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HSL Delivers Massive Panto Season
UK – It’s panto season again and as innuendos fly, slapstick humour is trowelled on and extravagant costumes and characters abound, entertaining thousands of people up and down the country. Lighting and visuals rental and production specialist HSL supplied equipment to a record 31 premium UK pantomime productions for the 2017-18 season for leading pantomime producers, Qdos.
That's 11 more shows than last year’s schedule of 20, which are taking place all over England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as far north as Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh and as far west as Plymouth and Llandudno, as far south as Southampton, and also including Belfast, Cardiff and London.
The equipment has included conventional and LED / moving head lighting fixtures, rigging and a raft of special effects like smoke, fog and atmosphere, together with huge numbers of custom gobos and assorted rigging, including a Kinesys automation system for Glasgow.
Impressive statistics include over 2,600 intelligent lighting fixtures deployed, around 900 generics, a staggering 3000+ custom gobos, over 100 miles (160km) of cabling (Socapex, single- and three-phase power) and a similar quantity in data, as well as over 1,400 Doughty boom arms of assorted sizes.
All of this had to be tested and prepped to cover a period from the first get-in on 19th November to the last out at the end of January.
Spearheading the project and juggling the intense logistics is HSL’s Jordan Hanson, working alongside Emma Turner, with Joy Brown and Alex Allen brought on-board and dedicated specifically to the mission of fitting over 3,000 gobos correctly into a vast array of fixtures.
This all happens in close liaison with Mark Sherwood, head of production at Qdos Entertainment. The company has a reputation for producing highly successful shows with excellent production values and levels of technical excellence combined with superlative content and talented casts with a few celebrities along the way.
“The team have been fantastic,” stated Jordan: “We all thought we’d done a great job last year in handling 20 shows, but the 50% increase this year has seriously tested everyone’s organisational skills, stamina, endurance and required the sheer headspace to deal efficiently with an intensity of facts-and-figures!”
Jordan started his initial planning work on the panto project in May. At the top of his mind is always amassing a base crew capable of delivering the project smoothly and precisely.
The process starts with the various LDs being appointed to the different productions by Qdos, after which Jordan contacts each one requesting an initial wish-list. Then the budgets are established with the producers, and the lighting plots are developed from there.
The Production LXs are contacted to produce ‘back-end’ lists like cable calls, and then once the lighting specification for each performance is confirmed, the custom gobo requirements from the LDs are next on HSL’s information request list.
The communications task alone has entailed Jordan and the HSL team dealing with 16 different lighting designers, including Ben Cracknell and Matt Clutterham each lighting four shows, together with the dedicated production LXs, plus venue chief LXs on top of that. The bulk of this information is gathered and processed by email and phone.
The custom gobos are at the heart of the whole operation. Once these are decided, designed and ordered – a huge undertaking in its own right – they then have to be fitted.
This consumed five solid weeks of 12 hour shifts to fit and address all the gobos in various moving lights, with bespoke colours also added to many units – around 700 in fact – at the same time.
All of these fixtures have to be reverted back to ‘standard’ once the panto season is over and the kit has been returned to Blackburn.
In sourcing all the accessories needed to facilitate the 31 shows, HSL cleared out UK stocks of several items usually available off the shelf, including DMX cables, de-rig arms, half-hats and top-hats for Source Fours profiles and PARs, Source Four irises and B sized gobo holders, barndoors and pre-made 16A cables.
They ordered over 1,500 new moulded IP65 Socapex cables and 360 spiders which were delivered by Lex Products in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, and purchased around 12,000 metres of 1.5mm and 2.5mm TRS cable that was made up into stock lengths in Blackburn, and that was in addition to HSL’s absolutely enormous existing cable inventory!
Mountains of Proplex data cable was made and supplied by TMB and AC Lighting supplied a great support service – as ever – and all went to plan, thanks to everyone and a “great team effort” enthuses HSL MD Simon Stuart.
As many 15A and 16A plugs and sockets as were physically available in the UK were commandeered to make up adaptors by the HSL cable department.
The kit left HSL’s Blackburn HQ in over 30 artics, some of which were shared.
The largest production in terms of kit, and also one of the biggest venues, was “Jack & The Beanstalk” at Glasgow SECC which took up three trucks, two of rigging and one of lighting. For this show, HSL also supplied all the trussing, rigging and flying infrastructure including the Kinesys system and control.
It’s Jordan’s third year managing the operation. He observes that generally the productions are getting bigger, more demanding and more sophisticated in requirements each year.
Having ten extra productions to deal with made a big impact on everyone’s workload, but “We are all very proud to be working with Qdos on these productions and be part of their mission to ensure the delivery of the highest quality and best value shows. It’s a tribute to the tenacity, determination and attention to detail of the team to make it all happen. Getting 31 major productions out the door in such a short space of time is a real achievement.”
Mark Sherwood head of production at Qdos Entertainment says: “Producing 35 shows, all opening over a three-week period, is a massive undertaking and having the support of Simon and his team at HSL is one of the key elements that makes this possible. Jordan as HSL’s project manager, works closely with me year-round to ensure the smooth delivery of equipment across the shows, then providing support once they have opened. A mammoth undertaking brilliantly handled!”
photos: Louise Stickland
18th January 2018
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