Showstak: Automating big looks, safely

Showstak’s Kosma Szostak reflects on demonstrating the creative capabilities of automation in front of 18,000 Queen fans at Prague’s O2 arena and the steps behind achieving ambitious looks for clients in a safe and controlled environment.

When a customer approaches you with a big idea, such as having a piano and Freddie Mercury impersonator fly above an audience of 18,000, you’d be forgiven for approaching the task with a certain degree of hesitation. However, not one to dismiss a challenge – having shared his desire to make the process deploying automation for live events as easy as lighting, audio and video by crafting products with flexibility and sustainability in mind [see TPi #263] – Kosma Szostak of Polish family stage automation outfit, Showstak, approached the task with vigour and vitality associated with seasoned professionals.

Tribute act Queenie’s frontman, Michael Kluch and his band took to the stage for a huge concert at Prague’s 18,000-capacity O2 arena in September 2021 for three nights. The big budget production took more than a year to plan and programme, with Show Designer, Martin Hruška devising an impressive display of automation, pyrotechnics and lighting. “We were so proud to open the arena again with such a huge show,” Szostak began, reflecting on the landmark project.

A total of 16 trucks were used to transport the show’s gear into the arena. Szostak’s biggest technical challenge was in programming complicated movements including the platform flying above the crowd and sliding on the rail and in the next movement the platform was tilting without an artist. 

“This meant we had many commands to play simultaneously, which were not easy to program in software and create cues,” he said, highlighting safety and SIL3 system compliance design as additional technical challenges. “Our team did a great job with both of those tasks,” Szostak said, having operated the automation console along with Simon ‘Captain’ Howdy, who was on hand as an assistant operator for safety. “As well as observing machinery, we had three spotters with e-stop buttons ready to stop the system if required, having done all the necessary civil engineer calculations for the movements and load forces beforehand,” Szostak noted, praising the entire workforce. 

Queenie CZ’s Queen Relived crew.

The duo harnessed Kinesys Vector Control, APEX 1250kg hoists and EXE 1000kg PRen17206 compliance to fly frontman, Michael Kluch above the audience. APEX 1250 hoists were used for the flying platform and 16 pieces of EXE 1000kg C1 hoists handled the pods behind, with the middle hoists designated to handle a flying podium for the performing artist.

“Our team followed Blumano Risk Assessment SIL3 method to underestimate risk and possible scenarios and choose the right technology and safety measures to secure the installation to be safe as well as prEN17206 entertainment technology – lifting and load-bearing equipment guidelines for stages and other production areas within the industry.”

Having demonstrated the creative capabilities of automation when it comes to immersing a live audience in a performance, Szostak said in closing that he believes the future relies on “a combination of automation devices providing complex movement in each direction for performing artists.”

This article originally appeared in issue #267 of TPi, which you can read here.