‘An emotional and surreal experience’ – curating The National Lottery’s Team GB Homecoming Event

Production Manager, Keely Myers of Global Touring Office and Show Designer, Nicoline Refsing of Rockart Design reflect on curating one of the UK’s first indoor, non-socially-distanced events post-lockdown all in the name of Team GB’s triumphant athletes. TPi’s Jacob Waite reports...

Over a year in the making, The National Lottery’s Team GB Homecoming Event, which was staged at The SSE Arena, Wembley, in August, saw Britain’s returning Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games athletes honoured by a host of big names from the world of music and entertainment with performances by the likes of Rag’n’Bone Man, KSI, Griff, Anne-Marie, Bastille, Yungblud, Nile Rodgers, Chic, Laura Mvula, Mica Paris, Chickenshed, The English National Ballet, Motionhouse, and The Spirituals Choir, among others.

The 90-minute televised showcase, packed with performances and big screen content, also marked a significant step in the return of in-person audiences convening under one roof to witness live entertainment, following the postponement of the Summer Games in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Producers, TBI Media and main sponsor, The National Lottery called upon the expertise of Production Manager, Keely Myers of Global Touring Office (GTO) to assemble a crack team of technical suppliers and creatives to honour Team GB’s triumphant athletes.

The roster comprised: Rockart Design, Tim Routledge Lighting Design, Ginger Owl Productions (accreditation), Eat to the Beat, Sweeney Todd Flooring, Blackout (drapes), Prospot (followspots), Neg Earth Lights, Ox Event House (props), KRS Production (rigging), Skan PA Hire, ER Productions (lasers and special effects), Transition Video (LED), All Access Staging, Stage Miracles; Diagon (set build) and Light Initiative and LED Creative (set LED), Stagetruck, Shop (graphics).

The core team featured a host of experts in Event Executive Producer: Andrew Wyke; Executive Producers, Phil Critchlow and Paul Wright; Senior Producers, Nicci Holliday and David Bray; Music Director, Tim Maple; Lighting Director, Tim Routledge; Content Producer, Louise Segal; Production Manager: Keely Myers; Line Producer, Katie Joyce; Production Designer, Nicoline Refsing of Rockart Design; TV Director, Julia Knowles.

“I first attended a meeting in early 2019 to join this project. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the 2020 Summer Games were delayed, everything was put on hold,” Myers began. “I then received a call at the end of March ’21 as the lockdown restrictions slowly began to ease in the UK and the project was reignited, so from April onwards we spent most hours advancing the project on Zoom.”

Nicoline Refsing of Rockart Design’s vision for the project was to put performers and artistry at the centre of the show. Creating a design which celebrated the athletes and at the same time captured the audience’s emotional reaction to the athletes’ journey and being under one roof after 18 months spent in lockdown.

“I wanted to create an intimate atmosphere, allowing people to come together for one night of celebration of our amazing olympic athletes and for the audience to feel as close to the action as possible ­– reliving every moment of the emotional journey of the athletes’ Tokyo experience and emphasise the connection between people congregating after a long spell in lockdown,” Refsing stated.

TBI Producers, Phil Critchlow, Andrew Wyke, and Nicci Holliday shared Rockart’s vision of bringing together different art forms in all performances. This included the inclusion of a big screen as the focal point of the design – along with a blue swirl which represented/associated the Team GB lion logo and main sponsor, The National Lottery – packed with interactive on-screen content, created by Shop.

Team GB Olympics Homecoming: Transition Video deploys Hippotizer Boreal+ media servers

With the stages intentionally constructed low, the creative team were able to break down the barriers between audience, athletes and stage. “I wished the design to give a strong feeling of closeness, togetherness and intimacy,” Refsing noted.

During certain performances on the B-stage, an upstage string section was situated in the middle ground behind the performer with the English National Ballet performing on the main stage, while black and white content of the athletes’ moments of success at the Games played out on the big screen. “I believe that performances should take you somewhere different and out of the main set visually, because it strengthens the show and keeps it interesting,” Refsing remarked.

With the eyes of the nation upon them, it was important for the creative team to ensure the show design met the expectations and needs of stakeholders and key decision makers. This was achieved by the process of ‘visual contracts’. “First, we create vision boards, showing what the client is after and what it will look like,” Refsing explained. “Then, I start sketching a shape and choreography of possibilities for the way the set can be used.”

Once this is signed off, the practical work begins. The visual team draws the design in 3D CAD and 3D renders in the venue to decipher the reality of whether everything proposed is both physically possible and deliverable within the proposed timeline.

“We created three different scenes of various set ups during this project,” Refsing explained. “The renders are 3D, so not only are they extremely accurate and provide useful views of varied camera angles, but they are also a strong marketing tool. They show if we have things we need to change or and amend and we can deal with in preparation for show day.”

From render to reality – the Team GB Homecoming Event as pre-visualised by Rockart Design.

“This is where the close relationship with the Production Manager, Keely Myers really takes off and we go through various scenarios, how we are going to build the set, load in, turnaround times for the band changes, safety, ticket sales, budgets, etc. I get a kick out of bringing an imaginative, creative and organic design into reality no matter how challenging it is,” Refsing enthused.

“This was the first event I’d managed and produced post-pandemic, which added a layer of complexity to proceedings,” Myers said, explaining that having been unaware of the direction of the nation during the planning stages, there were times when the team were waiting for the UK government to announce an easing of restrictions – which would permit them to become one of the first, non-socially distanced indoor events open to the public.

As a member of the Tour Production Group (TPG), Myers has spent the past 18 months reviewing COVID-19 practices and best policies, so despite the ever changing goalposts associated with the pandemic, she was prepared for most eventualities. “I was grateful to have had some training during the lockdown period for how to approach and plan a production with COVID-19 practices at the very top of the agenda,” Myers stated.

By the time the production took place, the UK government announced that face masks were no longer compulsory. However, event organisers requested attendees to adorn them to stay as safe as possible. “We had considered how to ensure the safety of audiences, technical production crew and performers, liaising with The SSE Arena in line with the UK government guidelines,” Myers noted.

Reflecting upon the success of the event, Myers said the feeling of being back on site was an “emotional” and “surreal” experience. “For a lot of the technical departments involved, this was their first gig back in 18 months, so it took time for us to get over the anxiety of being surrounded by people and operating in a fast-paced, dynamic working environment again,” she commented. “In the build up to the event, I made it a priority to keep checking in with the crew, to make sure they were as comfortable as possible.”

It was during the pre-production period where Myers was able to implement and be aware of many areas that TPG had identified during lockdown discussions  – from lack of diversity to ill mental health and our carbon footprint – and put them into practice. “It’s definitely easier to talk about improving processes than to physically implement them. However, I strongly believe that doing something is better than doing nothing and that actions speak louder than words.”

Myers hopes what will happen is akin to the ‘butterfly effect’ – those involved in constructive discourse during the pandemic can go out into the field, share their learnings, inspire and make changes with those who operate in the sector but weren’t part of those conversations. “Hopefully, things will start to move at a more rapid pace regarding our areas of discussion over the past 18 months”.

Reflecting on her experience of the event, Myers concluded: “Overall, it was a joyous occasion, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and even though it was hard work at times, everyone pulled together to create a great spectacle.”

In closing, Refsing believes being around colleagues and friends in-person inspires a stream of creativity that cannot be achieved in the digital ether alone. “To be able to create something which gives meaning and joy to other people is a wonderful experience,” she said, sharing her desires for the future of the sector. “I hope if anything positive is to come from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we will all be nicer and look after each other in the future.”

Brit Row amplifies Rag’n’Bone Man at Team GB’s homecoming spectacular