A toilet theme is highly appropriate for the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, chosen by incoming Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf as one of four charities to participate in the annual Lord Mayor's Show 2013.The Lord Mayor's Show is steeped in history and tradition: Its origins can be traced back to the 12th century, and the street parade has coloured London's streets every year for almost 500 years.I was invited by a group of London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony Volunteer Performers to join an unusual float, and with the brief to recruit and organise experienced drummers drawn from the Pandemonium Drummers: four drummers for Taiko drumming on the float itself, and about two more to lead two groups of walking drummers.
Instrument DesignPart of the brief was to assess the instrument design for suitability and highlight issues for improvements.Greeted by a Dalek at an office in Fitzrovia, the group of experienced drummers I organised met with the instrument designer to assess four prototypes of the "portaloos": standard tom-type drums fitted with a toilet seat and even a waste pipe connector for authenticity.These drums would of course not be played with a standard percussion mallet, no, the beater of choice was a toilet brush with an attached door stopper for a good attack.We experimented how best to carry, hold, and play the new instruments, which included attempts to bash the lid to vary the sound.While some of our suggestions such as a better harness for increased comfort were not within the budget, we provided many tips for the instrument designer, who left with the task to quickly produce many more of these fun instruments - they sounded brilliant!
RehearsalA few days before the show, we were driven to a remote and cold industrial warehouse somewhere in the northern fringes of London to teach all signed-up volunteer drummers, many of whom without any drumming experience, the Beating-Bowel-Cancer-rhythms, which were only finalised during the rehearsal, based on the observed skills - co-ordinating drumming and walking is much more difficult than it sounds.The rehearsal was also our first and only chance to try the Taiko drums and arrange our drum patterns on what turned out to be two giant, oversized, 3.5m high hanging loo rolls with embedded Taiko skins in the centre on either side, arranged on a full size trailer.I considered myself lucky to be one of the four loo roll drummers, and it turned out that it was lucky indeed.
Lord Mayor's Show Procession
The drumming itself went very well; the Taiko drums supported the walking drummers for large parts, and at key points we burst into a Taiko solo with the adequate visual action on the float.Unfortunately for me, my Taiko was at a rather uncomfortable height: standing upright, the vertical drum skin was hanging slightly below my breast bone, which made for an awkward arm positioning - during the solo parts, I therefore opted to kneel on one knee and drum with widely swinging arms over my shoulders.My kneeling allowed for excellent dynamic control and it looked visually highly engaging, but the position was also very exhausting to maintain for almost two hours of performance time.
But the pain in the arms was easily offset by the fun of drumming on a highly unusual instrument in the Lord Mayor's Show procession, and by the knowledge of making a resounding contribution to raising bowel cancer awareness!
Visit the Beating Bowel Cancer website
While having a different community choir each night might sound like a gimmick, it works in The Events by David Greig, as the choir is deeply integrated in the performance, taking on occasional tiny supporting roles and acting as a projection of less tangible aspects of the unfolding story.
Young Vic Open VoicesAs a member of Young Vic Open Voices, a choir of locals put together specially for three performances of the London run of The Events at the Young Vic, I volunteered for the odd solo line as a singer and for a few text lines as...someone who speaks: We were briefed to not act but behave normally when reading (not reciting!) the lines, a technique that brought home the real-world authenticity of the play quite well.The Young Vic appointed Rob Holt as our Musical Director, who within only ten weeks of rehearsals confidently managed to unite singers of various skill levels, including those who never really sang before, and on the performance nights we represented a typical community choir quite well - perhaps better than a regular choir, whose self-selecting membership often shows characteristics of a very similar demographic, as I witnessed on two other occasions when I saw The Events as a normal audience member.
Production CrewWhile composer John Browne was present in a very early workshop almost a year before our performance, the piano work on the actual run was shared between three pianists, and we were apparently the only choir to work with all three of them, exposing us to interesting differences in the interpretation of the music.
Director Ramin Gray, who also heads the show's production company ATC as Artistic Director, visited us at the run-through just before the final London show; normally directions, along with a surprising multitude of changes between performances, were relayed by Associate Director Polina Kalinina during the run-through just before each show, where both lead actors Neve McIntosh of Doctor Who fame (Madame Vastra) and Rudi Dharmalingam joined the familiarisation exercise for the choirs, as did Stage Manager Jess Banks, who somewhat unusually also had a small speaking role.
ConclusionAll in all, this was an interesting opportunity to observe and be involved in a full theatre and music production, especially as I was involved to some minor but useful degree from way before the dress rehearsal, which I also attended.
Please also see my piece on the rehearsal experience on the Young Vic Taking Part blog.
Note: The Events is nominated for Best New Play at the 2014 What's On Stage Awards - please vote!
London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony on the site of the former Olympic Basketball Stadium on 19th July 2013.
This was by far the biggest show ever for which I was responsible, filling the roles of Artistic Director, Choreographer, Producer, Music Editor and Stage Director.
Going LocalGo Local was a huge concert-style event hosted by Join In UK, the umbrella organisation for post London 2012 volunteering, and Team London, the Mayor of London's equivalent.
The Pandemonium Drummers were approached by Eleven 11 Events, the full-range producers of the event, who after short negotiations commissioned a Pandemonium Drummers appearance as the opening act of the main show.
This was the Pandemonium Drummers' first commission of this kind, with a proper budget for organising rehearsals and contributions to volunteer travel costs - but the Pandemonium Drummers had to do everything by themselves!
With my production experience, I was best placed to lead on this project.
PlanningBased on an initial informal discussion, I produced a 25-page documentation that included a suggested choreography, performance timeline, rehearsal plans and a technical specification.
The documentation formed the basis for a formal meeting with other members of the fast-growing project team, including the heads of the various functional areas, such as stage setup and sound, the latter managed by Britannia Row.
We also met the latest recruit, who was taking over as the overall director of the event: Kim Gavin, Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Closing Ceremonies.
In the run-up to the show, I created extensive briefing materials, including a video animation for drummers to clarify visual signalling, a video animation for all performers to relay the plan for the choreography, and a video animation plus score for the skilled drummers - the overall documentation amounted to over 40 pages of written material, 15 minutes of video animation and nine versions of the sound track.
Original performance plan
Rehearsal in Three Mills Green
On Three Mills Green, we recreated a 1:1 layout of the stage and rehearsed stage entries and exits as well as performance-related choreographies to confirm timings, use of space, and visual aesthetics, while the time was also used to reacquaint drummers with the groove for the track And I Will Kiss.
The day before the show, we were allowed onto the site of the real stage.
However, we concentrated on blocking to work out the changes to my planned choreography: These were necessary because it turned out that 2x 10 metres of sidewing space was blocked by giant LCD screens and therefore not usable, and the space on the stage itself was severely reduced by various furniture for following acts.
Effectively, the choreography had to be rewritten completely, which became my overnight job, to be done between leaving the compound at 10pm and returning at 8am the following day - Show Day.
ChoreographyThe original idea put forward by the event's producer was for a flash mob performance, starting with drumming in the audience and ending up on stage, but with a suggested performance time of just two and a half minutes, this was physically impossible.
I obviously was keen on giving the drummers as much stage time as possible, but it had to make sense in the overall event, and our seven-minute proposal might have become boring after a while, so after several negotiations we settled for a 5'33" segment plus applause and a 20 second walk off reprise.
Our segment was conceptualised as a show of small surprises:
- Five skilled drummers would kick off the performance with an advanced drumming pattern, leading into the start of the song And I Will Kiss with a big entrance of 100 drummers.
- Some time into the performance, 40 Working Men and Women would charge forward through a gap in the middle with a visual choreography, ending up in the two front rows, kneeling down for a break in the music.
- This is where three Brunels would enter the stage from the sides and the back, walking slowly to meet up in the middle, and joining the Working Men and Women in the second part of their moves.
- The Working Men and Women were originally supposed to leave the main stage and go to the side wings, but due to their unavailability, they moved to the very back of the stage, while the drummers charged forward, creating a very powerful image.
- Brunels would do a double-time choreography, culminating in the final beat with lots of arm movement.
- After taking applause, all performers had only 20-30 seconds to clear the stage for the next act.
The timeline below represents the show as it happened.
In addition to my work, the e11 events team edited video footage and operated a live camera synchronised to our performance, and displayed on almost a dozen giant screens.
Show DayShow Day started with an early morning rehearsal, unfortunately too early for the main PA, so again we could not replicate show conditions.The overnight changes to the choreography were trialled, and Kim Gavin was very helpful in optimising movements to achieve the biggest visual impact, however the changes also meant that not everybody would get a 'first row' experience as originally planned.All performers then had a long waiting time in anticipation of the show, partly filled with additional rehearsals; we shared our holding area with Spelbound and the Games Maker Choir.The heat meant that we tried to keep performers out of the direct sun as much as possible, because of the heavy Industrial Revolution costumes, although we could not prevent a 10-minute exposure just before entering the stage compound.The start of the main show, which we were opening, was delayed as the pre-show overran, so the performers spent almost half an hour lined up backstage, while the key performers and myself were professionally wired up with microphones and in-ear monitors.Then the performance began.
Photo by Vilma Laryea
The PerformanceDuring the performance, I was equipped with in-ear monitors and a microphone to give directions to the five skilled drummers, four drum captains and three Brunels; the drum captains would signal groove changes to the 100 drummers visually, and the 40 Working Men and Women were cued visually by their own director, who was positioned in the photographer pit in front of the stage.I effectively talked throughout the 5'33" performance based on a script that I wrote after the morning rehearsal, although several off-script corrections were required, as the drummers lost their timing twice, largely because the stage sound was massively louder than during the rehearsals, so most performers could hear neither themselves nor my in-ear instructions.Despite the very difficult situation, the performance went on, and my corrections proved effective, resulting in only a few seconds of obvious difficulties from the audience viewpoint.Unfortunately, the planned pyrotechnics and CO2 cannons did not fire at the end of our performance for unknown reasons, though the atmosphere was pumped up enough.The reaction of the 30,000-strong crowd was overwhelming, and the choreographic concept of little surprises worked exceptionally well, triggering multiple cheers throughout the performance.
Post PerformanceWhile the audience was easy to please as they were mainly recruited from former Games Makers, London 2012 Ceremony Volunteers, London Ambassadors and other London 2012 staff and volunteers with their family and friends, the intensity of the reaction was still surprising, covering the full range of emotions: Ecstatic applause, hysteric cries and tears of joy.The excitement was matched by the performers, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and by our fellow performers in our holding area, who gave us a fantastic reception when we exited the stage compound.A few days after the performance, Join In announced that we were the most popular act - a nice achievement, considering that we were the only amateur act of the main show.
Photoset by Vilma Laryea
A monumental opening ceremony at Wembley Stadium in front of 90k mostly German football fans in the stadium plus a 150m TV audience, directed by Hamish Jenkinson and Jonny Grant.
Pandemonium Drummers and other volunteer performers from the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, and as I could not make the first two rehearsals due to family commitments, I did not join the 300+ group of drummers, but a much smaller group of knights, with the benefit of being kitted out with a full body armour, including shield, helmet and a long and heavy sword.
ConceptThe idea for this opening ceremony was based on a dramatic chess game, played by two actual representatives of the opposing sides: Lars Ricken for Borussia Dortmund, and football legend Paul Breitner for FC Bayern München.The two representatives were shown moving figures on a chess board in a preproduced video, but then the game unfolded live on the grounds of Wembley Stadium.The various chess figures were represented in some form:
- The club reps were clearly the kings,
- Joey from the renowned National Theatre production War Horse was an impressive knight, perhaps in combination with a dozen archers either side,
- flag bearers acted as rooks,
- a mass of drummers in light rugged shirts as the pawns vastly outnumbered all other figures,
- two really tall gladiators were obviously the queens,
- and I was among the bishops: groups of armoured knights entering from all four corners of the field.
The BattleThe gladiators engaged in an impressive sword fight that ended in a fair tie with a handshake, and we bishops then formed a guard of honour along the centre line, crossing and opening our swords and axes while a camera whizzed through our tunnel.While we bishops retired to the field corners, the pawns battled it out and stormed against each other after an expectant moment of silence, fighting in a rhythmic and chaotic choreography.The club emblems were then rolled out, the club reps in full stately armour presented the trophy, the players walked out and the UEFA hymn was played, which represented the end of the opening ceremony.
RehearsalsSuch an ambitious performance with 400 performers requires adequate preparation, however, due to the Olympic experience of most volunteers, we were able to effectively nail the choreography in only four rehearsal sessions, plus two dress rehearsals at Wembley Stadium one and three days before the event.The first rehearsals were held at The Hive in Edgware on an almost full size astro turf pitch, with quite a bit of experimentation as well as costume fittings.The pawn drummers were happy to be reunited with Mike Dolbear, who was the lead drum co-ordinator for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony; Mike also designed the new instruments: proper riot shields played with a wooden baton.
For the dress rehearsals, our unglamourous holding area was outside the stadium at a former furniture store, which was just big enough to hold all performers and related equipment and costumes.
Coincidentally, the branding of two stores in this small commercial park matched the colour schemes of the two competing football clubs - red/white for FC Bayern München and yellow/black for Borussia Dortmund - and volunteers spontaneously incorporated a battle of the furniture stores into their recap exercises in the car park between those stores.
Stephen's StoryDuring rehearsals we were introduced to Stephen Sutton, a teenager with incurable cancer, who created a bucket list, one item being to drum in front of a large crowd.Several months later, Stephen's Story was all over the news, even attracting global attention, and not even a year after the UEFA Champions League Final Opening Ceremony, Stephen sadly passed away.Directly after the Opening Ceremony, Stephen was made the first honorary Pandemonium Drummer, and the drumming group shared further episodes of Stephen's Story, culminating in a performance at his funeral service in Lichfield.Stephen's relentlessly positive and inspiring attitude touched all fellow volunteer performers, and while his Opening Ceremony participation was threatened by acute problems caused by a tumour in his leg, he managed to perform on the day thanks to an effective dose of painkillers.The ceremony production company Films United created a short documentary, which was released by UEFA several months after the event.
PerformanceNone of the rehearsals were ever as good as the performance, so all stakeholders were happy with the result.My own part was relatively short, but still had five segments and involved a lot of relatively fast running plus some acting, and we were happy that we managed to keep the slow-motion sword fight element in the show, as it was in the danger of being cut due to timings.While not recognisable due to my face not being shown, I appear in the TV coverage several times as a dynamic knight with the sword held high.I opted to perform with an open helmet visor, otherwise my field of vision would have been dangerously restricted, and we had to move as quickly as possible.Interestingly the final featured two clubs from my native Germany, and although not a football fan, I was happy to be in the yellow/black Dortmund team - despite them losing the game.Watch the opening ceremony on the irresistable films website (towards the bottom)
Underworld's soundtrack to the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony was undoubtedly fantastic, and the track 'And I Will Kiss', which accompanied the Ceremony's Industrial Revolution segment, apparently was the biggest mixdown in music production history with about 1,000 tracks.
BackgroundI feel privileged to have been one of the 1,000 drummers playing along to the track as a volunteer performer, and indeed drumming in the recording, and you might know by now that this experience was so overwhelming for many volunteers that they keep being active.So when I organised the Open Mic Ceremony, which featured the musical skills of many other volunteer performers, I wanted to build on the London 2012 experience and decided to create a new version of 'And I Will Kiss' and run a spontaneous surprise jam around it.I gave my cover the title 'And Will I Kiss?' to clarify that this version would be a little different to the original.
IdeasThe original idea to the cover had two roots: While the Pandemonium Drummers were at a video shoot with Alistair Griffin and the Games Maker Choir, we had some time to kill and started to jam, and with a piano around, I spontaneously played And I Will Kiss and the drummers did their thing - a piano version was born.Then in early 2013, I discovered the music production abilities of the iPad in the form of the apps GarageBand and Geo Synthesizer, leading to the idea of a surprise jam at the Open Mic Ceremony based on a home-made playback.
ProductionAs the organisation for the Open Mic Ceremony pretty much tied up all my time, I only had a single day scheduled for producing a playback that we could jam to - me on the piano and the iPad, and other musicians on their instruments, even though they had no idea what would be coming, but that is the nature of a jam.While I do have access to more professional production equipment, the whole cover was created on an ageing MacBook with GarageBand plus an iPad within a single day.It was clear from the outset that I did not want to recreate the original track of 'And I Will Kiss' for a variety of reasons.This decision liberated me from the constraints of keeping too much to the original, and while the cover still takes many elements from the original, these elements are sometimes heavily tweaked, and occasionally just twisted a little bit.One example of a little twist is the brass section, which in the original plays 11 notes against 8, but GarageBand's grid did not easily allow the notes to be shifted to their real positions and required too much practice to play live, so I used a simple 6 over 4 pattern.There are many such examples that were obviously taken from the original, but changed either for creative reasons, or more often than not because I did not have the time to work on these elements properly.The two most obvious changes, apart from the much faster tempo, are related to the structure of the song: after the first break, there seems to be an 'empty' period without any harmonic change - this was used in the live performance to animate the audience to sing.And as we did not have any Olympic Rings, I cut the complete ending to arrive at a 9min version with a nice dramatic curve.
Have a listenThe recording below includes recreated piano and iPad parts, which were originally played live at the Open Mic Ceremony.
Live PerformanceThe live performance came as a complete surprise to the other musicians, as I did not tell them what song they would play - I just scribbled down a few chords and told them that they will recognise the song.We ultimately ended up with one bass, one electric guitar, a ukulele, congas, two singers, and three percussionists with spoons from their table - the Pandemonium Jammers!
Pecha-Kucha-style presentation in 2011, I got a bit adventurous and wanted to explore constrained presentation formats a little deeper.
Ignite is a another constrained format, although slightly shorter than Pecha Kucha: Each presentation must have 20 slides, and each slide auto-forwards after 15 seconds, resulting in a total presentation time of exactly five minutes.
London is fortunately hosting regular Ignite nights, and when a specific call for Olympics-related presentations was tweeted in September 2012, I handed in a bold proposal: To present an extremely condensed version of the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies.
The proposal was accepted in October, and the original idea suddenly seemed much less attractive when I realised that I had to deliver - but I did.
Olympic Ceremonies in 5 minutes - Tim Neumann at Ignite London 7 from chichard41 on Vimeo.
An Opportunity for PreparationThe shorter and more constrained presentations are, the harder they are to prepare: While I often run longer sessions without much preparation, I put quite a bit of effort into this one, and I heard from fellow presenters that they did the same - a raised stage and a potential audience of over 300 people can be a good motivator.But how do you condense two intricate four-hour events into five minutes?It was clear from the outset that this presentation was always going to be a story of our experience as volunteer performers, with perhaps a few anecdotes; but as there were so many, it was hard to decide what to leave out.However, the concept developed rather quickly, along with a wish to not do it alone - I wanted to have someone else on stage to occasionally divert attention away from me.I was fortunate enough to find courageous and enthusiastic volunteers in fellow drummers in Veronica Apolinario, Sarah O'Brien and Juan Ortiz who were happy to go along with the idea, but their involvement also meant that I had to work out a choreography.Initially, I was planning to use a few more props to simulate the chimneys and other items, but it turned out that some products cannot easily be sourced even in London (I now have a suggestion for a task in The Apprentice), so I ultimately skipped a few ideas.Getting the timing right is essential for any Ignite presentation, which is several degrees more difficult when other people are involved.I therefore invested quite a bit of time in developing a set of instructions, which are represented in the cue sheet below.
The organisers themselves were slightly surprised that there was quite a substantial backstage area at the venue 93 Feet East (now closed), and although the actual green rooms were locked, we had enough space in a cold, dirty hallway.
We could not rehearse on stage, so resorted to a few dry run-throughs to clarify the sequence and actions - this was the point when the detailed preparations turned out to be extremely useful.
Our position in the running order meant that we had to miss the first few presentations of the second of three sets, but the somewhat unexpected surprise of a few people appearing from behind the screen was worth it.
With only minor slip-ups, the presentation was well received overall - I tend to build some humour into the very early phases of my presentations to assess the responsiveness of the audience, and early laughs demonstrated that I had a very receptive, good-humoured crowd, which injected a boost of confidence to make the presentation thoroughly enjoyable.
An integral part of Ignite presentations are of course the slides: As our stage presence sometimes obscures the slides in the video, they are represented below for reference.
CreditsA big thank you to
Creating opportunities for others to shine is something I like doing. And during my time as a London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies Volunteer Performer I met many people who should shine at every possible opportunity, so I created one:
The first London Open Mic Ceremony.
The IdeaJust after the Olympic Ceremonies, I thought it would be great to hear what the creative people around me were doing outside of the Olympics.I had just finished my stint as a volunteer performer and was very aware that many of my fellow performers were indeed professional musicians, or ambitious amateurs.In October and November 2012, I chatted to a few key people to gauge their interest in performing at and/or organising an Open Mic night specially for London 2012 Volunteer Performers, and the feedback was positive in principle, depending on the date.In December 2012, I took the decision to organise an Open Mic night, provided I was able to find a suitable venue and to organise a PA system - the first step was taken.
Size and ScopeOne of the first decisions to make was the approximate size of the event: Multiple options were on the cards, from a small pub to a large hall.
I had offers from very exciting locations including atmospheric halls with a capacities from 500 to 1,000 people to a highly impressive industrial-looking event ship, however, those venues would have required a long planning phase, a proper business plan, and a dedicated team.
I was not willing to take that risk at this stage and decided to go for a smaller event at the end of February, and organise everything on an extremely small budget: None.
A few additional parameters quickly fell into place:
- The event should be non-ticketed and free.
- Instead, a collection should raise funds for a charity.
- Performers should have done something special in 2012, for example performed in the London 2012 Ceremonies.
Photo by Vilma Laryea
VenueDecember 2012 was spent researching music venues across London according to the following criteria:
The venue should
- be within TfL Zone 1;
- have a PA (at least powered speakers);
- not charge a hire fee on a Friday or Saturday night;
- have no or a very low minimum spend;
- accommodate at least 60 people;
- have a reasonable amount of seating space;
- serve food and drinks;
- be available on 23rd February 2013.
Finding a venue on a weekday or Sunday night was not a problem, whereas the options for a Friday or Saturday were severely limited - nevertheless, I came up with a long list of over 20 venues, narrowed done to a shortlist of about five, following a few visits.The final decision was taken just one month before the actual night: The William Blake near Old Street waived the hire charge for their back room, they agreed on a very reasonable deposit which would act as a bar tab, and the biggest plus was that the room capacity could be enhanced from 80 to 600 by removing the sliding back wall and relaying the sound.The venue also had a nice dancefloor/stage area and a projector with a large screen, which enabled another option: A live video screen.
EquipmentThe PA in the pub consisted of powered speakers, so I had to provide a mixing desk and microphones as a bare minimum.While I had a small mixing desk, a keyboard, and a few other items including a wireless microphone, I felt a huge relief when Paul and Jaynie from Secret Mission, performers for the night, offered to provide additional equipment and help.Paul and Jaynie ultimately turned up with an impressive array of equipment, which is usually used on much bigger stages, and without which the night would have been much less professional than it turned out to be.Paul and Jaynie also represented the charity we collected for: The National Association for People Abused in Childhood.As we had a big screen available, I thought it would be nice to relay a live camera of the performers, to enhance the experience for the guests sitting or standing at the back.While I had a camera, my own laptop was not fast enough to handle the video effects of CamTwist Studio, an open source software package for producing live video broadcasts, so I was lucky enough to lend a laptop from a colleague.While I had some ambitious plans for the video screen with impressive effects and a live twitterfeed, I ran out of preparation time, so we could not quite realise the potential - but the screen was a highly useful feature, which again contributed to the professional touch of the night and made a big difference.My friend Anna acted as camera and live video system operator for the whole night, and she only received a single 1.5 hour induction to the system on the previous day.
Design by Dan Spence
MarketingEarly on, after announcing the plan for an Open Mic night, the Pandemonium Drummers' house designer Dan offered his help in creating a logo, a flyer and other visual materials.I set up a blog and a Facebook event plus in the late stages also a Twitter account, which were effectively the only marketing channels.The blog was the main information hub with initial information published three weeks before the event, and then a daily countdown with further information about the performers five days in advance.The site received about 40-60 daily visits initially, ramping up to a rather constant daily count of 120 during the final five-day countdown period.Dan's logo was re-used during the night as a title slide on the video screen.
Performer SignupAfter an initial check of interest on Facebook, the performers were asked to sign up via a web form, which collected staging requirements and useful information for the MC - although only a third of all performers filled it in.I had prior contact with all performers primarily via email, and out of 17 acts who initially declared an interest, 13 acts performed on the night, resulting in almost exactly three hours of playing time with only minimal breaks for a change of setup.
Guest and Artist RelationAt some point before the event, I was approached with a helpful offer by fellow ceremony volunteers to take over the Front of House (FOH) management, which initially led to some misunderstanding: As a sound engineer, I naturally interpreted FOH as the central sound and light control place in the audience, but I learned quickly that it can also mean guest services at the venue entrance.We ultimately had an independent FOH team consisting of Caroline, Jan, Mary and Vicky, who were very visible thanks to the Olympic Closing Ceremony lightbulb bowler hat outfits - they did a brilliant job, which I only realised in full when I saw a proper merchandising desk at the entrance!While two people put themselves forward as Masters of Ceremony to share the load, we ended up with one person - Dan, who also designed the logo.Due to the unfortunate lack of a floor manager, Dan also took over this role and helped keeping performers informed, based on a draft running order that I produced the night before.
Photo by Vilma Laryea
EventThanks to the preparatory work, the Open Mic Ceremony itself went smoothly.The performances had a nice dramatic curve, with three singers plus playback at the beginning, then a gentle build-up with original songs, acoustic guitar and percussion to electric and electronic acts, followed by humour-filled re-edited lyrics including a singalong plus a jam session, and rounded off by a guitar/percussion duo, a piano/singer act and another humorous act.All acts performed to a really high standard and were well received by the audience, who left overwhelmingly positive comments such as "the best open mic night I've ever been to".
The Twitter hashtag #LOMiC was introduced, and tweets with this hashtag were occasionally inserted into the image of the live screen, greatly facilitated by the availability of free, albeit temperamental, Wifi at the venue.
The live video screen was, despite a lack of preparation, a highly useful element, and smooth transitions to title and Twitter screens during the short breaks gave the whole event a truly professional touch.
The screen was also used for two videos, the second being a lyric backdrop for a singalong session, and the first being a specially cut and animated countdown sequence trailer that kicked off the night in a spectacular fashion; it was similar to the video sequence I prepared for the Games Maker Reunion.In summary, the following positions were needed to help make the night a success:
- Executive Producer: myself
- Venue: sourcing by myself, great service by the William Blake pub team
- Equipment: myself, Paul & Jaynie
- Sound engineering: Paul, myself
- Live video unit: Anna, myself
- Floor management: vacant - spontaneously filled by Dan & myself
- MC: Dan
- Front of House: Caroline, Jan, Mary, Vicky
- Performers: Thelma, Danielle, Sarah, Gary, myself & Ute, Paul, Tony, Paul & Jaynie, Neil, Jules & Remi, Claudia, Denis
While a lot of effort went into the preparation and I was extremely busy on the night itself, I am hugely thankful for the support of everybody involved, including the almost 100 guests, who raised about £240 for the charity!
A group of about 100 volunteer ceremony performers are currently rehearsing a new song, which is due to be released in support of the charity SportsAid.
Based on lyrics from Phil and music from Mark Champion, both fellow ceremonies volunteers, the Vision group is made up of singers, dancers, Pandemonium Drummers and other instrumentalists: three guitars, one bass guitar, piano, two flutes, clarinet and cello.
I wrote the arrangement for the flutes, clarinet and cello and am helping out with directing the instrumentalists in close collaboration with the composer, the drum captain and the choirmaster.
The challenge in this production was to create an arrangement that supports the vocal lines, both solo and the choir, and that provides enough space for each instrument to feature prominently enough without dominating, all while contributing to the overall character of the song.
For the orchestral instruments, this was achieved by combining minimalist elements with jazz-type voicings, and by filling gaps left by the choir with an occasionally bold harmonic structure.
The orchestral ensemble therefore creates a romantic, slightly melancholic atmosphere to underline corresponding passages in the lyrics, and together with the r'n'b-esque choral arrangement, melodic guitar lines plus a driving drumbeat, the overall song harnesses emotion and power to convey gratitude with positive and optimistic thrust.
More information to follow.
As the largest group of volunteers by a considerable margin, the Games Makers formed a community of their own, and they were reuniting for their 1st anniversary on 2nd February 2013 at the Hilton London Metropole.
A few tickets were allocated for purchase by the Pandemonium Drummers, the volunteer performers from the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, and of course the drummers were expected to perform.
I took on the organisation of this event on the Pandemonium Drummers side and designed the choreography, which included editing the video of the Pandemonium segment of the Opening Ceremony.
Towards a Choreography
At a site visit two weeks before the performance, I saw the potential for an engaging performance by taking advantage of the size and shape of the Balmoral Suite at the Hilton London Metropole, which has an impressive podium with two ten-step stairs into the audience.
Instead of doing a static performance on the stairs as originally envisaged, I designed a choreography that would see the drummers
The second scene would see the drummers lined up to support a countdown with a driving beat and lead the audience into the main dining room next door, where the drummers would drum along to a song until all guests entered the room; upon my suggestion, David Bowie's Heroes was chosen in reference to the Team GB entrance at the Athlete's Parade at the Olympic and Paralympic Opening Ceremonies.
- start on the podium,
- populate the stairs,
- roam around the audience with four drummers remaining on the podium on strategic positions,
- return to the podium, and
- go back into the audience for a second scene.
A major challenge in all mass drumming events is the cueing of the drummers:
I therefore decided to embed the cues into the video, which would be projected to the opposite wall of the podium, which was the main performance space.After editing, the video contained a constant visual click in the top corners and textual cues in the top centre of the video.
- At the London 2012 Ceremonies, every drummer was cued via in-ear monitors, but zero budget productions like this one do not have this option available.
- Memorising the structure is difficult for a volunteer amateur cast, and moving drummers are exposed to an acoustically difficult situation, as the room position can change the sound dramatically, making it hard to hear the rhythm of the music, especially when drumming at the same time.
- The quality of the sound system is crucial, and in this particular case, it was extremely hard to hear any detail of the music even when not drumming.
The visual cues were very effective at the performance, and went largely unnoticed by the audience, despite being rather prominent.The mass movement itself was very well received, in particular the two sequences when the drummers entered the audience area and marched through the crowd.Detailed notes briefed the drummers about a week in advance, and despite only a single 45-minute rehearsal just before the show with an opportunity for minor tweaks, all 19 drummers followed the plan and delivered a quality show to an enthusiastic audience.Have a look at the drummers' briefing below!