Hedwig de Meyer, president of Stageco, comments on his company’s role in the building of The Claw.
Live Design: What was Stageco's involvement with the building of The Claw for the U2 360° tour?
Hedwig de Meyer: We were involved at the earliest stages of planning and conception. The design evolved from early sketches as we developed the engineering concepts and CAD drawings in close partnership with Mark Fisher’s team at Stufish. U2 and Mark needed to know that their vision could be realized and that the considerable engineering and logistical challenges could be overcome. Stageco had the experience and expertise to understand what was required in taking a structure of this size on the road and, after a good deal of research and initial design, we were able to tell them that, yes, it could be done.
LD: What were the particular challenges in building something this big that had to come apart and tour? Is this the most challenging stage set that Stageco has ever built and toured?
HDM: We have created many bespoke stages over the years and each one has its own unique challenges. There were several key challenges involved in building the 360° stage, all related to the sheer scale of the structure.
First, every piece had to be manufactured from scratch. None of it was available from stock (except for the lifting portals, which were standard Stageco material). It is more than a stage; it is a temporary building incorporating the octagon, the legs, and the base, all manufactured from scratch. The individual elements of the legs for instance weigh between 1.5 and 3 tons, with the total construction about 250 tons.
The weight of the stage and the added weight of this huge production required a process of careful calculation. We designed and built prototypes, did stress tests for components and, after the whole structure was manufactured, we carried out a complete test build with added weights to simulate the PA, lights, and video.
Secondly, we had to make the system both fast and safe. With regard to speed, we have achieved and incredible five-day load-in, two-day load out. To ensure safety, we used computerized, hydraulic lifts, and the lifting is done gradually in order to minimize height works: partial lifting is done, one or two-leg elements are put in place, again partial lifting is done, leg elements are put in place, and so on. This process takes five to six hours (very fast again). With regard to transport, we were attentive that all the huge bespoke sections could be loaded onto trucks and eventually in containers to be shipped to the US for example.
The most exciting challenge for us, however, was lifting the central section of the stage, or “octagon.” We realized at an early stage that we would not be able to use standard cranes for various reasons: a) safety—we would not be able to control the speed of the “lift” adequately and that, for a structure of this size, even the slightest tilt could create an imbalance; b) they were too large to get into some of the stadia U2 wanted to play. As a result, we devised a unique lifting system using our standard stage towers. We position a pair of these “portal towers” either side of each of the four legs, which lifts the octagon millimeter by millimeter. To synchronize the lift with the necessary accuracy, we worked with the Spanish hydraulics experts Enerpac, to develop software, which would ensure that all four portals lifted the structure at exactly the same speed.
LD: How did the set get from Mark Fisher's initial concept drawings to finished engineering drawings?
HDM: As I mentioned above, there was a lot of cooperation between our two companies. We have an in-house CAD team, so as the design evolved and precise engineering calculations were produced, we agreed on occasional slight modifications to the size of the pieces and angles, but really we worked out ways of achieving their design. Jeremy Lloyds from Stufish brought together the design and engineering calculations. Bert Kustermans was responsible for getting the stage from the drawing board through the manufacture process of all components, while Dirk De Decker managed Stageco’s touring logistics
LD: How do you train the crews to work on big projects like this?
HDM: The crews are fully trained and experienced stage engineers. They are well structured, with an experienced project leader in the form of Dirk De Decker who leads a team of staging professionals. We have three steel crews for the U2 360° tour—one for each stage system—
and each team carried out a test build of its own system so everyone understood the build and de-rig schedule and their role as part of the team
LD: Other than the sheer size, what is it that makes this set so spectacular?
HDM: The design, the 360° concept, the new technologies, and also the size of the organization. With three completely identical stages leapfrogging all over the world, 38 trucks of Stageco steel per set, and 25 Stageco crew, production involves over 250 people; and the scope of the vision of the whole team—from Stufish to Willie Williams and Jake Berry.
Stageco loves to be part of a team that takes a challenge and creates something that has never been seen or done before. The sheer scale of the engineering on this project goes way beyond anything previously seen in a touring stage. This gives the set, video, and lighting designers a great deal of artistic scope. Plus the scale of this project forced us to think alternatively, which ended up using a lot of new state of the art technologies: look at the computerized, hydraulic lifting, the stage design and scale, the video screen, and so on. We are part of a collective project whose passion is to amaze audiences on every creative level.