Having joined forces with Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day and DJ Gok Wan’s kitchen disco raves, Isolation Nation, Glitterbox’s production team brought the curtain down on BBC One Comic Relief’s main televised event at Royal Albert Hall on 19 March with a ‘Red Nose Rave’ – lit by Kris Goodman and with production design by Sam Tozer of Vision Factory, featuring sets from DJ Gok Wan, Melvo Baptiste, and The Shapeshifters, among others.
Production Manager, Mattie Evans of Nocturnal Tour Management (NTRP), oversaw the technical delivery of the production. His suppliers of choice included audio vendor, Patchwork London; Christie Lites UK; kabuki vendor, ER Productions; Videographers, Gurbs Dosanjh and Grant Walker; Photographer, Sam Neal; Set Designer, Johnathan Mann in addition to the Royal Albert Hall crew. As the disco ball stopped spinning on the unique fundraising event, the PM checked in with TPi to reflect on his experience wrangling with challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How were you brought into the production picture?
“Defected Records Director of Talent & Events, George Pritchard appointed us [Nocturnal Tour Management] to run all live-production streams, including We Dance as One. This naturally progressed to us running Glitterbox’s virtual shows and this particularly special one with DJ Gok Wan for Comic Relief combined with the release of Glitterbox’s documentary, Where Love Lives. The priority in the discussion has always been to make each one bigger and better than before and they know we are always up for the challenge.”
What was your role on the project?
“NTRP’s role was to oversee all of the production. As Production Manager, I was tasked with appointing all of the technical suppliers and crew including designers, lighting, sound, set, equipment and backline and managing the production build. This, as well as our other specialty – logistics, including planning and implementing the day sheets and ensuring a smooth run across all areas of the production. That’s a day in the life of NTRP, but this time and going forward there was the added COVID-19 secure implementation entailing test resourcing, running the testing and increased health and safety protocols.”
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How important was it to offer work during this difficult time for the sector?
“The whole industry has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and we feel it’s so important to support each other to come out of this. It’s the only way to ensure the future success of the industry. We have been trying to find as many avenues to employ suppliers over the pandemic as possible and have been involved with socially distanced festivals, drive-in cinemas, virtual and production livestreams. We’ve done everything we can to try to adapt our skill set and use our existing knowledge to keep creating events in this very unusual time.”
What COVID-19 health and safety protocols were implemented on site?
“There was a 14-page COVID-19 risk-assessment form I needed to complete in order to go ahead with the production, so I can’t say we were anything but thorough. The artists, team and some of the crew obtained lateral flow or PCR tests within 72 hours upon arrival and had to complete a form ahead of arrival. On arrival, there were additional temperature checks, NHS track & trace check-in and Royal Albert Hall check-in. For those who had not been tested prior, for example some of the crew and the dancers, we had rapid lateral flow testing on site and no member was allowed out of this area until they received a negative result. Masks were mandatory and worn at all times, with the only exception when the artists and performers were on stage.
“The artists and dancers had their own dressing rooms and the Royal Albert Hall provided all of the crew members an auditorium box, which acted as their ‘personal welfare room’ to safely remove their mask, eat and drink. There are social distancing and one-way systems throughout the venue which members of our team enforced throughout production. We had antiviral fogger and UV nano-spray guns to thoroughly clean the trucks and all of the equipment coming into the venue ahead of use and, as you’d expect, the Royal Albert Hall had sanitiser points throughout the venue.”
Did you bring in external specialists to handle this undertaking?
“Our team confidently enforced the COVID-19 secure measures, alongside the Royal Albert Hall team, but we brought in an external supplier for the COVID-19 testing. This company, aptly named 15minutecovidtest, provided the rapid lateral flow testing equipment and trained members of our team to run the testing effectively and safely. As with any extra challenge for us, going forward these extra requirements will become second nature, but we won’t miss it when the day comes that we don’t have to!”
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How did COVID-19 effect the production workflow and timeline?
“We allowed extra time in the day sheets to account for the extensive protocols. Load-in required extra time to allow for the cleaning of equipment on arrival, fortunately the anti-viral fogging machines do the work very quickly and efficiently so no extra manual labour was needed for this. Otherwise, for load-in and load-out the main challenge is maintaining social distance when carrying heavy equipment, but that’s why the mask wearing is mandatory.
“The area that was slowed down the most by the H&S procedures was the rapid testing. The 15-minute test time is fast, but when you’re required to test 30 people, maintain social distancing and with only a small number of COVID-19 testers, plus the need to be ready for set within an hour, then time is really not on your side. Fortunately, the team managed to pull through and everyone at the venue collaborated, as we both had the same common enemy to overcome and the same goal to achieve.”
What was it like to be back on site, curating live entertainment?
“It’s still a strange feeling, but we have done enough livestreams now to know what to expect. Having no audience really allows us to be creative with the production and the placing of fixtures and sets, where normally an audience would be present. Truthfully, nothing replaces that feeling of a live audience in a venue and I cannot wait for that first moment back with one. I cannot compliment the team at RAH enough. Their COVID-19 secure measures and advance management was second to none. The team and I couldn’t have felt safer and more at ease while at the venue. It’s a prestigious theatre to have the opportunity to play in normal circumstances, so during a pandemic makes it even more special as you can’t possibly take it for granted.”
What challenges did you and the team face and how did you overcome them?
“COVID-19 was obviously a huge obstacle for the production build, during the show and the load-out. I’d say this was the main challenge as we have enough experience and expertise doing production to overcome most issues that can arise. The team were just so excited to be building the production and managing the logistics of a show, especially in such an iconic venue, that they eagerly and confidently took on all of these extra procedures and ensured it all ran as smoothly as possible.”
Could you sum up your experience of this project?
“It proved to be both a successful show and an invaluable experience for us. As a logistics and production company, we aren’t truly satisfied without a significant challenge and considering Defected (Glitterbox) and Red Nose Day’s vision for it combined with the extra COVID-19 security required, it definitely proved to be. We really had to use our existing knowledge and experience of shows to help us manage expectations on the ground.
“There was one particular aspect of the production that really enhanced the experience. We were able to utilise the theatre to its maximum potential by having three performance or stage areas in the space. The main stage, where we built the amazing three-storey ‘house’ where the performers could individually dance in each window, and then having an A and B stage to build other awesome set design and visual experiences for the viewers. I suppose this goes back to the point that by not having a live audience, you can take full advantage and really work with the angles of the space. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the final set we helped build and bring to life.”
How do you see the next few months panning out?
“We are involved with some upcoming large-scale streams, which as you can imagine, have to be on the down low for now. We are also preparing for a busy fourth quarter with the hopeful return to festivals and clubs after 21 June 2021 – we can’t stress enough how much we hope for the success of the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown and how ready we are!”