Christmas 2016 Technical Details

As we look forward to 2017, making plans, setting budgets, and maybe doing a bit of dreaming and scheming, it felt appropriate to take a few minutes to refresh COTMProd’s reliance on some of our organizational paperwork needed to pull off a large-scale event without chaos or dismemberment.

OK, maybe we’ll just focus on avoiding the chaos aspect for now…

If you haven’t perused our Christmas service yet, here is a link. Additionally, we posted a short video blog with a walk-thru of the stage layout that might be informative as well. You can check it out here.

With most of our productions, we start by harnessing the various creative language and ideas being thrown around by the creative team.These guys spend a great deal of time working through every aspect of the direction we want to go, both good and bad. A lot of times we are at the mercy of how their concepts and ideas come together, so I tend to latch on to certain “threads” or keywords that seem to be resonating within their team. This has helped greatly to keep both teams on the same page as we work from vastly different trajectories while still aiming for the same intersection.

For this year’s Christmas project, these are the words that stood out: Beauty, Warmth, Worshipful.

We wanted to focus on the beauty of this event: creatively, musically, visually, auditory. How beautiful could this entire experience feel? The warmth aspect came together quite easily once we had the beauty thing in the forefront. Then maintaining a worshipful atmosphere throughout came together as soon as we sensed the musical landscape being discussed. Never underestimate how much the elements (in this case, keywords) used to inspire a creative team can inspire a production team. As this event came together, it became evident we were all dreaming and creating in the same language.

LIGHTING DESIGN
Our long-time lighting designer, Daniel Connell, came to the table once again with a simple lighting and scenic design that completely mirrored our three keywords for this production. It’s so easy sometimes to use production elements to simply wow an audience. But when you’re NOT trying to wow an audience and work on creating something more subtle (but still huge and impactful), it puts a completely different spin on how you build up the set. With things being simpler, it becomes much much harder to tell a story.

Daniel understands this perfectly and always comes up with a great direction for us. This design was simple with not too many factors involved, but each one matters in a huge way.

Here are the main elements:
- (18) Vari-Lite VL4000
- (37) Impression X4 Bar (combo of 10’s & 20’s)
- (12) Gantom Darklight LED fixtures
- (56) WinVision Air9 LED panels
- (crapload) Martin VC dots

Obviously, we still have our normal complement of house fixtures: leikos, Source4’s, strip-lights, custom Dewey fixtures, and the like that comprise our infrastructure. Take a look at this final lighting rendering from Daniel:

STAGE LAYOUT and STAGE AUDIO
The stage layout is always kind of a beast to sort out. We’ve done several of these large band layouts over the years, each one being quite unique. The problem with a set that involves this many live instruments and this many musicians is that every little thing matters—especially when these guys want to move some players around from song to song to maintain the vibe they’re going for.

Additionally, I’m trying to make sure we can get camera operators where they need to be, lighting elements crammed in, how do we move this thing to get a man-lift onstage, basically all the things that aren’t sexy, but very much needed. In the end, this one came together great and truly allowed the chemistry of the band to come forth.

The audio patch on stage typically goes hand in hand with the stage plot. This one was no small task, taking the audio team a week or so to hone it down to something I could manage at the house mix and something they could manage during the tumultuous pre-rehearsal week. The way the schedule fell, we did full weekend band rehearsals, then switched to onstage Christmas band rehearsals, then went back to the original setup to accommodate a funeral and our regular weekend services. Only THEN did we do a proper load-in. These weeks are always a challenge but building the bulk of this on rolling risers allowed us to build-up and wire most of this backstage while the set was under construction. We literally rolled the risers all in during the afternoon prior to the first full cast rehearsal and we were good.

I’m a firm believer that taking time to orchestrate these specific stage elements is vitally important to how a show comes together. If these elements are not under control and sorted out logistically, there may not be enough time to actually build and program the set—never a good place to be in.

CHANDELIERS One of the cooler ways we harnessed the “warmth” for this set was coming up with a new way to do a distributed chandelier layout. We’ve done chandeliers or elements mimicking chandeliers many times but we were searching for a new and distinct way to convey a similar kind of warmth, busy-ness, control, etc. that we have enjoyed before. Daniel ran across a website advertising some tabletop lamps that supplied some inspiration, and after much thought, discussion, and a few sketches (and budget reviews), we decided the only way to do something was to build them ourselves.

With the help of an incredibly awesome industrial fabricator that happens to attend our church, we were able to get the all the various sizes and designs of the side panels we needed to build up these 20-sided icosahedrons. Enter in some savvy fabrication expertise and a team of volunteers for a couple of nights, and we had us a rather large pile of chandeliers.

Before anyone asks about supplying them with CAD drawings, blueprints, design specs, etc., let me just say that none of that is available. One, we built these up specifically for our purposes allowing for safety, electrical and implementation concerns specific to our situation and two, we don’t actually have any of that anyway! These were built up rather quickly without much time spent on documentation. If you like them, let them be an inspiration to something you can do unique to your situation!

LYRICS ROADMAP and MASTER RUNSHEET
These last two documents made a big difference for our volunteer teams who come in to run the services. Even though the staff or core team has been living with all these decisions for weeks, the volunteers coming in have not had this luxury. How do we best convey what is in front of them as quickly as possible?

The master runsheet is a great start. This gives them all a complete overview of the order of events but without all the minutiae. During the actual event, we’ve moved our teams to use a product called Shoflo, which gives us a much better way to stay on the same page in a live environment. This software allows each operator to enter in details pertinent to their own station and visible only to them.

And given the points above, this runsheet doesn’t require lines and lines of details that don’t really pertain to everyone. In some cases, less information isn’t a bad thing. This document is merely a tool to allow our teams to all view a run of show easily and quickly.

The lyrics roadmap is as simple as it sounds. Used heavily by our video team and lighting operators, we give some simple band cues laid against the lyrics and these teams actually have a decent roadmap for when/where things are happening. One of the only things uniquely common to the worship and production teams within each song, are the individual lyrics. Makes sense to use that to our advantage. Even though gathering up the exact lyrics, and the number of times a chorus repeats can be a bit frustrating, the win is being able to give our service teams something tangible so they can be as prepared as possible with the short amount of prep time they receive.

These documents and explanations are found in just about every service we do—from a large-scale Christmas or conference event down to any one of the 52 weekends a year. Even when the timeline gets tight and you’re down to the wire, I urge you to slow down a bit and breathe. Taking some time to get some of our head knowledge on paper gives us the chance to stay organized, make great decisions, and remember the details.

This Christmas was one of those types of events for us. We could’ve blown by some of these details and probably still been OK…BUT we didn’t. We slowed down and made sure each department had their details together which gave us an extremely gratifying and Christ-centered event. Not only for our guests, but for those of us in the trenches. More to come…

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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.
@stone_rocks