Having previously worked as lighting crew on the festival back in the nineties, Production Manager John Harris returned to Henley in his current role in 2011, when he took over from the highly regarded Bob Caple, who production managed the festival since its inception in 1983.
PRG XL Video Account Director Peter Marshall works closely with John on a number of projects and was excited to be a part of the Henley Festival 2016: “It was really nice to be back after a ten-year absence, prior to which we worked very closely with Lighting Designers Michael Odam and Theo Cox to develop the Henley Festival to the size and stature it is today.”
John explained his vision: “From the outset we had a very definite idea of what we wanted to achieve with the festival lighting. Gerry Mott took on the role of Lighting Designer for the main stage, whilst I created very basic looks for all the other performance spaces. In order to keep the focus on entertainment rather than the technology, I used a simple look with an emphasis on not over-complicating the set-up for all venues except the main stage. The comedy stage was lit with just six Fresnel lights which were either on or off; there was a similarly simple lighting rig in Ronnie Scott’s tent, which had either house light or show light states.”
The main stage floats on the water just off the bank of the Thames and is visible from the seated area directly in front of the stage and the grandstand restaurant. John detailed how he and Gerry designed the space: “When it came to deciding which kit we used, we took a slightly unorthodox yet very sensible approach of sitting down with Pete – explaining what we wanted to achieve with the budget available and heeding his suggestions. Pete came up trumps and we had a very glamorous looking main stage which featured 26 Mac Viper AIR FXs, 12 Clay Paky Alpha Beam 700’s, 35 GLP Volkslicht, 10 Vari*lite VL1000 T/S and 10 SGM P5 LED wash lights.”
In addition to the comprehensive lighting package supplied by PRG XL Video, we also provided a small camera system and several screens around the festival site, relaying live footage from the main stage. “This year was the first time we’d used any video technology at Henley, and it proved to be a very positive experience.” John explained.
There are many factors which make Henley such an individual festival, John discussed some of the challenges faced by the team: “We only have three days to transform the site to the layout and specification of Henley Festival. I can’t overstate how much work has to be done and how hard everybody works. The Floating Stage and The Top are built from scratch, for which we bring in several trucks and cranes, we rearrange all the venues, bring in generators and reconfigure all the mains distribution.”
John continued: “The land on which the festival takes place is very precious ground -before we do anything onsite I take a detailed tour around the grounds and inspect every element, noting down any damage; we do another check after the festival and any damage is charged to us. We employ a team of professional groundsmen who take care of the grass for the duration of the festival, they are used to working on golf courses and cricket grounds and constantly rolling, trimming and aerating the turf.”
Peter Marshall concluded: “Around 80% of the work is done by John Harris and his team before arriving on site; there is an awful lot of planning and pre-production preparation that happens in advance, which enables John, Gerry, Mark, and their lighting crew to work within the limited timescale of having just three days to transform the site and only one day to install the kit on the floating stage once it’s built.”