LS Events presents a behind the scenes look at the production of the Great Oak Stage at this year’s American Express presents BST Hyde Park.
American Express presents BST Hyde Park returned to its landmark park location in central London in June 2022 after a three year hiatus. On a mission to deliver the event to a level of excellence that has never been experienced by audiences and artists before, LS Events were tasked by AEG Presents UK to deliver hugely ambitious plans for the creative uplift of the site.
One of the most iconic areas at the event is the Great Oak Stage. More than just a focal point, it has become the embodiment of how a live music event of this scale can co-exist in harmony with the natural setting of a park environment. In celebration of Love Parks Week, LS Events tracked the build process of this ground-breaking mighty oak, from the acorn of an idea through to installation to share a story of innovation and craftsmanship at the UK’s most prolific park-based live music event.
We begin our journey at the point of inception. Laura Armstrong, senior project manager at LS Events, was responsible for ensuring the new creative design for the site came to life, working on the new creative structures and look and feel across the site including developing the most iconic area; the Great Oak Stage.
“This year saw a new creative design across the whole of the site in line with the new creative vision for the next few years. One of the most iconic areas is the Great Oak Stage. Utlising Star Live’s brand new Titan stage, Mark Ward and the Proper Productions Team worked to develop the next generation of this focal point of the event.”
Bringing this force of nature to life required new levels of collaboration, the linchpin of which was Mark Ward from Proper Productions who explains how the roots of the multi-team union were formed for this unique build.
“The decision to go significantly taller with a much bigger cantilever on the roof of the Great Oak Stage meant a quantum change in the engineering required to create a great oak tree that would work in its new location.
“We were all painfully aware of the issues with the availability of steel and of specialised staff for building complex set pieces in early 2022 – which is why the decision was made early in the process to bring in two fabricators to work together on creating the new Great Oak – with the full involvement of Star Live’s team and our show riggers, First Call. We also recognised the need to work with sustainable materials wherever possible on what is a long term multi use build project , hence the use of jesmonite as our principal resin.”
MDM Props and Diagon joined forces to bring to life stage designer Es Devlin’s Great Oak that wraps the main stage. This is man-made nature on an epic scale. Tom Sabin, managing director at Diagon explains how the Great Oak took shape from the ground upwards.
“Working alongside MDM Props, Diagon was tasked with creating the latest version of Es Devlin’s oak. This set is now synonymous with the summer concert series, it engulfs the Great Oak Stage and embeds it within the Hyde Park setting.
“The outline for the trunk shape was taken from a 3D model created by Es Devlin studios. From here our studio team created construction drawings for the build. Steel plate ribs were laser cut and welded together on framework to get the basic outline. A steel mesh was then added to each section before the scenic team took over.
“The bark effect was created using hessian and lots of jesmonite – very messy but great for modelling. After that several layers of scenic paint were added to create shade and depth of colour.
“We also had a couple of small branches on our section which were created from steel box section, bent to shape and scenic treated the same as the trunk. The pieces were designed to fit around a piece of Ultra truss provided by Star Live, integrated into their main stage build. Once the sections had been lifted into place by crane and secured, finishing touches were applied to hide the joins. Jay Dobinsteen, our head of studio, completed all our final construction drawings in 72 hours then we had just three weeks for workshop fabrication.”
While Diagon focused their R&D at eye-level, getting their bark true to life in texture, detail and colour, MDM looked higher into the canopy for their inspiration and processes as Pia Coulton, project manager at MDM Props explains: “The design and inspiration for the Great Oak Stage was headed up by Es Devlin and her design director Amalie White of Es Devlin’s studio. A multitude of reference images from Amalie’s local parks in South London and Hyde Park itself, formed the mood board for the brief.
“To achieve the scale of the 2022 tree, we had to venture older and grander than any of its BST predecessors, and many of the surrounding oaks within the royal park. With an oak of this scale comes irregularities, angles that challenge physics, and gnarly scars of weathering and branches lost over hundreds of years.
“Draughtspeople at Star Live and MDM Props worked together throughout the 10-week build to enable the 20m tree to be entirely self-supported, whilst accommodating the needs of all other teams involved in a stage setup of this scale. The central mast provided by Star Live meets with 50m of custom-built, structurally engineered branches to support two tonnes of canopy mass alone. With a span of almost 30m, the bark cladding had to be as lightweight as possible, durable against the elements, and reusable for years to come. The MDM team hand-sculpted, textured and scenically finished over 300sqm of bark effect.”
The aim after delivering nine shows and a free midweek program of entertainment is to leave no trace in Hyde Park. LS Events dedicated sustainability team led by Gintare Einoryte and Claire O’Neill worked tirelessly to develop robust sustainable practices but with such a huge uplift on production, how did contractors ensure the park environment was protected during the installation of the stage?
Gav Scott, project director at Star Live, worked closely with LS Events’ site manager, Iain Rogers, and Mark Ward’s team from Proper Productions to ensure the ground protection was in place for a multitude of cranes and other heavy machinery as he explains:
“During the build phase, we were generally working between 24 and 48 hours ahead of the planned construction work to give LS Events time to prepare and lay trackway. There was a lot of consideration put into preserving the park and the wider environment, we planned our plant movements to avoid the protected root area of the many trees in the park, and we ensured trucks were kept to a 4.3m height to help maintain the tree canopy to keep clashes to a minimum. Equally, correct tyre selection and careful operation of plant ultimately makes a huge difference to grass conditions, all these precautions ensured that the park environment was preserved throughout the event.
“An element of flexibility in the design process was crucial to allow the installation team to blend the canopy into the surrounding treeline. Teams both in the air and on the ground coordinated the positioning of every foliage spray to ensure natural undulation was visible from over 180° on the ground.”
Installing a stage of this scale with the addition of the Great Oak called for collaboration on a scale never seen before at the event. LS Events is proud to work with the very best in the business to deliver levels of detail that ensured the mighty Titan Stage was able to blend seamlessly with the surroundings of Hyde Park and its treeline. One of the most stunning optical features of the Great Oak Stage were the video walls that projected real footage of the park’s existing trees, brilliantly masterminded by Mark Ward from Proper Productions who shares the journey behind this innovative visual experience:
“The larger stage and new tree meant a new approach to wrapping the entire stage in video. Proper Productions worked closely with the show’s new video suppliers Solotech, Star Live and First Call – along with audio suppliers Capital (now part of the Solotech group) and lighting suppliers PRG to ensure all production elements came together smoothly on what was a huge ‘first time out of the box’ production build.
“We also created a new set of ‘looks’ for the stage by filming the real scene in Hyde Park – what you would have seen on a summer’s day in the park if our stage and site were not there is what you see on the huge wraparound screens on walk in, walk out and between artist’s performances – with the vista changing with time to flow from early afternoon into late evening as the real surroundings change.”
This beautiful illusion gave way to one of the most technically advanced stages in the Star Live portfolio, detailed here by project director Gav Scott:
“Star Live supplied a double Ultra base and kentledge plates, which supported the core spine of the tree using our 985mm x 985mm Ultra tower truss system. The tower included 1.6m of Ultra lateral connectors strategically placed in the upper echelons to enable MDM to tie in with their complex branch trusses. We also designed and manufactured the structural ties that provided the connection to the upper grid arrangement of the stage right wing, which stabilised the main trunk and heavy off-stage branch. The overall result looked genuinely fantastic and blended in perfectly with the park and surrounding environment.
“The Titan stage supported well in excess of 100 tonnes of production equipment without any issues – 74 tonnes for the video walls alone. A huge amount of thought went into the stage design as a place of work for production technicians and artists, a key driver for us was designing a product that is not only appealing from an audience perspective whilst maximising sight lines, but also being a very safe and functional place to work in and on, as there are a number of safety features that facilitate those working at height.”
Emulating nature on this scale is something that everyone who contributed to the Great Oak Stage has approached with passion and dedication. For LS Events, this is truly a love story as Laura Armstrong concludes:
“Working in Hyde Park is a complete privilege and not something we take lightly. We have a real focus on ensuring that this creative fits in within its surroundings and the view of the Great Oak Stage as you look at it amongst the actual trees of the park is paramount. Even the static screen content is considered when artists are not using the screens, we switch to footage taken of the trees within the park to assist with the feeling that the Great Oak Stage is part of the natural surroundings. This attention to detail is our love note to Hyde Park that we celebrate in all its glory, for Love Parks Week.”
LS Events www.ls.uk
Proper Productions www.properproductions.org
Es Devlin www.esdevlin.com
Star Live www.stargrouplive.com
First Call www.firstcall.co.uk