Given that this is key to the strategy of your event and budget, it is a very good idea to for the main event organiser to have a high level of involvement in this. Your production company or agency may also have some options.
NEGOTIATING WITH ACTS
Even on smaller events there will be an element of negotiation with performers with regards to what they are doing, what they are bringing, performance times etc. Given the potential intricacy of this work it is best for an experienced professional to be involved with this.
This is the role of speaking to all performers about the event in advance to ensure that everything will run smoothly. This includes discussing logistics, kit storage, stage layout, technical requirements, sharing of instruments, food, dressing rooms etc.
This is the job of deciding what act performs when. This also involves creating a running order. This needs to be done with careful consideration of what else is happening at the event, such as catering, off-stage entertainment etc.
This is one of the most important jobs and takes place on the day of the event (plus advance planning). The job of the stage manager is to ensure that the performers and production team all know what is happening and what each party needs to do. The stage manager is also responsible for ensuring performers get on and off stage at the right times. This role requires good people skills, excellent organisation and the ability to think quickly and be flexible. It is also helpful for a stage manager to have strong leadership skills.
Stage Crew are the people who move equipment on and off the stage. They may also assist with helping load the performers’ equipment in and out of the venue. They will typically also ensure the stage is kept tidy.
The sound engineers do everything relating the technical side of the music - so microphones, cables, mixing, sound effects etc. On smaller events the sound engineer may also help with stage crew work. On multi-performer projects (corporate events, festivals, student balls etc) the sound engineers will need to focus all their time and energy on ensuring everything sounds perfect and all the equipment works well, so may have an assistant sound engineer or ‘A2’ to help out with running cables and repositioning microphones on stage.
House Kit is the general term given to performance equipment provided by the event organiser that can be used by multiple performers. This typically includes drum kits, guitar amplifiers, stage risers and keyboards. The benefit of house kit is that making it available can significantly reduce the time required for one band to get off stage and another to get on. However some performers feel that their equipment is integral to their performers so may want to use their own. This is often negotiable however.
This is the process of getting one set of performers off the stage and the next one on. This can be as simple as a soloist leaving and the next one walking straight back on again. In other cases it can involve a full change of all instruments, set, stage risers, drum kits, microhones and cabling. It is very important to allow for adequate time for change overs between acts. A change-over for a soloist can be instant whereas the change over for a larger act could take up to 40 minutes.
Sound checks are the time that performers get before the event to play onstage. While the primary purpose of this is to get their sound right, it is also useful for everyone in the production team to work with performers - checking lighting states and ensuring their stage position is correct. With the use of modern digital sound desks it is now possible to do sound checks for bands in any order as their individual sound settings can be recalled swiftly and easily. Sound checks can take a few minutes up to a few hours depending on the act.
A rider is a document that a performer provides to outline their requirements for their performance. These range hugely in detail and style. Some riders are 50+ pages and go into a very high level of detail with every aspect of their performance, food, backstage dressing rooms, transport, type of drinks, spec of hotel rooms etc. Other riders are a simple one-page document with a stage plan (layout of where each performer stands) and overview technical requirements. Many performers (especially semi-professional or those working in small venues) do not have riders. It is important to remember that riders are generally written with a certain type of show in mind. For example, sometimes they may be written with a stadium performance in mind, but this event may be much smaller. In these cases the best thing to do is get an experienced production manager to speak directly with the performer's management or technical team to establish what is actually required.
In other cases the performer's rider is far too basic for the show they are working on. In these cases the production designer should design a solution for the event which will suit the performance and event. The main thing to remember is that riders are almost always a set of guidelines and a basis for understanding the needs of performers. It is vital that open communication takes place between production designer and performer. While there generally is flexibility with riders, it is important to understand that there are often certain non-negotiables - i.e. things which the performer must have with absolutely no substitutions. These can include:
- Certain sound or lighting desks
- Certain models of amplifier, keyboard, or instrument
- Certain size of stage to ensure the performance can fit
It is also important to determine where your responsibility lies in terms of providing this equipment. For example, a performer may state that they need a certain amplifier to be provided, but if pushed, could agree to bring it themselves to save you the cost of hiring it! It is always worth negotiating before committing to any additional spend.
SCHEDULING THE EVENT
The performance schedule is the most important document for stage management. The purpose is to show everyone what is happening, when it is happening and what each party needs to do to make it happen. The performance schedule should be a table with the vertical axis showing times and the horizontal showing what happens at each point.
The schedule should be written by a competent, experienced person, however a draft can be provided in advance which can be tweaked later.
A stage is a potentially dangerous workplace and as such needs to be treated carefully. Stage design and risk assessments are an in depth field of production management which requires considerable knowledge of statute and good practice as well as years of experience. You can read more about stage design here>>
ON THE NIGHT
By the time the event takes place all the hard work should have been done and the show itself should be a smooth and enjoyable experience. As long as everyone knows what they are doing and the planning has been done well the show should run smoothly. The exact chain of command will vary depending on the event, but you should have a Stage Manager to assist with the acts and Production Manager to ensure that all technical staff are briefed and know what they are doing.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
The following is a checklist of things that should be considered when having performers at your event:
- When the performer can gain access to the venue
- Parking for performers
- Access to venue, especially if there are large items (e.g. is it on the 4th floor with no lift?)
- Storage of performer equipment
- When sound checks take place
- What order in which sound checks are taking place
- Stage layout, especially if there are multiple performers
- Any items that bands are sharing
- Dressing rooms
- How long each performer is performing for
- What is happening between performers e.g. background music, a master of ceremonies (MC) or other show content
- Food for performers and the production team and when this will be scheduled
- Drinks for performers and production team
- Water on stage
- Towels on stage
- How much time is available for bands to get off stage and the next one to get back on.
- What happens if other parts of the event run over schedule and how this will affect the performances
- Accommodation for performers
As you will hopefully now realise, most of the work with stage management is done in advance. It is all about communication, managing expectations and organisation. Get this right and stage management can be a very fun and enjoyable role to have.