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Staging Decentralization

  • My first job as National Staging Manager was (I hate to say it) nearly twenty years ago now, with the old Southam Audio Visual Group in Canada. (Southam later became the Adcom Presentation Group, which later became part of Telav, which later became part of the new AVW/Telav conglomerate.) During that time, while I was learning just how difficult the job of Staging Manager actually was, my main counterpart was Mike Schilz, who was the National Convention Services Manager at the time. (Mike and I later got tapped to run the Adcom Presentation Group together. Mike's still at AVW/Telav, and is one of the most knowledgeable people in the AV industry).
  • Anyway, I tell you this as the lead up to a pretty illustrative story. One late evening, Mike and I were both in the office in Toronto. Each of us was working on a show that would soon take us out of town. Mine was a staging event at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Center. Mike's was a convention (I forget which one - sorry, Mike) taking place in the States. We were both working on our estimates, when we realized that both events would bill out about the same. I looked at the complication level of the event Mike was working on, which involved a large number of meeting rooms all over a city, and told him that what I liked about Staging was that at least it all took place in one big room where I could see it.
  • So why did somebody (I don't know who or when) take even that level of manageability away from Staging?
  • Staging used to be staging... projectors projecting big images on big screen on a big stage.
  • But what is staging today? New routing, and signage/display technology (both display and content management systems) means that messaging and information dissemination is no longer limited to the big screens on stage, but is often expected throughout the event space.
  • Let me give you an example of "Staging Decentralization":
  • Recently, I looked at plans for a three-screen show with a number of computer sources, video rolls, and two-camera iMag.
  • OK, so far - a show.
  • To that was added a two-screen overflow room with a single-camera return to the main room for question and answer. When questions were asked in the overflow room, the questioner would be brought up on screen in the main tent.
  • Again, a show. But with some switching and routing issues. What belongs on screen in the overflow during a question? How do the three screens in the main tent map to the two in the overflow room?
  • But then they added a plasma-based network throughout the hotel's breakout rooms, so that people who were participating in committee meetings could see what was going on in the main tent - or the Q&A for the overflow room - or their own presentations. This added a whole level of complication with media formatting, and added localized switching. With a single screen in each room to deal with, with a different (wider) aspect ratio, what got sent to these screens at any point in the show was a question that had to be made minute by minute depending on how the show unfolded - and had to be reformatted on the fly.
  • Thank goodness, the client had decided to abandon the additional idea of adding plasmas in the hallways that showed the imag video but not the computer content, which would have added another level.
  • Which takes us full circle to the fact that Staging has changed, and has added a number of levels of complication that make it as complex as the Convention scenario I described in the first paragraph. Today's show planning calls for technicians with a new level of sophistication in show design, switching, and display content management. It also calls for a new level of equipment that manages windows, formatting, and conditional content choices.
  • And it isn't going away.
  • My old-time traditional answer to the problem was three separate video switching systems, each operated by a tech concentrating on formatting for the content and displays they were managing. Quickly, it was the video tech labor costs that the client found objectionable. So we invested a lot of time in simplifying the spec. This required the patience of Job and an eye to logistics that were the reason I preferred Staging to Conventions.
  • So, Mike, if you want to make a change to Staging, we need you.