When planning an event, it is important to set out a strategic timeline. This will ensure that you leave yourself plenty of time to take care of important details and that you don't forget anything along the way. For more information on planning an event, take a look at out our sample production timeline.
If you are intending to book a musician, a band, a dance/theatre company or a spoken word artist and you are new to the world of stage production, it will be necessary to get acquainted with some of the key technical elements involved. Needless to say that in order to put on a successful show, it is imperative that your artist be seen and heard!
The following is a list of basic equipment, which you may need to rent and/or be familiar with operating. This is designed solely as a guide, intended to facilitate your handling of the technical aspects of production- the specifics of what is required, in each instance, will need to be clarified with the artist by way of a technical rider.
Unless you are presenting in a theatre with good acoustics (i.e. a space especially designed for live music or speech to carry) it is likely you will need some sort of amplification so that the sound can be heard at the back of the room. If you are unfamiliar with sound systems or if you are presenting a band, you may wish to hire an experienced audio technician for your event.
A basic audio set-up, also known as a P.A. system, consists of:
- Microphones (mics) - These come in a variety of types and qualities. A directional mic will capture a specific sound (e.g. a spoken word artist speaking directly into a mic) where as an omni-directional mic can be hung above a stage or attached to the edge to capture a more general sound (e.g. actors in a play). Be careful not to turn your microphone levels up too much or they may create feedback (howl). For directional mics you will likely need stands for each microphone.
- Mixing desk (also known as a mixing board or audio mixer) - This will be used to control the volume and dynamics of amplified audio. Mixing desks can have anywhere from two, to upward of twenty-four channels. The number of channels will determine the number of audio "ins" and "outs", i.e. how many different sound sources you can input and output. Unless you are mixing a live band with several different voices or instruments, a desk with four to eight channels should be sufficient.
- Amplifier (amp) - The mixing desk outputs to an amplifier, which will then output to a speaker system. Many mixing desks and speakers have built in amps.
- Speakers/Monitors - This is where the audio comes out. Depending on what kind of sound coverage you are looking for, and the size of room, you will need to decide whether one, two or four speakers will be necessary. In the case of amplified or electronic music with heavy bass, you will need to be aware that this will put extra strain on the bass bins and hence, whatever speakers you end up using should be designed to handle this type of sound so that it does not distort. Live bands and musical performers often require "monitors," these are speakers that are placed on the floor at the front of the stage facing the musicians. Monitors allow musicians to hear themselves better while they play.
- Cables - The different components of your PA system will need to be connected using various cables. Typcailly, XLR cables are used for microphones, 1/4" line cables are used for guitars and instruments, and 1/8" mini jack (line) are used for mp3 players and similar devices. Make sure you have all the necessary cables before your event.
If you are presenting a band, you may also require items such as:
- D.I. box - Allows you to plug guitars, keyboards and other high-impedence inputs directly into the mixing desk.
- Midi cables & instruments - M.I.D.I. stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and allows musicians to connect things like keyboards or digital audio effects together. Best to leave this to the musician.
If you are hosting a DJ:
- CDJs or other DJ mixer - special mixing consoles for DJs to mix between songs.
- Turntables - Got to love vinyl albums!
If you are producing a show in a venue which is designed for staging performances, it may already be equiped with a lighting grid (i.e. a series of metal pipes connected in a grid pattern above a stage, from which lighting instruments and other equipment can be hung or "rigged"). There are safety regulations in any given venue, according to industry standards, about how these lights can be adjusted- in which case, there is also generally a designated technician.
Otherwise, you will need to consider renting self-erecting stands to which you may attach lights and position to either side in front of the performance area. You can ask your local school, theatre, photographer or disco dj if they have any you could rent or borrow for your event. Party suppliers usually have lighting kits to rent. In some cases, even regular work lights (rentable from your local hardware supply store) may be sufficient.
- Lighting board (also known as the lighting desk, lighting control console or dimmer) - This is like an audio console for light! Each light will have its own channel and its level will be controllable, allowing you to create different "lighting states". If you have a simple lighting setup, a basic dimmer may be sufficient to allow you to fade lights on and off.
- Lights: PAR cans, Lekos, Fresnels - these are all types of stage lights which connect to the mixing desk / dimmer. Alternately, party/event equipment suppliers will often stock LED lights, which may have inbuilt colour-changing capacity, controllable via a console.
- Gels and Gobos- Coloured gels can be slotted into the front of these light to create different moods or "temperatures" (i.e. warm, cool, etc.) Gobos are essentially a sort of stencil that can also be inserted in front of a light source to produce textures/patterns of light and shadow.
Since it is such a specialized field, when video is an integral part of a show, the artist will usually provide (or advise on) the technical equipment required, oversee the set-up and run the projections him/herself. However, in the case of Powerpoint presentations being offered by artists in the context of a festival, conference or workshop, it will more likely be up to the presenter to rent and set up the equipment.
- Projection Screens- These can be for rear or front projection, depending on the needs of the show. In certain cases, a large sheet or some other material may be used to project upon, although, this would usually be provided by the artist(s). Best is to clarify in advance, how you intend to hang the screen if a structure is not being provided. Most commercial screen rentals come with a stand.
- Projectors- There are many different types of projectors available today. The decision of where the projector will be hung will determine the "throw distance" required (i.e. the distance from the projector to the screen), which will inform how many lumens (i.e. level of brightness) will be required. In most cases, 1500- 2500 lumens will suffice. Usually the projector is connected via cables (e.g. s-video, VGA or DVI) to a laptop or DVD player, which provides the media for the video projections. Its best to ensure that you have all the right connectors in advance. Apple Mac computers may require a specialized adapter.
Set/ Staging Elements
Cycs, Scrims & Drapes - These are used to dress a stage. Theatre drapes are typically black (or sometimes red) and can help create a neutral background or frame a stage to bring focus to a performance. Cycs (cycloramas) and scrims are hung at the back of a stage and used to shine lights or projections onto. When lit from the front, scrims appear as a solid piece of fabric. When lit from the rear they become semi transparent, creating a silhouette or hazy dream-like effect.
- Pipes - These are used for hanging all of the the above.
Make sure you are providing all that has been requested / negotiated between the artist and yourself as presenter, according to the technical rider. Depending on the complexity of the show you are producing, and your own technical experience, you should leave yourself several hours to set up the stage and equipment, the backdrops and decorations, the lighting system and the P.A. When this is finished and all the connections have been checked, invite your band or performers to test your set up with a sound check. Set your lights to make sure they illuminate the performers well. It is recommended that you finish all this work at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before your doors open to the public.
The Technical Rider or technical specifications (tech specs) is a document provided to the presenter by the artist or tour manager, which specifies the technical production requirements (e.g. playing area,
lighting equipment, audio mixers, cables, microphones, staging, etc.) for a given show. This should be provided before the contract is drawn up, so that both artist and presenter have a common understanding of the show requirements, as well as whose responsibility it is to provide what equipment and/or production crew. It is important that this information be up to date and show specific.
The technical rider will outline the staging, lighting, sound, projection and personnel requirements, along with other needs such as dressing rooms, water, etc. It may include basic set elements such as a table, chairs, etc. It should also outline company information such as the show's running time and any crew memebers and equipement that the company will be providing. Here is an example of a technical rider, from the Canada Arts Council Touring Handbook.
If there are special tech requirements (that necessitate specialized knowledge of operations) for a particular show, such as a follow spot, a gunshot, use of a fog machine, video projections, etc., these should be arranged in consultation with the artist(s) you have booked.
As a presenter, you are responsible for providing whatever technical elements have been agreed upon in the rider, as well as clarifying any technical needs that you are unsure of, in a timely manner, in the lead up to a show. If the show's technical needs outweigh your expertise, consider hiring a technician (or someone with a background in music/theatre production) to assist in renting the necessary equipment ahead of time and running the show on the day.
Best practices & guidelines from the Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology.