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IPM 11: Places & Spaces: The big venue discussion

The ILMC Production Meeting's third panel discussed how production professionals and venue operators can better communicate and work together more efficiently

By IQ on 07 Mar 2018

IPM 11: Places & Spaces: The big venue discussion

Chair: Paul Sergeant, PSE (AU)

Guest speakers:
Alice Asbury, O2 Academy Oxford (UK)
Nick Handford, Mick Perrin Worldwide (UK)
Peter McKenna, Croke Park (IE)
Peter Thorpe, Spotless Stadium (AU)

Sergeant and his panellists explored the complex relationships between venues and the shows that populate their diaries, noting that the communication and understanding between the parties needs to improve for the overall good of the live entertainment business.

Questioning the love-hate relationship between both sides, Sergeant underlined the fact that all events need a venue, no matter how small or big, and therefore are a crucial part of the overall business.

In a discussion about private versus public ownership of venues, McKenna revealed that Croke Park is privately owned but by 750,000 members, and because it is a city centre venue, one of his priorities was to make sure that the stadium and surrounding neighbourhoods are not negatively impacted by the visiting bands and productions.

Thorpe highlighted that every venue is governed by its own rules and regulations, which can make it a real balancing act when it comes to catering to touring productions. Thorpe and Sergeant also revealed that in Australia, alcohol sales were limited to beer with 3.5% alcohol content – far lower than most other countries.

Asbury addressed increasing venue costs – an issue that most visiting acts would be completely unaware of. “We have to stick to strict budgets, as it’s very difficult to make money,” she said, adding that building maintenance and keeping equipment running, while meeting relevant guidelines is also a major challenge.

Raising the thorny subject of Brexit, McKenna said the UK”s exit from the European Union was effectively going to add 20% costs to the price of turf that Croke Park used to source from the UK for its sporting fixtures, and, therefore, the stadium has bought its own farm in Ireland to supply its turf.

Thorpe said whereas years ago his venues in Australia would close for two months for maintenance, that was no longer possible, because the business is seven days a week and 52 weeks a year – an issue recognised by Asbury, who said on a daily basis, staff are repairing new holes in the wall, created at the previous night’s gig.

“I think both sides can be fractious and difficult”

Talking from a promoter’s point of view, Handford said that his objectives were very different from that of the venue owner. “Our sole objective is to put on the show that night, rather than thinking about the long term upkeep of the venue.” However, McKenna said that meeting the fans’ expectations gave both the venues and the promoters a common objective. “Beer needs to be cold, food needs to be good quality, the sound has to be great – the experience has to be world class.”

“I think both sides can be fractious and difficult,” said Handford about the relationships. He noted that it might be difficult for venue staff to understand the needs of the visiting production staff who just want to load in and get some rest before the show, rather than deal with local red tape and regulations. “Tension is healthy,” stated McKenna. “People choose to work in the area that they work in. Most of the acts we deal with are extraordinarily professional, so I thing we should relax a bit more and just concentrate on the serious challenges.”

The panel also touched upon language and cultural barriers, while Handford noted that as a production manager in China, he would have to dress in a business like fashion before local crew would pay attention to him, as wearing jeans and a T-shirt, he wasn’t recognised as a decision maker.

Thorpe said five years ago they were not allowed to talk to the city council, whereas now they work hand in hand with the city to try to bring events into the city and into Australia. Discussing the relationships with local authorities, McKenna said he believes that promoters should have higher status, noting that they risk millions of euros to bring in touring shows – some that work and some that do not. “If they were a Google or Facebook or some such company investing similar sums in the local economy, the government would be building them new office buildings for free,” he observed.

On the subject of remuneration, Asbury said respect for staff was paramount, while she also underlined the importance of training, as many staff use the O2 Academy circuit as a stepping stone to becoming freelance and going on the road, which is crucial for the health of the overall industry.

One delegate from the NEC Group commented that the tension points these days revolve around bigger productions needing more time to load in and out, meaning the margin for error was getting ever more slim. To mitigate that, he said that staff from NEC Group travel all over Europe to study the needs of incoming productions – a policy applauded by all on the panel.

Handford agreed that establishing dialogue with a tour to find out what its needs and goals are was vital, as there was more chance to find out about changing production values as the tour progressed. “As long as chain of communication is strong, things tend to run fairly smoothly,” agreed Asbury.


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