IPM 13: If I Could Turn Back Time: Stage production, design and decor
The second panel of the ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) began with Coralie Berael, venue manager of Belgium’s Forest National, reflecting on the changing nature of stage production. As both venues and production get bigger, Berael posed the question: Where do we go from here?
From the design side, Mark Ager, managing director of the UK arm of Tait, explained that the main challenge is taking creative content and making it into a reality for touring, adding that it all works best when there is coordination between the artistic, technical and logistical processes.
Production manager Wob Roberts stressed the importance of having final designs as early as possible, to makes the rehearsal period “an efficient machine” and bring down costs.
“The best circumstance is to have a clear idea what a show looks like before going on sale, but that’s idealistic,” said James Walker of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), explaining that a venue’s role in the chain is not always as valued as it could be. “We need better links with production managers,” said Walker.
Roberts gave the example of a Genesis tour which went on sale before the design came in, leaving insufficient room for the stage. “We had to be really creative to fit into the capacity that had been sold,” said Roberts. “I learned to talk to management as much as possible to avoid similar situations in future.”
Does the audience really require all this production, if tours can sell out before the design has even been done, asked Berael. Roberts explained that the audience has certain levels of expectation for some stadium artists like U2 and Rolling Stones, but not so much for others. However, “the ego can kick in” on the artists’ side, with acts wanting as big a show as their counterparts, “and that’s when the problems start”.
Walker said it would be hard to draw audiences in for a second time without spectacular sets, while Ager stressed the importance of fan engagement, which is challenging in a stadium without big production. “Scale can sometimes outperform the the actors,” said Ager. “The more people you put in front of an artist, the more money they make, so our challenge is how to engage the maximum number of people.”
“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,”
IPM day host Meagan Walker, general manager of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena asked when is enough, enough? “The bigger we [venues] get, the bigger the show and production gets,” she said.
The panellists also broached the difficulties of loading into certain venues, with local councils imposing restrictions and buying up land around arenas in many city centres. “We need to work together and communicate very early on to avoid the stresses on the day itself,” said Berael.
Is there anything at the design level that can be changed to ease logistics? “We are always trying to minimise building time and think about loading,” said Ager. “But the artist is always going to want to push it further, and I’m not sure how to stop this.”
Ager stated it’s important to remember they venues are often a “tryout” for the shows themselves, but this is changing with many using places like Production Park to test production out.
“You’re actually touring a prototype – and that can go wrong,” reiterated Roberts, saying that it is key for venues to come and look at the production beforehand to pinpoint potential problems and discuss solutions with the production manager.
The issue of liability was also raised, with Roberts stating that it is difficult to get house riggers to sign off on the work they have done. Walker explained that there is a large amount of liability with venues anyway, so there is a degree of nervousness to accept more.
The panel ended with a talk on sustainability. Roberts said that, although he is “unsure whether you can call what we do sustainable”, the entertainment industry is a “great testing ground” for green initiatives.
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