03 Sep 2014

All the Tour's a Stage

There is absolutely no way that the Mighty 5® Tour could have happened or been successful without the hard work of Chip Dance, our Production and Stage Manager. Chip had the job of finding a stage, driving the stage down to Southern Utah and setting up the stage. It was way more complicated than just putting up some wooden thing for people stand on.
USUO: How do you plan for such a complicated set design and venues?
CHIP: For the three venues where we would be needing to build the stage from the ground up, I started by doing a stage plot of the orchestra based on the instrumentation of the chosen repertoire . That gave me a sense of the size of stage we would require. Through my experience in the entertainment industry I knew that mobile “stage vans” existed, so I was only faced with finding one that would accommodate our space requirements and would be capable of meeting the demanding Mighty 5® tour schedule.  Then I adjusted the stage plot to fit within the footprint of that particular stage.


The planned set up at Teasdale.


The planned set up for the stage at Teasdale.

Once I knew what stage we would be using and the requirements for getting that stage into position at the venues, I visited each venue to measure and take photographs  of the area. With a 53 foot trailer pulled by a  big rig tractor, weighing a total of ~80,000 lbs and standing over 13 feet tall, there are many factors to consider when determining where the stage should be set up and how it is going to get there.  With the help of Google Earth, renderings and maps were created to show the staff, board, crew, local representatives, vendors & volunteers what we hoped the finished venues would look like with the real stage in place.
The field at Moab
USUO: How long does it take to set up and take down the stage and equipment?
CHIP: The stage structure itself, with added lights, some sound and banners took us approximately 3 hours. Adding the orchestra chairs, stands, instruments and the rest of the sound equipment took another 60-90 minutes.  However, there was a large learning curve involved and the first two venues, including getting the stage van into position, actually took much longer than that. The first day, in Teasdale,  we started at 8:30am and were just finishing as the gates opened at 6pm. In Moab it actually took 5 hours just to get the stage van close to where we wanted it, but you can read more about that below.
Following the concert, from approximately 10:15pm until 2am, everything packs up and loads-out.
The stage truck
The stage truck before set up. All folded up and waiting.
USUO: Have you had any problem: something breaking, something missing, something not working properly? How do you handle that?
CHIP: All three venues required re-grading of existing dirt roads to allow such a large truck access to the desired staging areas. That was all handled in advance by the local venue representatives.
However, at Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, re-grading wasn’t enough. Unfortunately Moab received record monsoonal rain the night before our load-in. The overly saturated grass was no match for the 80,000 lb stage van. Despite our suggestions of alternative staging, such as under an existing covered pavilion or directly on the grass,  the owner of Red Cliffs lodge, his general manager and their crew were insistent that we “plow”  (pun fully intended) ahead with the original plan. Part of the solution was to send some crew into town to purchase $500 worth of plywood to put down on the grass for the trucks to drive over. However, $500 worth of plywood doesn’t go as far as you might think. We had 16 full, heavy duty 4 foot by 8 foot sheets plus some scraps that the lodge provided, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover the distance we needed. So, the crew, including some of the Red Cliff staff and the owner himself, had to “leap-frog” a “plywood highway” across the ~250-300 feet of grass we were trying to protect.  In addition to the 80000 lbs stage van, we also have two 26 foot box trucks weighing up to 26000 lbs each (one with sound & Lights, the other with orchestra equipment). But after all the trucks had driven over the plywood a couple of times, there was not much more than splinters remaining.
The truck in Moab.

The truck in Moab.

The truck in MOab

The truck ripping up the ground in Moab


Mud and tire tracks from the truck in Moab

USUO: How many members of your staff do you have?
The production staff consisted of:
Me, Utah Symphony Stage and Production Manager
Mark, Utah Symphony Properties and Assistant Stage Manager
Two 2nd Assistant stage managers, part–time with USUO
Jay, the Opera Assistant Technical Director (acting as Mighty 5 tour crew chief for the labor force)
8 stagehands from IATSE Local 99
3 Audio technicians & 1 lighting technician from Performance Audio
2 stage technicians from StagePro in Kansas who provided the stage van
4 laborers from Diamond Party Rental who provided the large greenroom tents for the orchestra
My boss, Jeff, and co-workers, Cassandra & Charlotte who pitched-in regularly with everything from buying plywood or pizza to setting up music stand lights.
And even the COO David & CFO Steve, who helped at the end of each night by retrieving sandbags and banners from around the venues.
USUO: What is the most difficult park in coordinating so many people and so many different pieces of equipment?
CHIP: They all had a unique challenge. Teasdale was a community park without any services you would hope for in a venue. Moab’s challenge was the rain and mud. Bryce’s challenge was the remoteness. Zion’s challenge was the heat. Moab was the most challenging.
USUO: So far into the tour what has been the best part of your work?
CHIP: Despite being the first to arrive at each venue, as early as 7:30am, and the last to leave each venue, as late as 2am, I was proud to have such a dedicated, hardworking and positive team working alongside of me. It is because of that team that I was able to rest my feet after the final concert, full of pride and with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that we did it, we made it happen, and we survived the Mighty 5® .
Stage all set up

Despite the technical difficulties, the show and the Tour was a success.