Tait expands in Europe with Brilliant Stages acquisition
Tait has acquired Brilliant Stages, the UK-based supplier of staging and design solutions to Coldplay, Take That, Spice Girls, Shawn Mendes and more, for an undisclosed sum.
Tait – founded in 1978 as Tait Towers – designs, constructs, manufactures and operates stages and installations for clients including the Rolling Stones, U2, Taylor Swift and Cirque du Soleil from its HQ in Lilitz, Pennsylvania. The company, minority owned by Providence Equity Partners, in June acquired UK motion-control company Kinesys.
Brilliant Stages (Brilliant Topco Ltd) was established in Wakefield, Yorkshire, 1983 and has also worked with Hugh Jackman, the Dubai Mall and the Virgin Racing Formula 1 team.
Brilliant will remain a standalone brand for the time being, though the “combined management teams see the value of building a global brand” and say “branding decisions will […] be clarified in the coming months”.
“Culturally we are 100% aligned”
Ben Brooks, managing director of Brilliant Stages, says: “We have built the brand brick by brick with an equal focus on spectacle, design, employees and customers. That is what makes being part of Tait a perfect match; culturally we are 100% aligned.”
“This really is a perfect cultural match,” adds Adam Davis, chief creative officer of Tait. “We are excited to share with Brilliant our technology, assets and lessons learned over our 40 years in the live event business. We found a true partner in Brilliant and share a deep belief in delivering excellence to our customers and their fans.”
In addition to Tait, Providence Equity Partners’ live events investments include festival operator Superstruct Entertainment, UK venue manager Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and event tech conglomerate Patron Technology.
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Lucid Dreams: Glasto designer on perspective-changing staging
The team at Lucid, a stage design and festival infrastructure company based in Kent, UK, focuses on creating immersive, environmentally friendly stages for festivals including Glastonbury and Boomtown.
Here, IQ speaks to Lucid co-director Helen Swan about the company’s new Mayan-inspired Glastonbury stage, the importance of being green, and the struggles of being a woman in a heavily male-dominated sector of the industry…
IQ: Tell us a bit about Lucid and your role within it.
HS: Lucid is a creative partnership between me and [co-director] Chris Carr. We met in a field at an immersive festival I ran and quickly realised we shared the same goal: to create environments that affected people’s perspective on life.
We’d both worked with lots of other people as freelancers and in our own companies but realised we could realise our visions far better as a team.
What is the most important part of stage design for you?
It’s a combination of the personal satisfaction of realising our concepts and designs and using our platform to engage and inform people. I remember Chris saying to me: “If I only open the mind of one person at each show we do, then I have achieved something significant.”
It’s true – if we can create engaging spaces that also change perspectives on radical, important issues such as climate, respect and acceptance then we are doing something worthwhile.
“If I only open the mind of one person at each show we do, then I have achieved something significant”
Lucid’s mission is to pioneer sustainable stage design, is a lack of sustainability a big issue in the stage design world?
Yes, particularly when it’s a one-off event. So much goes into the bin at the end as it can cost more to salvage used materials and store them than simply chuck everything into a skip, but this is inherently wrong and we cannot sustain our industry in this way.
At Lucid, we are working to counteract disposable sets by using a system of modular steel frames and brackets. The frames are really durable can be used for years, and when they eventually reach the end of their lives, the metal can be recycled. It means we can reskin frames over and over, massively reducing the need to use virgin materials.
In the festival industry people reuse materials a lot, which is brilliant, but a huge amount of stuff is still wasted. It’s really important to trace the journey of where materials come from, using recycled plastics and sustainably sourced wood, for example.
Your most recent project was the Samula stage at Glastonbury Festival – what were the central inspirations behind the stage?
We knew that the Common – an area in the south-east, ‘naughty’ corner of Glastonbury with roots in Mayan culture – were looking for a venue to replace a stage called the Cave. The Mayan peninsula is an area of Mexico with lots of cenotes, which are giant, lush sinkholes that the Mayans view as a portal between earth and the underworld. We did a load of R&D around this concept and decided to incorporate an unusual crystal with which we’d developed an obsession, bismuth.
We also wanted to have an element of mystery and secrecy, so designed a massive rock frontage with a huge waterfall over a crack in the rock. People could only enter the venue by walking through the crack. During the day it was a really cool, serene place. At night, of course, it transformed into a rave cave.
“When it takes a lot of strength just to be there, it makes it so much harder to succeed”
How was Samula received at Glastonbury?
Reception really exceeded our expectations. We heard that there was an internal crew vote about the best venue and there was huge support for us. People were really surprised by it, and that’s super-exciting. There were huge queues to get in and it was packed until 6am every night.
Samula should be at Glastonbury for three to five years minimum and we would like to grow it in that time. As it’s modular, we can add things in and expand it each year. I really want to bring in more LED to the rock face, for example, and build upon the design of the rock face entrance.
Samula had an 50/50 gender-balanced line-up, was that a conscious decision?
Yes, we loved that the Common made sure this happened. Far fewer female DJs than male are booked, for a multitude of reasons, and this makes a lot of women feel they like they can’t be one. It’s important to champion female DJs and show young women that they do have a space.
I have found it incredibly difficult to be a woman in the music industry. Almost every course I’ve been on and venue or workplace I’ve visited have consisted of almost all, if not all, men. A lot of the time, these men assume you are an assistant, or that your voice is less valuable, and it’s really hard to counter that.
When it takes a lot of strength just to be there, it makes it so much harder to succeed.
What I want to do is create a space within our business where everyone’s voice is valid and every person has a place. It is hard as this is not just a creative industry but also a construction one, and there’s a natural tendency to think men are stronger and can lift more, but that’s bollocks. It’s just practice – it’s about investing time and showing people they are capable. I’m trying to hire female carpenters and welders to change perspectives and make people realise their ideas are just a preconception.
“If you put your core beliefs into a business then you know you’re doing it with integrity”
What other projects are you working on or have completed recently?
We created an arena at Parklife, called the Valley. This was a life-sized dystopian city, 100 metres wide and 25m tall. The bar was a set that looked like an enormous disused car park; we built a factory on a hill, as a Pepsi-sponsored viewing platform. It really blew me away, it was so immersive.
We are also working on a new stage for Boomtown, the Lighthouse. It is going to beam light across the whole festival. There is a huge push for sustainability at Boomtown and the Lighthouse is emblematic of that. It’s representing the old ways and getting back in touch with the earth. The area the stage is in is going to be a place of learning and positivity, and Boomtown are going to use it to demonstrate how sets can built more sustainably.
What does the future hold?
We are going to continue to maximise the immersive experience of fans and the sustainability of our stages – those are the things that are needed in the festival space, as well as an inclusive environment.
Something else I want to do is, in the future, to stipulate in our contract that all our stages must feature a gender-balanced line-up. I think this will only benefit everyone, even if people might object.
If you put your core beliefs into a business then you know you’re doing it with integrity.
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The mechanics of stage design: Tom McPhillips Q&A
Pennsylvania-based creative company Atomic has designed stages and sets for live events including Global Citizen festival, Electric Forest festival, the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, the MTV Music Awards, Sam Smith’s Grammy Awards performance and ISY Music Festival, enhancing the visual aspect of typically audio-focused experiences.
IQ speaks to Atomic’s chief creative officer and founder, Tom McPhillips, about the process from sketches to stages, his recent project designing the main stage for China’s ISY Festival, and the difficulties of marrying EDM with romance.
What drew you to production design and continues to retain your interest there?
I started by thinking of myself as a regular painter and sculptor and I went to art school in London to start that career. However, I soon discovered that I prefer to do work that lots of people can enjoy, not just a small gallery art scene.
I was lucky to find my way into working in the theatre after art school and to become part of an environment that seemed to perfectly match my talents of painting and creating three dimensionally. Although I’m fundamentally an artist, the design part – by which I mean projects that one is hired to work on rather than being totally self-directed – is the part I enjoy most.
I also feel very comfortable being part of a team where everyone works together to create something none of us could do on our own – it’s our combined talents that make what we do possible. Plus, I enjoy creating a spectacle and seeing an audience thrilled and excited by what we all do.
I’m still completely amazed by the fact that the small sketch I’ve drawn in a few moments eventually becomes something that takes months to complete and ends up filling the entire 360-degree vision of a festivalgoer. That’s certainly something I’ll never get tired of!
I enjoy creating a spectacle and seeing an audience thrilled and excited by what we all do
Can you tell me about the process behind designing the ISY stage?
To be honest, when Fay Haixuan Wang from China Minsheng Cultural Media, the company that produces the ISY festival, first contacted us, I had no idea that there was a large island to the south of the Chinese mainland called Hainan. Research revealed that Hainan is, after Taiwan, China’s second largest island and it’s kind of China’s version of Florida, a destination where a lot of Northern Chinese snowbirds travel south to escape the winter.
They gave us a fairly simple brief – to create something that incorporated deer and flowers, in accordance with a Hainan island folkloric love story – but they added the provision that the set still needed a full-on EDM festival vibe, despite that seemingly romantic theme.
What turned out to be rather remarkable about this project was that my very first sketch pretty much encapsulated all the elements of the final design as built. That’s fairly unusual for a project like this!
I began to build on the initial idea with Charlie Cook, my co-designer. I felt we’d hit on something that would be very iconic and specific to this particular festival.
The set was built in Guangzhou, transported by truck and ferry to the festival site in Sanya and assembled onsite. Often there are cuts and changes during the construction phase – as reality begins to kick in – but the production team and the constructors managed to keep the concept intact. I’m still overwhelmed by how well everything went and by how beautifully the end result proved to be!
What unique opportunities does the Chinese live event market bring for a designer?
That’s a difficult question to answer – I think we’re right at the beginning of this wave and that this is a growing industry.
I think at the moment Chinese promoters are certainly looking to Europe and the United States to bring knowledge, talent and expertise to help them set up their local market, but production skills are growing quickly in the Chinese market.
“I felt we’d hit on something that would be very iconic and specific to this particular festival”
It’s possible this window will only be open for a while, and in the future international designers will only be called upon on occasion. The resources they have in China, plus the level of craft I witnessed in Guangzhou where the set was built, are phenomenal.
It’s also very encouraging to hear that Arcadia, who were also onsite at ISY with their Spider Stage, has signed a ten-year deal with Shanghai-based production company Split Works. The company will continue to work Arcadia’s stages in China over the coming years.
What challenges do you face as a production designer, particularly when designing for music festivals?
“Budget” is usually the first word that comes to mind, and while that’s universal for any project, festivals are definitely even more of a challenge.
In order to make any impression in a festival environment, you need to come up with something of a certain size, so you’re constantly trying to find ways to invent things that are really big but that won’t end up being too expensive.
I draw on a lifetime in the business of doing more with less and having the experience of knowing where to put the resources available in order to create the most impact. My theatrical background in tromp l’oeil (fooling the eye) certainly helps – also a working knowledge of building sets that can incorporate the talents of lighting designers and video content creators so they have the greatest opportunity to excel in what they do.
How has the production design scene changed in recent years?
That’s an easy question to answer: video!
There are some clients who are determined that video will never be a component in a set I design for them, but they are few and far between. For most of us it’s a fact of life and while it might overwhelm our designs from time to time, essentially, it’s another tool in the toolbox.
“The resources they have in China, plus the level of craft I witnessed in Guangzhou where the set was built, are phenomenal”
I think the other thing that’s changed somewhat is that clients tend to assemble teams rather than just calling on a single designer nowadays. Projects have become bigger and have more moving parts, so it’s more difficult for one person to get his or her hands around a whole project – plus projects are more technically intricate than they used to be.
What does the future hold for you and for Atomic?
We’ve come a long way in the twenty five years that Atomic has been in existence and I don’t expect that trajectory to slow down anytime soon. We design, build, produce and rent to thousands of clients every year and as long as we’re moving forward learning and embracing new technologies, and always aiming to do better at every opportunity, I see a very bright future.
Of course, we always need to stay on the cutting edge – the market is always changing, and we need to change with it. I’ve done work regularly in Japan for over twenty years, it’s a place and a culture I’m very familiar with, so I have kind of comfort zone there. Working in China is a whole new market for me to learn and to become acquainted with, but it definitely presents some very attractive and enticing opportunities, as well as a lot of possibilities for the future.
Just doing the ISY project we’ve met some amazing people. One of those people is our client Fay [Haixuan Wang] – she harbours a vision to transform her home island into an international tourist and cultural destination and she certainly seems to have the talent and abilities to turn that vision into reality. I’m hoping this is the start of a long and productive relationship, both with China Minsheng Cultural Media and with the Chinese scene in general!