While lighting, audio and video are often the headline-grabbers at technologically advanced spectacles, away from the visible screens, nuts and bolts of live touring infrastructure, there is sometimes an equally impressive orchestration being held in the rafters – electric motors, hydraulics and pneumatics designed to move kit around seamlessly in a measured yet symphonic manner. Although this type of work often goes unnoticed by the average concertgoer for all the right reasons, the automation market has flourished over the past decade despite remaining somewhat of an enigma. Hoping to turn the tide and make the process of booking automation as simple as booking lighting, audio and video for a live event is Polish outfit, Showstak Automation.
Founded by namesakes, Kosma and Andrzej Szostak, the aptly titled Showstak company was born from the brothers’ expertise and passion for providing simple and sustainable automation for music festivals, concert touring, circuses, television productions, motor shows, corporate events, brand activation and product launches. Having both earned their stripes working at one of the largest staging companies in Poland – providing stages for the likes of Live Nation and a series of high-profile concert touring projects – the siblings decided to embark on a process which many would shy away from amid a global pandemic – launching a start-up.
Backed by European Union funds, having applied for a start-up grant from the Polish government to launch the operation during these unprecedented times, Showstak has spent the past 18 months in hibernation until very recently, implementing and designing prototypes and new products set to send shockwaves through the automation market. “We design, construct, automate and integrate stage automation unlike any other company on the market,” Kosma began. “This year, we plan on releasing two motion products. This will be followed by a further three the following year with the full range of products in time for a busy 2022 season with an arsenal of new products and the demand for automation.”
At the time of writing, Showstak currently employs five full-time members of staff – Founders, Andrzej, Kosma and his wife, Anna Szostak along with Engineers, Łukasz Oniszk and Wiola Barcewicz.
“It’s a family business,” Kosma explained. “I work with my brother while my wife handles the finances, as well as two engineers – an electronic and a mechanical engineer, as well as a Kinesys operator. We are skilled operators so we can programme, spec and operate all facets of the company.”
Like most operators in the sector, Showstak dips into a pool of freelancers for larger projects, sourcing local technicians, riggers, and event operators across the States, Europe and Asia.
“We have an experienced team with contacts and knowledge to operate in all terrains and project sizes,” Kosma remarked, speaking to TPi while mid-build at Modlin Fortress: Boris Brejcha, a Polish outdoor festival production for 10,000 people, having recently completed a Polish TV festival with a heavy deployment automation.
“Around 70% of our income prior to the COVID-19 pandemic came from foreign countries, 40% of which was the United States alone. Nowadays, 70% are Polish productions and most of them are studio based,” Kosma stated. “Poland, in comparison to other markets, is open for large-scale outdoor events. The only trouble is our clients are wrangling with a limited budget and automation is usually the first thing on the chopping block. However, we are extremely grateful to still be operating during this difficult time and we are slowly receiving more multinational quotes and service requests, which we hope we can fulfil.”
As one of very few automation specialists in the country, Showstak stocks a range of Kinesys gear and flying effects, making it one of few companies in central Europe to do so. “We believe that there are only a handful of European companies that specialise in automation for live events at a large scale, so there is still progress to be made to make it as ubiquitous as booking lighting, audio and video.”
With a black book of global clients under its belt and vast experience in project management, as well as being able to handle the day-to-day operational side of the business, Andrzej is also a qualified lawyer. “His combined knowledge with that of my wife’s financial skills having graduated from economics school with a professional history in banking allows us to run the company more efficiently, from a financial point of view,” Kosma pointed out.
In addition to several off-the-shelf products such as Kinesys equipment that clientele are able to sub-hire or rent, Showstak stocks a series of in-house offerings. “We stock high-value equipment as well as designing and creating products which can have an impact on show design and special effects of live events,” Kosma said. “We are focused on creating four or five new lightweight, modular and easy-to-install bespoke products, which can combine to provide movement of humans or objects in a stage area with a lot of flexibility when it comes to operation and movement on the stage.”
Key to its success, Showstak creates products with flexibility and sustainability in-mind; each bespoke product is designed for multiple usage and are multipurpose by design. “We recently specified a fly rail system to split LED screens in a small hotel to move them horizontally, but we can also reuse the same, lightweight product by shipping it on a plane to USA to get involved in a tour with a performing artist,” Kosma said, underlining the company’s ethos of designing products for multiple scenarios and options.
“We evaluate the cost-effective nature of our products in R&D, while also providing a ‘wow’ factor and being reliable and durable on the road.”
Away from the flatpack vans, heavy steel structures and black overalls, Showstak are looking to expand their reach into the fixed installation market, providing a range of services to theatres, arenas, and museums, among others. “COVID-19 has forced us to examine various sectors for the business. In particular, we’ve worked on several television broadcast programmes such as The Voice Kids, Dance Dance Dance and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, among other Polish TV series, which have provided us 15% of income to save the company and survive the hard moments amid the lockdown.”
Acknowledging the size of its competitors which boast significant corporation backing and big name artist collaborators, Showstak eschews convention by striving to make automation a friendlier and easy to source undertaking for bookers. “We are not creating rocket science devices,” he said, modestly. “We want to keep it as simple as possible to book automation, similar to how you book audio, lighting or video, by providing prime solutions for totally integrated stage automation for clients of all abilities at an affordable price point.”
This article originally appeared in issue #263 of TPi, which you can read here.