Specifying a stage, writes Jane Russen of Star Events Ltd, requires careful consideration but it is nothing a good supplier can’t handle.
Anywhere you want to bring together a number of people and focus their attention in one place will require some sort of structure on which to provide entertainment or announcements. Your stage and sound choices are just as critical whether you’re holding live music in a field for crowds of thousands or a more intimate affair with audiences of a few hundred. Of importance too are the logistical and legal requirements for erecting and overseeing a stage when on site.
There are a number of stage designs available to hire but not all are suitable for all types of shows. Mobile stages – portable versions of a permanent structure – are available in various shapes and sizes, the choice of which may be dictated by the level of production that acts require. The quick install process of a mobile stage is perfect for time conscious venues and tight budgets as overnight, on-site security won’t be required for as long. Providing you can get a truck onto your site, a mobile stage will always be the quickest, easiest and most cost effective solution.
Smaller events might get away with a road show unit – usually a converted bus or truck – which incorporates stage, sound and lights all in one but these are rarely suitable for a band of any size. Also, with recent changes to the legal requirements event organiser’s face, a stage that is simply driven to site then left for the event organiser to oversee can lead to trouble. Since April 2015, event organisers need to make provision for compulsory adherence to Construction Design Management (CDM) regulations, enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This requires an experienced person to remain with the stage at all times.
A mobile stage may still be suitable for sites with restricted access. We have a range of stages featuring independent rear steering which can access a site where a standard artic trailer may not be able. We also have a stage with a built-in 360° turntable, meaning it can be positioned in very difficult to access locations such as across a road: this is unique to Star Events. If you can’t get a truck onto the site then you’ll need to consider how else you can deliver equipment. This may have to be unloaded outside the area and either transferred to a smaller vehicle or man-handled. Of course, this affects price and build time quite considerably so may be cost prohibitive. A site visit with all your main contractors is essential to ensure there are no nasty surprises on the day.
Prices vary for stages and are dictated by their construction and size. A mobile stage is priced on the number of days it is on site: the longer you have it, the more it will cost. However, a mobile stage’s advantage is that it is likely to be on site for less time, keeping security costs to a minimum. A 10 x 8m mobile stage will cost from £3,000 for one day’s hire with a minimal cost for each day thereafter.
Determining stage size
Some artists will specify the size of stage they require. A large, popular band might dictate that they need a 15m stage (measured on the width of the performance area) whereas smaller acts might only need 8-10m. It is also important to take into account your expected audience numbers: you will be surprised how small your event will look when a crowd of 3,000 is faced with a 15m stage frontage. You want your visitors to leave feeling that they were part of something special, not something that could be deemed unsuccessful because the event looked empty. Another factor to consider is how stage width impacts on stage height. The floor height on some smaller stages can be limited, giving the audience a restricted view.
It goes without saying that you must avoid the potential of crowd crushing. Wherever possible we always advise placing a stage at the lowest point on site to create a natural amphitheatre. Crowd control barriers are also required and, if your budget allows, the placement of video screens (one either side of the stage) will allow the audience to see from a distance avoiding undue crowding at the front.
A quick note about stage sizes. Ask the supplier to clarify exactly how its stage sizes are measured. Stages are usually measured on performing width, not including the wings. This is the measurement that will help you the most when deciding which size of stage you need. If you are unsure, a good supplier should be able to help you find a size that meets both your performers’ and audience requirements. If they can’t then consider another supplier!
Safety in erection
Stages in the UK are generally of a modular scaffold substructure or are mobile. Erecting the former can be tricky and is subject to many health and safety regulations due to the high risk activities involved with working at height. With a mobile there is usually no working at height but this will vary from stage to stage. The industry is currently undergoing a period of intense scrutiny by the HSE, especially with regards to working near leading and performing edges during a stage build. In addition, any construction at an event site must comply with CDM Regulations that, until recently, have only been enforced in the construction industry.
The success of any stage will depend on the quality of its design and whether it is only ever used within its capabilities. We are aware of many stages designed with a roof for indoor use but that are then used outside. This is a particularly dangerous practice because wind load ratings must be applied on roof sheeting and side walls for stages used outside. Some small trailer stages come with side sheets that are air permeable, ie. having small holes to let the wind through, bear in mind these will also let the rain through too. Before confirming your stage, ensure you receive the calculations and check who will be on standby during your event. It is critical that any design clearly demonstrates the amount of ballast needed to cope with wind force, especially in winter.
In addition, there are strict guidelines on the amount of deflection acceptable in the masts and rigging once construction is finished. Of course, no stage would be complete without audio/visual components and these can weigh several tonnes depending on the equipment. When designing the masts this weight must always be factored in. Competency to erect and dismantle stages is an important factor to consider. Riggers need to be specially trained to climb and install components and so too must the carpenters and scaffolders who put the substructure together.
Where a stage is built on a vehicle trailer to make it mobile most of the above will still be relevant, except for the substructure. Mobile stages also need to meet requirements set out in the Road Safety Regulations and VOSA.
It is a legitimate question to ask whether buying a stage rather than hiring one is a good investment. I would argue that hiring is definitely the better option. Buying a stage is not easy. There are many variables to consider so, unless you’re going to use it eight to 10 times per year and can accommodate all of the above, hiring from a reputable company is the best solution.
Considerations on what surface to place your stage will vary from venue to venue. Your contractor may prefer it but audiences aren’t so keen to sit and enjoy a picnic on concrete! Most stages will easily stand on grass. Any site that requires heavy trucks to drive off hardstanding onto grass may require a temporary roadway system or ground protection. A reputable stage company will insist on a site visit to ensure that all these considerations are taken into account.
You will also need to carefully design your event’s ‘floor plan’. Ideally a site will have a gentle slope, creating a natural amphitheatre. Again, audience egress and exit will vary from site to site. It’s essential, however, to have more than one way to get in and out: critical should the site need to be evacuated quickly and effectively. Ideally bars, toilets and food outlets should be located away from the stage to prevent crowding in any one area although not so far away that their use becomes an expedition rather than a brief stroll away.
Most stage performances will require lighting, even those that take place in daylight. Any stage with a weatherproof roof and walls will tend to be darker than the audience area so basic lighting will be needed to counteract this. It’s generally considered a waste of money to install coloured lighting for a daytime show. However, if the event is to be televised then some coloured lighting will provide a natural look. Some orchestras will require basic white lighting, negating the use and additional cost of lit music stands. At night-time, coloured lighting rigs are limited only by the imagination of the lighting designer… and your budget.
Another consideration is audience lighting. There should be a minimum level of illumination, sufficient for someone to leave their place in the crowd to go to the bar/toilet and be able to find their way back again. Floodlights are also required in case of emergency and to signify the end of an event. Sound is one of the most important items at most events. Generally speaking, any good quality, large loudspeaker that is designed to be used at music events will handle almost any form of music. However, the only way to control the sound properly is by employing a sound engineer.
You need to be confident that the contractor you’re hiring is experienced, insured and reputable: references will underline suitability. If time allows ask to view the stage before you book it, either at the supplier’s premises or another event where it is being used. Take this opportunity to ask as many questions as you can so you’ll know exactly what to expect at your event. Speaking to a supplier on the phone may give you some information but seeing the product for yourself will be much more insightful. It’s also worth asking what standby cover comes with the stage, whether the supplier has been to the site before and if it has supplied any similar events to the one you’re organising.
About the Author
Jane Russen is the national sales manager for Star Events Ltd, having been with the company for 22 years. Star Events is a subsidiary of Altrad Beaver 84 Ltd and has been supplying equipment and services to the events industry for 40 years. It has designed and delivered stages, structures, seating and rigging for some of the world’s most high profile events as well as for a vast array of smaller community and commercial functions. It prides itself on its service, carefully considering each particular situation, irrespective of the audience size, to provide equipment, service and safety event organisers can rely on. www.stareventsltd.com