5 horrible event mistakes that turn your live show into a nightmare…

/ Article by Koen Colmbijn

So yeah, It’s that time of the year again… The time in which you can’t walk down the street or watch five minutes of television without being engulfed with a healthy dose of Halloween themed, well, everything actually… Besides countless Halloween events, new terrifying horror movies and Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes, I came across a fair amount of fear-related articles.

These articles triggered me into contemplating about my own greatest fears. I concluded that, besides boredom evidently, my absolute worst fear is for one of our live shows to turn into a living nightmare and go wrong. Although this might not be a fear of yours, after reading about these 5 well preventable mistakes it will definitely not become your worst nightmare…

Too many rehearsals will drive your performers crazy (photo from one of our shows)

1. Over-rehearsing

I am not trying to scare you but in my honest opinion, ‘Practice makes perfect’, might be a slightly overused proverb in our industry. I’m not saying that artists should stop practicing and perfecting their skills, au contraire, but for a one-time show, ‘over rehearsing’ could be a massive error. For us, rehearsing for a live show consists of several phases:

  1. Creating the performance (R&D)
  2. Rehearsing the performance
  3. Setting the performance on stage
  4. General (dress) rehearsal

I believe that for the ‘creation’ of the show you need time. For rehearsing, however, the performance there is a common mistake that can be made. This is to think that it is wise to stretch-out rehearsals over months of time and repeat the rehearsals as much as possible. If you decide to do this, you might just be digging your own grave…

Over-rehearsing will ruin the experience of your audience. Think about it, if you are forced to repeat the same routine over and over again until you can do it with your eyes closed, you probably will do it with your eyes closed and still be bored to death… With less time before the actual show, performers will still be excited to work with new people, surroundings, and other components. The adrenaline and joy caused by this excitement will not only be visible but, not unlike a zombie virus, contagious to your audience.

With proper lighting you can shift audience focus and direct their attention (photo from one of our shows)

2. Poor lighting and spiking

While Halloween might be all about the dim-lighted or just downright dark atmospheres, a show is not. Lighting can bring your show truly to life… Why? because It’s hard not to be impressed by the front lights consisting of beams dancing through a thin layer of smoke creating the illusion of movement. Because It’s nearly impossible not to be enchanted by the décor lighting transforming the various props into a vibrant atmosphere. And because it is beyond the bounds of possibility to not be awe-inspired by the appearance and emotion of a talented artist under a perfect spotlight. For recurring shows there is a lot of time to perfect the lighting routine, however, for a one-time show you only have one shot at perfection.

Although I am looking forward to write an in-depth article on light-design, for now, I would like to refrain myself only to spiking. This is something you should never, ever forget. By sticking tape on the stage for artists and props corresponding to their places or choreography you will never be out of the spotlights. The artist knows where to go, even in the heat of the moment, the stage manager knows exactly where to place the prop or the drum-riser, and it will all look stunningly highlighted. Do this… and even the smallest of details will be brought to life. Refuse to do it… and it will come back to haunt you.

Our showcrew during our last horror event

3. Underestimating the importance of the show-crew

Although it might sound obvious… your crew will make or break the show. As you have only one shot at success with a one-time live show, you must carefully divide the tasks at hand to a select group of people you trust completely (for that task). For instance, Stage managers should be responsible and have a knack for improvising. Show producers must possess a tremendous amount of organizational skills to allocate each factor to the right location at the right time. And socially gifted people are well suited for tasks such as artist handling.

During the show, one of the most important tasks is allocated to the show caller. With his/ her responsibility, the show caller might even be the epicentre of the show. Keeping an eye on everything ranging from time scheduling, lighting and sound to music, cues and many other things. However, I think the most important task to be filled in the whole process is that of the creative director. During the entirety of the process of realizing a show, from the initial idea or creative vision to the very execution he is responsible for one thing. To inspire and touch the audience by creating emotions. (On which I might elaborate in a future article).

Sharing your script with those involved is essential!

4. Sharing your show-script late

The show script is the quintessential component of your show. This document contains the complete show from the beginning to the end. Now, it is always a challenge to finalize the show script early, we as creatives always come up with even more exciting ways to touch people’s souls and keep tinkering on the script. However, it is of the utmost importance to share it with everyone who is responsible for a component of the show before rehearsals and insist that they prepare themselves. In this way everyone working with you will understand the complete show and can better prepare themselves for the role that they have to play. Making sure everyone understands the storyline properly will save you a lot of hard needed time during the ‘setting’ and ‘general rehearsals’ as everyone can actively prepare.

A good backstage butler should always keep his head in the game…

5. Not treating your artists well

Personally I thought this went without saying but from the horror stories I heard from various artists this is a mistake made too often. Apparently, the artists are sometimes not treated appropriately by the crew or other people involved. When you expect the artists to work long hours and deliver a peak performance you must treat them accordingly. To create the right atmosphere in which creativity, performance and ambiance thrive you should take special care for your artists and crew. This is where the artist liaisons come in with their considerable dose of humor, hospitality and not to forget,.. night snacks!

For our shows, we find this so important that we have added a new crew member to our show crew: the backstage butler. As opposed to the other crew members, the backstage-butler does have a very specific task description: make sure that the artists who are waiting to go onstage are serviced with drinks, blue M&M’s, and all the rarities on their personal riders!  I will write some more about the backstage butler soon!

We all know what a lack of food can do to people, so if you don’t want your artists to turn into a bunch of Freddies, Jasons, White Walkers or even some Stranger Things… Take care of them, before it’s too late… Oh, and before I forget, Happy Halloween!