The second largest meeting of Meeting Professionals International — yes, even they have meetings, too — convened in July at Denver's Colorado Convention Center for a three-day event that was attended by over 3,000 meeting planners from around the world. But how do you produce a show for an audience that has not only “seen it all” but “planned it all” as well? You pull out all the stops, and that's what Denver-based Richter Scale Productions did, in concert with Fusion Productions of Webster, NY.

MPI provided Fusion and Richter Scale with preliminary sketches of what they wanted, but according to Harold Richter, principal with Richter Scale, this event was the equivalent of “playing to the palace” since the attendees would be exceedingly well-versed in the various looks at such meetings.

“The look of the show was very much ‘Academy Awards meets South Beach’ style,” Richter explains. “However, it was definitely not on an Academy Awards budget.”

The entire hall was carpeted and draped from ceiling to floor to minimize the hollowness of the “big concrete room.” The event required over 900' of Tomcat Trussing, a Canvas Master system for seamless wide-screen effects, as well as a High End Systems' Catalyst™ system to “paint” the sets with live video and other effects.

Richter Scale's Chad McClymonds and freelance LD Joe Denham collaborated on the lighting design with Fusion's Jim Tausch and David Moore. Richter Scale provided the sound and lighting equipment, J&S Audio Visual provided video support, and CWP Productions provided the Catalyst system.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

Tausch was instrumental in setting the design tone, which was a textured, layered look rich with color. This was one reason he was insistent on the use of the Catalyst; in fact, the show was conceived, and the set, media, and presentations were really designed around the Catalyst.

“With most clients, form would follow function, but for Meeting Professionals International, every production must showcase some new technology,” Tausch says. “I had seen the Catalyst in action during the Broadway musical Wicked and knew that there had to be an application for it in business storytelling.”

Chief among the design challenges were budget constraints and “long distance learning” among much of the design team, but that is simply the nature of the meeting planning beast. Unlike theatre, concerts, television, theme parks, and so on, the way the event looks should not detract from the information being presented on stage. One of the differentiators between the meeting industry and the world of entertainment is that, in the client's mind, “production” is not the focus of the event, according to Tausch.

“Content is king, as they say, and they generally trust us to create a production that delivers their content and creates excitement without calling too much attention to itself, or more importantly, without costing a lot of money,” he explains. “Because of this, production budgets are only a small fraction of the total conference budget. Most of the creative planning is done long distance, and opportunities to get together face to face with the creative supply chain are limited.”

Each of the scenes was backed by what the team calls “curls,” stretched Lycra that provided the chief scenic element. These curls were integral to the show's look, and they should be washed in a kaleidoscope of color. Conventional fixtures — equipped with mostly Morpheus M Faders and dimming shutters — were the solution.

“Somewhere along the line, in an effort to exceed expectations and bring alive every nuance of a set that was basically designed to take light, Richter came up with a beautiful and elaborate lighting plot, which was great, but ultimately more than we needed,” Tausch says. “I should point out that they weren't doing this to make more money; they, like Fusion, were sponsors for the event, so we wouldn't have been paying for additional equipment. But projected labor costs, speed of setup, and other unknown variables started to snowball, and we had to make a last-minute decision to find a quicker and easier way to do things. Luckily, Richter Scale and all of its partners were up to the challenge, and in the end, we got what we needed without sacrificing quality.”

In other words, once the design was completed and finalized, it was decided to redo the entire lighting rig. The new rig had to be created and specified in 48 hours. Time for a Starbucks run!

THE PLOT THICKENS… AND THINS

Since Denham was not yet onsite, creating the new design fell to McClymonds. As the original design fell by the wayside and the static fixtures came off the plot, McClymonds — who programmed the rest of the sessions — went without sleep and worked at breakneck speed on a new design. McClymonds says the choice to use moving lights made the design process much faster. “It's always a lot easier and less time consuming when you're putting up a bunch of moving lights,” he says. “You really don't have problems once you get them up in the air and [using moving lights] cuts down on focus and programming time.”

Aiding McClymonds' design was the ability to move a lighting truss 15' downstage, but he was then concerned with having enough punch so far away without having to swap out all of the lekos and PARs that were in place. To remedy that, he turned to Martin MAC 2000 Performance fixtures.

“The Performances gave me the capabilities of a traditional leko,” he says. “I was still able to shutter everything, which is why we had so many lekos on the first plot. I was also able to shutter on each of the curls to eliminate the bleed all over the place.” He added that the meeting professionals at the MPI show had probably seen everything that PAR cans and lekos can do so the moving lights had the ability to impress.

To take advantage of the live orchestra in the room, MPI wanted live shots of the musicians shown on the set pieces. “We brought in a Catalyst for that and had two orbital heads on two 12,000 projectors, so we were able to take live video sources and layer them with multiple different effects via robotic cameras in the orchestra pit and then scrolling over the curls,” Richter explains. “A lot of the meeting planners hadn't seen that yet. We used two Martin Maxxyz consoles to control the show, one for basic lighting and the other for the Catalyst.”

For his part, Tausch believes that automated fixtures were needed from the outset, for flexibility if nothing else. “With a two and a half hour, awards-oriented general session, the set needs to change a lot over time to sustain interest and move the production along,” he explains. “Having the freedom the refocus ‘by wire’ rather than by lift is worth the expense. And then there is the wide range of subtle, dynamic effects that can be achieved with movers. In a theatrical setting, over the course of multiple performances of the same show, there is a lot to be said for conventional lighting. But when you have a couple of days at most to load, focus, perfect, and perform a show, they aren't very practical for much more than general wash.”

WEIGHT WATCHERS

But why change the design at all? Most of that was due to the venue itself: “It had extremely limited weight capacity on all of the rigging points with a maximum of 500 lbs. per point,” Richter says. “When you've got a one-ton chain motor with 60' of chain, it adds up. We had to go to half-ton motors.” All the motors used were Lodestar.

It was this weight limitation that proved to be the biggest design obstacle for the show. McClymonds first discovered the weight limitation when he arrived at the convention center for a site survey. When he realized that he could only put 500lbs. per point, that started to make his initial planning somewhat interesting. “At that point, I was talking half-ton motors, which are 100 lbs., but I could only have 400lbs. hanging below the motor,” he explains. “On top of that, I could only put two points per beam, and they had to be 40' apart. That made things challenging.”

To distribute the weight as evenly as possible, McClymonds moved the one-ton motors to the rig's perimeter and kept the half-ton motors within the plot. Moving the truss downstage 15' to a larger main beam also helped because there were no weight restrictions, and that was one means to overcome the venue's limitations. While there was a question about the points being over the weight limit, he was able to keep his rig intact with a variance from the house engineer since the roof had a snow load rating and winter was several months away.

“This was a very difficult room, in terms of size, sightlines, acoustics, and setup,” Tausch says. “It was designed to be an exhibition hall, and the first thing we had to do was create a ‘room within a room’ using drape and (very expensive) carpeting. Although the switch from conventional lighting to movers did give us a slightly smaller rig, there were other challenges such as a 40-piece live orchestra center stage that had to appear on camera at certain times during the show, and a very wide stage area with three ‘performance’ areas that needed to be individually controlled.”

The rig used a total of 20 1-ton motors and 38 half-ton motors. Originally, there were going to be only 16 points, but that number more than doubled to 38 points not including the audio points or the drape truss. McClymonds also had to juggle the fixtures around to accommodate the new spacing, but he was definitely happy with the way things turned out.

MPI, attendees, and Tausch were also extremely pleased with what was presented on stage at the Convention Center. “I have to say that we don't always have the pleasure of working with a supplier that is up to the demands and as excited about creative delivery as we are,” Tausch says of working with Richter Scale Productions. “Richter was up to the challenge, performed outstandingly under sometimes difficult conditions, and had the flexibility to roll with the punches.”

MPI Show Gear

Total Structures
78 10' Mini beams
2 5' Mini beams
Tomcat
10 PRT 1/2 Loaded
10 PRT Loaded
Morpheus
28 M Faders
ETC
6 Source Four® 10° ERS
16 Source Four 26° ERS
6 Source Four19° ERS
28 Source Four Leko Body
2 ERS Lampbars
12 Gobo Holder A
12 Gobo Holder B
4 Source Four Lamp Bars
72 Source Four PARs
280 Source Four Gel Frames
84 Barndoors (S4)
5 48 Sensor Racks
2 24 Sensor Racks
CM Lodestar
20 1 Ton Motors
38 1/2 Ton Motors
Doug Fleenor Design
4 Iso splitters
Applied Electronics
1 36 Dimmer Rack
16 150' socapex
21 100' socapex
Martin
22 MAC 550
20 MAC 600 NTE
20 MAC 2000 Performance
2 Maxxyz
1 Jands Hog 500
High End Systems
2 Catalyst (moving heads)
1 V3 Media Server
8 Studio Spot 575
8 Studio Color 575
2 DF-50 hazers
Staging Concepts
6 Decks