Choosing my BIG Creative Events Venue: Manageable Madness?
The right city and right venue are of colossal importance to the success of producing a BIG event. Choose early and wisely. Second chapter of a 15-part White Paper series on BIG creative events production. Click “Contact” to request the FREE complete version
If you’re an event planner, you’re already keenly aware of the importance of securing a venue well in advance for the production of your big event. It is not jumping the gun to secure a venue contract 1-2 years from the date of the event.
1. Size: Is important. Always consider the physical attributes for your creative events first because a cool venue can emotionally sweep us away. Choose a space that has the right height, power and rigging requirements. As a rule of thumb, it’s easier to make a large space feel smaller than it is to make a small space feel larger—yet, a too-large space can weaken the event’s impact. Prosceniums, screens and signage that would look majestic in some spaces can become dwarfed on others. (Remember the movie Spinal Tap?) Speakers and attendees alike can feel “lost” in cavernous rooms. If the space you’re considering is too big, it can be scaled down through the use of pipe and drape or other soft goods. Confining the space in this way not only restores a sense of proportion, but makes the event feel more “intimate”—even with hundreds of attendees.
2. Vision: Now, with that being said, here is the first of many Catch 22’s—how can we possibly know what kind of creative events venue we need 18 months in advance when we haven’t even developed a creative theme…or an audience for that matter? Well, that would mean you need to put into effect the first of your many BIG event production CYA’s. The best thing to do is to create an internal RFP (request for proposal). This can be very handy if you decide to outsource anything later. Take the time to do this right now and get it all signed off by corporate. At minimum you will need:
- Written checklist of objectives: Strategic, Creative and Tactical
- Budget range: including a 25-40% contingency at minimum
- Target Audience: including number of desired attendees
- Initial Creative Direction or Tonality, etc
3. Theatrical Event Spaces: If you’re looking for a venue other than the standard fare (hotels, resorts, convention centers), you might consider using a real theatre for your BIG event. Theatres can be excellent options for half or full-day events—or longer if there is no show currently playing there. Traditionally, most professional theatres are closed, or “dark,” on Mondays and often Sunday nights—and theatre owners happily welcome the additional revenue they can bring in for a corporate event on those days. Theaters also love to fill in the time between engagements. Booking houses like the Hobby Theater in Houston are a perfect example of this kind of venue. The advantage of using theatres is that many have the required production assets already built in: lighting, sound board, staging elements, labor, draperies (known as soft goods), ushers, parking and of course … comfy seats. Not having to rent these things can present a significant cost savings. And, the cache’ of having a big event at a real theater can be significant. articulate has used Broadway venues before—but, note, NYC is not a place to learn, trust me on this. If there’s no play currently in the theatre, you’re getting an “empty box”; a space onto which you can add any number of design elements that compliment your event theme. (For additional money of course). If a show is currently featured at the theatre, the scenery and set pieces can serve as the default backdrop to your event. For this reason you’ll want to know exactly what you can expect. For example, if the stage scenery you’d inherit would be from a production of Les Miserables, it’s probably not a good fit for your CEO’s inspirational keynote about the prospering years ahead. On the other hand, the wholesome prairie scenery for the musical Oklahoma! could compliment and underscore almost any organization that wished to convey an image of integrity, openness, or good old American values.
A few years back, we used a theater in which the Broadway Production of Fiddler on the Roof was playing for a BIG event production. We even used the cast to sing a customized version of one of show tunes. It was creatively great! (But operationally, really hard). The backdrop set and lighting was so beautiful and interesting—and just being in a Broadway Theatre makes executives, and I do mean the stodgiest, most conservative executive speakers without exception, walk to center stage in awe. And, when they look into the audience area they can unconsciously break into a nervous tap dance. Call it “Stage Struck.”
A typical “show week” ends after the Sunday matinee, giving you and your crew only that evening and the following morning to move in and get things ready. Corporate event audiences find non-corporate settings refreshing and generally make positive associations with theatres as places of fun, inspiration and entertainment. Those associations can serve to create a sense of audience anticipation that is not always present in more conventional venues.
4. Union or Not: Producing BIG events requires stagehands. So, before you book your venue and the event team, find out if the theatre you’ve chosen is a Union house. Unless your event is in a Right to Work state, you will certainly have to have a minimum number of union workers sitting back stage for all rehearsals and performances. Note: Even if they do nothing, they have to be there. And also note, it is sometimes best to have them do nothing, as they are far less acquainted with your show and can make disasterous mistakes. It's not their career. Keep them as "shadows" backstage for your critical show duties like advancing the speaker slides. And, make it your first order of business to hire a union steward (representative). The steward is the go-between and has a wealth of information about union rules, regulations, meal breaks, overtime and other considerations that are essential to create a budget. The steward can also help negotiate with the union to minimize these costs.
5. Hospitality Services: Many theatres offer valuable ideas and resources in addition to renting the creative events space. We shot an ersatz “TED” talk-style presentation in the Houston Center and were very impressed that the facility also offered catering, security personnel and other services. Best of all, their estimate turned out to be right on the button when we got the bill. (Not typical).
6. Spacey Venues: Once, we did something a little out of this world by hiring Buzz Aldrin, America’s 2nd Man on the Moon, as the keynote speaker for our BIG event production and venued the Alder Planetarium in Chicago for a teachers’ convention reception. Buzz was inspirational and "outspoken" and hiring the right keynote celebrity for a venue is a white paper all onto itself. Let’s just say, a speaker talent agency can make the difference.
Let’s review 6 things to remember:
1. Consider size and physical requirements 1st
2. Get your vision on paper and get it approved
3. Theaters are great, but challenging—proceed with caution
4. Remember the union can add big unexpected costs
5. If you need hospitality, just ask the venue first
6. Always look for venue out of the ordinary—different, is always… different.
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