 
  • Take it steady and do one cue sequence at a time. Get it right, and then move on.  
  • Make sure you have re-written your cues before you try a cue or sequence again; take your time and make sure you really understand what the producer wants and how to achieve it. 
  • Start your stopwatch for videos, just in case the video engineer forgets to count you down. Also make a note of a sequence 30 seconds before the end so you can start the stand-bys to come out of the video.
Finally, and most critically, speakers and entertainment need time to rehearse. They must understand how long they are allowed onstage because impromptu, unrehearsed speeches and entertainment acts that are longer than promised can wreak havoc with a show and cause it to go much longer than planned. A full or partial speaker and entertainment rehearsal can help to avoid this, by having the show caller consider the following:
  • Be alert so you can respond to changes, update your cues, put people on stand-by, etc. 
  • Keep communicating with the crew so they know what is going on and what to prepare for. 
  • Try out any changes the producer may have made after the technical rehearsal. 
  • Time all speakers with a stopwatch as they will ask how long they were and it will help you plan timings for the actual show.
  • If possible, remind the producer to ask the speakers for their last few words leading into a video to help with the cueing. 
  • Ensure all speakers tell you where they will be located in the audience for the 30 minutes preceding their time onstage in order that stage managers can find them easily. 
  • For entertainment, ensure they know how long they are allowed onstage, where and what equipment must be pre-placed onstage and removed after their act, and at what point in the program (exact time) they are to be ready in their green rooms. 
  • Ensure all speakers and entertainers understand how they will enter and exit the stage. 
  • Work out a standardized method of removing speakers or entertainers from the stage if they go over their allotted time – and ensure they all know what the signal is. This could be the subtle playing of a musical tune on CD or by an onstage orchestra, the flashing of a light from the technical console, the frantic waving of an offstage stage manager in the wings, or if all else fails, turning off the microphone.
Next time, we'll look at the actual show.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Real-Time Monitoring of Truss Loading for Safety

As readers may know, I am a stickler for event safety, particuarly in such high-risk areas as the flying of trussing loaded with audio and lighting gear, as well as the occasional performer. Here is a video of a new system for monitoring loads in real-time. Well worth a look for riggers and lighting designers.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What Does an Audio Engineer Do During an Event?

If the sound check has been done properly, there is not too much to worry about for the audio engineer in terms of maintaining levels. However, if the event is complicated and will involve speeches, followed by entertainment, followed by a band, and all channels of a large mixer are being used, then he must be constantly vigilant. He will need to do some or all of the following during the event:
  • Adjust individual channel faders on the mixer to minimize feedback and to isolate speeches (i.e. turn off all channels except the speech microphone)
  • Adjust individual channel faders for instrumental solos, backup vocalists, or other inputs such as CD/DVD backing tracks, voiceover microphones, video, or PowerPoint feeds
  • Prevent feedback by adjusting house EQ and main mixer and individual channel faders
  • Adjust effects as needed for best sound quality
  • Maintain house volume to an acceptable level for the audience and client
  • Adjust monitor levels and fine-tune monitor mixes as requested by the performers (this task may be assigned totally to a separate monitor engineer).
This then, is the essence of special event audio systems. The technology is constantly changing and improving, particularly with the advent of digital mixers and the integration of tasks into single devices. However, the basics remain the same. Understand them and the new technology will become much easier to follow.

If you want to learn about audio systems in more detail, including an in-depth explanation of the actual equipment, check out my recent book Special Event Production: The Resources.