Disney, Cirque, and COTM

Many may identify with the following thought about working at a church: fortunate as I am to work and serve at COTM, the job never seems to be done—every event completed only means we’re one step closer to having to start over again and sort out the next one…rarely seems to be much time to even debrief and reflect on a job well done. Admittedly, it can get a bit mundane sometimes but I took a trip recently that encouraged me a great deal…read on.

Daniel Connell and I recently attended Live Design International, a large production and lighting design conference and exhibition held down in Orlando. In our quest to keep our production design current and relevant, this is one of the better places for us to stay informed to what new options are out there. Since we were in Orlando, we took advantage of checking out some of the production situations at Disney and the Cirque du Soleil show at the La Nouba theatre.

Have never been much of a Disney guy but will go on the record right off the top that I have THE utmost respect for what it has taken to build that empire and applaud the technical expertise highly evident on every front. Must be an amazing situation to have a worldwide team built only of the best of the best. I’ve been to Disney many times but always with a visiting production or entertainer trying to complete the gig and get out as unscathed as possible.

At Disney, I didn’t fall in love with everything I saw but what I DID love was witnessing one of the best displays of teamwork, co-existence, and synergy I’ve seen in a long, long time. An ideal I try to implement in our COTM productions was summed up quite well from the Production Manager of one of their evening shows (where they project 3D imagery onto the castle) stating “It’s not about opening night, it’s about every night.”. Truly ultimate words to live by as we all strive to keep things at a consistent level weekend to weekend and event to event.

Was greatly encouraged to see these guys at Disney embracing older technology and devices and USING THEM EXCEPTIONALLY WELL. As one who has never been much of a gear-head, I’ve never been at ease with the way some production people think that the new tricks, bells, and whistles are going to make everything great—ultimately hoping it will cover up their lack of experience and skill. On the contrary (and as witnessed at Disney) it’s team, discipline, maintenance, knowledge, and plain old skill coupled with hard work that makes an excellent production, NOT the gear you’re using. Disney certainly demonstrated this perfectly while using a lot of older gear to its complete potential. THAT was worth the trip.

As for the Cirque show–we spent some time meeting some of their technical staff and touring the facility to see how they pull off their completely amazing production. Ever since being blown away by one of the original tent Cirque shows in Madrid many moons ago–they’ve never ceased to amaze at how they continually turn things upside down to pull off something new and crazy. My view on production, shows, and creativity has been skewed ever since. As for their shows, what can you say? Creative, epic, perfectly simple, amazingly complex…always a perfect display of creative genius and production prowess blended into one. While their team functions on all cylinders using every tool and trick available to them, they also use some old and seemingly outdated technology that might cause the uninitiated to scoff; but it not only showcases the superb skill level of their staff, it also perfectly demonstrates to those of us working at churches that if the gear is right for the job—who cares if it’s older technology? If we’re using it to its utmost potential and it fills the need—then it’s perfect.

In both of these examples, it’s never been more clear to me of just how cool the mundane can be and how amazing “old” gear can be if put in the right hands and used in the right way. One of the things I’ve started to look at over the years is how well a production person can do with old gear and the old room—serves as a great primer to the potential of that same person when they get blessed with the new gear and/or the new room.

While reflecting on these great examples of outstanding crews using old gear to pull off amazing shows, I am mindful of the state of our situation here at COTM. Yes, we have some great equipment in some great rooms, but we also have PLENTY of old stuff in old rooms that we employ week in and week out with outstanding results. We’ve made the choice to keep the focus on the technical expertise and skill sets of the production staff and volunteers instead of trying to keep up with every bit of technical gear out there.

By NO means, have we arrived nor is that even in our sights—we still have plenty to learn and much room to improve. Seeing these brilliant Disney and Cirque examples of how the team expertise (and not the gear) made the show, I’m reminded that what truly makes my team great IS the team itself.

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Andrew Stone
Production Manager
Andrew Stone is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 27 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM's live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He's been married for 20 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (stone.rocks), and is a blog contributor on Seeds, COTM's free resource site.