On August 11, as part of PLASA’s first UK-wide #WeMakeEvents campaign, the live events and production community in Manchester organised a silent and socially distanced flight case march across the city which culminated in a dramatic red flare exhibit.
Over 1,000 freelancers and supply companies attended the regional protest which collectively asked the Government to extend its furlough scheme – due to end in October – and allow access to grants in order to help save an estimated 114,000 jobs.
The protest became the world’s first time-sensitive event with its crew implementing the Tour Production Group (TPG) COVID-19 Working Guidance.
Acknowledging that tour-specific guidelines will become the norm in order for live production professionals to work and interact safely, the working guidance outlines how crews can better align through consistency and consultation to assist risk management relating to COVID-19 transmission.
Production Manager, Nick Gosling, who works with Nile Rodgers & Chic is part of TPG’s committee and helped manage the event from his home in New Jersey. On the ground in Manchester was Production Manager Nick Robinson, together with Ben Dawson as Crew Chief and Flight Case Manager, and Event Trucking Services’ Alex Webster as Transport Coordinator. The core team were joined on the day by Tom Sheals-Barrett as Comms and Co-Production Manager.
Clearly proud of what this regional team achieved, Robinson says: “We brought in Go For Show mobile production offices which were used by the production, media and creative management teams as on-site communication and planning hubs. dbnAudile and Tube supplied flight cases with STS Touring Productions on standby for backup. Tube also sent a support vehicle in the event of any flight case breakages and for every 40 cases, supervisors with comms were on hand.”
MLS provided barriers and pop up tents and Tour Supply deployed consumables. With rife community spirit, the production team created a well-planned strategy and smoothly executed delivery between the local companies with COVID-19 safety always at the forefront.
Gosling commented: “We used the guidance to determine how many cases could safely be put into each truck and then unloaded while undertaking the correct social distancing measures. In addition, the team also adhered to flight case cleaning protocols and implemented the correct PPE while on site at Manchester Academy.”
Pre pandemic, the venue was filled by nightly gig goers but on the day marked the march starting point. “Cleaning the flight cases involved ‘loading in’ to Manchester Academy a day early to complete the hygiene tasks and flat packing of the the trucks so that each vehicle could be unloaded by a single crew member at a time.”
In total, 150 flight cases were pushed 1.2 miles. Dawson furthered: “It was key that we kept contact with the cases to a minimum while making the situation workable. To achieve this, drivers tipped the truck and I worked the ramp to ensure that social distancing was consistent during offloading. From here, they were safely moved and then collected by a crew member. Face masks and gloves were used throughout this process to try and prevent cross contamination where possible. “
Inside the venue, cases were sprayed liberally with disinfectant and organised in numerical order to streamline the registration process for contact track and tracing, then fed to the collection point in numerical order. There were also contingency plans against any case accidentally being handled by more than one person.
Logistics pro Alex Webster noted: “The organisation we managed to achieve in just 10 days is testament to our professionalism, expertise and experience. It ran flawlessly because we all have a fantastic working relationship – it’s no secret that some extremely talented people in the industry are based in and around the North West.”
Tom Sheals-Barrett agreed: “What we’re used to doing day in / day out at work is uniting for a common goal, and that felt even more poignant following these months of separation. It was life-affirming to see everyone again. Morale was really high on the day and I personally think it’s been the most honest statement made by our industry to date.”
The march had a ‘no mask, no march’ policy and lasted 90 minutes before the SFX flare finale. Gosling reflected: “Whilst this was a protest and not a live event as such, we take pride in organising teams and implementing protocols to a very high standard. Working under the Tour Production Group’s suggested conditions was no different.”
Rock and disco music innovator and co-founder of Chic, Nile Rogers, was watching the protests from the US. He said: “It was wonderful to witness such a display of solidarity from right across the UK live events community, and all the more captivating for me knowing that my own production manager was helping to enlist the new Tour Production Group COVID-19 Working Guidance. When we are able to return to work, I’ll feel assured that my own crew will be working to the best safety standards.”
Dawson concludes: “It was interesting to see our own implementation of the guidance in action, to experience how it could affect working practices and the impact that could have in a ‘real’ environment. Assuming the same allowances can be made for time and trucking space, and the availability of appropriate disinfectants, PPE and policing of standards, this guidance could be workable in a show environment.”