A strong 2016, diversification out of commercial necessity and a move to shorter lead times are currently, Eamonn Forde learns, the dominant themes in staging and rigging
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IQ speaks to those providing the (literal) framework for festivals and events to discuss the unique challenges and successes of last year's season
By Anna Grace on 10 Feb 2020
Business is booming for the event infrastructure and staging world, with new markets cropping up all over the world and an ever-higher number of shows each year.
However, as designs become more complex, driven by the ambitions and desires of artists and promoters to stand out from the rest, stretched resources and soaring costs are pushing companies to their limits.
As 2020 begins in earnest, IQ talks to major figures in the staging and steel world about the hectic 2019 season, the growing demand for bigger production, the cost of ensuring safety at events and the uncertain future of a post-Brexit Europe.
‘Busy but challenging’
Sebastian Tobie, CEO of Event Europe at global event infrastructure supplier eps, describes 2019 as a “very strong year in Europe.” Major international artists embarked on stadium tours in every country that eps serves, including – but not limited to – the UK, Germany, Italy and countries across Scandinavia.
This year, the supplier has worked on tours for the likes of Rammstein, Muse and Pink, as well as providing infrastructure for all major festival and show promoters in Europe. In the United States, however, business was more pedestrian. “We had the major festivals as usual,” says Tobie, “but from an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe.”
Elsewhere, the Middle East is becoming a “stronger and stronger” market for the German company, as countries in the region attempt to secure their place on the international events map. However, navigating uncharted waters can involve unexpected obstacles. Tobie notes that local resources and supply networks are not as strong in Middle Eastern countries as in other markets. “We need to plan much more intensely and prepare to be extremely flexible,” he says, explaining that “surprises” can crop up at any time.
“From an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe”
UK-based Brilliant Stages has also enjoyed a busy 2019 so far, working on many “technically challenging” shows for artists including Take That, Spice Girls, Hugh Jackman, Shawn Mendes and Rammstein, as well as events such as Reading and Leeds festivals, Wireless Festival, the Brit Awards and the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend.
The main challenge for the stage manufacturer has been “time and risk management.” The process from interpreting the brief, to setting out a plan in accordance with the technical scope, and finally working with all parties to meet deadlines, remains the most difficult aspect for the Brilliant Stages team.
Figuring out the “whole picture” has proved a challenge for fellow staging company Megaforce, with CEO Michael Brombacher noting the difficulty of co-ordinating materials and staff across all projects. Both “busy and challenging,” 2019 saw Megaforce provide ambitious staging for tours by Phil Collins and Andreas Gabalier, and for festivals including Trondheim Rocks and Firenze Rocks.
UK-based Star Live, the brainchild of events specialist David Walley, perhaps had the busiest year of all, albeit in a very different sense. The result of a merger of four Walley-owned businesses, Star Live officially launched on 1 August as a full-service business for the live industry.
Since its inauguration, Star Live has worked on shows for Spice Girls, Pink, The Who and Stereophonics, as well as for events including British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park and Download Festival.
“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality”
In addition to providing staging infrastructure, Star Live now partakes in design and brand activations, enables sponsorship and partnerships, and supplies staff and structures such as ice rinks and grandstand seating. However, the staging aspect remains the most challenging, with “late rigging information” and “ever-shorter venue rentals” causing particular headaches for the team this year.
Staging the impossible
The oft-talked about experience economy continues to ensure the rude health of the live industry and the staging sector is certainly reaping the rewards of this. Yet, the growing penchant for the all-encompassing, hyper-immersive experience is also proving a sticking point for suppliers and stage manufacturers.
“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality,” explains Brilliant Stages’ senior project manager Alan Carradus. “This is driving the technical design to levels not seen before.”
The company has had to widen supply chains and “really think outside the box” in order to keep up with the demands of the creative brief. Evolution within the industry has also led to the development of new ways of working and of new technology, in addition to considerable site investment, to satisfy both current and future demands.
For Carradus, “the real explosion has been in the use of LED screens and large-format projection systems to enhance shows.”
“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too”
Megaforce boss Brombacher also notes the predilection for more visual shows, as well as the demand for a higher calibre of audio experience. “The weight of light and sound equipment is increasing and therefore we have to adjust the capacity for heavy loads in the roof and in other constructions,” he explains.
The increasing weight and size of infrastructure has required Germany’s eps to make significant changes in recent years.
“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too,” says Tobie, “and currently that has a lot to do with the size of production.”
As an infrastructure supplier, this means eps has had to put a lot of work into growing its inventory and decentralising its warehouse network, facilitating easy access to different markets and venues.
All this signifies additional expense but, for Tobie, human resources are the most problematic.
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 86 2019, or subscribe to the magazine here