Professional Lighting & Production - Fall 2017 - Page 21

“ For the 2017 Grandstand Show, the content creation and cueing was once agan handled by Sean Nieuwenhuis of B.C.’s Sensory Overload Productions – “a master with [Dataton’s] Watchout” multi-display software, according to Cane. As stated, much of that content was relayed to the massive downstage video wall, which this year featured fully automated motion thanks to a first- time collaboration with Drifter Rigging, a new Toronto-based rigging firm with a Kinesys Elevation 1+ kit. In previous years, the centre portion of the downstage video wall was essentially the backstage door that allowed for set pieces to change and performers to enter and exit the stage. Johnson admits it had long been a struggle to reliably raise and lower the screen and its plywood backing. “It just hadn’t worked the way we wanted it to,” he says. “They’ve tried different ways of rigging it and nothing was totally satisfactory, because it wasn’t failsafe.” One year, it was on basic chain motors; in 2016, it employed a coun- terweighted system with people simply pulling ropes – not as fancy, but at least effective. This year, with significantly more – and larger – set changes than in recent years, it was absolutely essential that the screen be raised and lowered without issue. “It was one of the few elements that kept me awake at night,” Johnson says. “I know this stage in and out and know how everything works, but this was an ongoing challenge. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be able to get things that are absolutely necessary to certain acts onto the stage, so we’d really be compromising the show.” “The mobile stage can be very challenging. It’s a big living and breathing thing,” Cane says, explaining how the sta ge moves in and out of place each day and, even though it’s on hydraulic levelers, is still suscepti- ble to variance from day to day by way of cresting and bowing. “Because of that, it’s incredibly difficult to get this guillotine to go up and down smoothly and accurately, and Drifter’s system allowed them to do that.” It was actually Ploss, who’d worked with Drifter Rigging’s Mark “Drifter” Desloges for a few years in Halifax, that suggested his former colleague to the Stampede as a potential solution to their problem. “It was exhilarating because this was our first project as a company,” says Desloges, “and everything moved pretty quickly from the beginning.” Based on the requested outcome and the required weights and dimensions, Desloges calculated that they’d need four half-ton hoists and headed west with his kit; however, upon arrival, they realized there were some unforeseen factors with the stage that simply couldn’t have been predicted until everything was onsite. Basically, a team of engineers and fabricators employed a brace bar with a wire rope threaded through it instead of a channel guide, ensuring the structure would be stable even in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Desloges had to fly to Winnipeg for another project, during which the team of fabricators amended the steel structure of the Queen Mary to increase its tolerances. “It was really impressive,” Desloges says, looking back. “They were very committed to making it work.” Johnson notes that the circumstances were simply beyond every- one’s initial control, but that in the end, hard work and collaboration saved the day. “When that door went up in total sync with the video for the first time, we were all just like, ‘Yesss,’” Johnson shares with a laugh. “I can’t say enough about this team, as this was really proof that when you bring together so many skilled people, it really just elevates everybody’s game.” “ The mobile stage can be very challenging. It’s a big living and breathing thing. While Drifter Rigging supplied the system, it was the Grandstand Show’s crew chief, Matthew Gault, who oversaw its operation. “Every year, there’s something big and bold we try to incorporate to keep things fresh and kind of one-up the year before,” Gault says, though for 2017 and Canada 150, that was especially the case, with the automat- ed wall being just one of those components. He says that while this was his first experience with Kinesys equip- ment, he found the learning curve relatively painless and was more than impressed with the results. “Even though I say it was pretty linear and straightforward to operate, there were parts that were very complicated to get set up,” he continues. “Drifter was very level-headed and focused on getting the job done, and made the Stampede feel like we were his one and only client.” As impressive as the TransAlta Grandstand Show is from a technical perspective, what’s even more impressive is the camaraderie that exists between the various collaborators from top to bottom. “[The collaboration] was great, and quite frankly, it’s crucial,” Cane asserts. “There are some shows we do where we can work on our own little island and not really pay much attention to what other people are doing, but here, you’re constantly working with the other trades. You’re constantly looking out for other people as well as your own environment.” “This group of people is spectacular,” adds Ploss. “I remember the way they came together to put on the 2013 show [after the flooding in Calgary] and that’s always stood out. They’re incredible and have proven that they can overcome virtually anything.” “They’ve told me there’s a certain culture here, and they often use the metaphor of needing to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ when you join the team,” says Desloges, recalling his maiden voyage on the Queen Mary. “Colleen made that comment, and later told me I’d come pre-Kool-Aided (laughs). Basically, there’s an atmosphere of professionalism, but you need to be helpful and understanding and positive and realize that everyone’s work- ing towards the same goal, which was definitely the case this year.” At the end of each performance, the perennial crowd-favourite fireworks spectacle lights up the site. (In true Stampede fashion, it’s considered the largest of its kind in the world.) For everyone working behind the scenes, the bright flashes signify something of a congratulatory moment – another show for the books. Onstage, it was the performers from various Canadian cultures and communities coming together in celebration that comprised the 2017 TransAlta Grandstand Show at the Calgary Stampede, and yet the profes- sionals behind the production are just as integral to its success. Like their performing counterparts, this is a team of people of various specialties and disciplines coming together from different places to ensure their audiences truly get “the greatest outdoor show on Earth.” Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Lighting & Production. Fall 2017 | 21