Special Events

10 Years After

Your looks — if you're lucky — may not have changed much in 10 years. But it's remarkable how much the special event industry has. This point came home to event producer Halle Becker-Henkin, head of New York-based Comet Productions, who produced the 100th anniversary celebration of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1991 and the 110th anniversary bash in September.

For both the 1991 and 2001 events, the goal was to gather as many IBEW members as possible to celebrate the past and future of the union. The showpiece of both events was a theatrical extravaganza featuring original production numbers and headline entertainers. But tech breakthroughs unimaginable in 1991 made producing the 2001 event more efficient.

WHAT'S NEW?

Ten years ago, being on site was essential.

“In 1991, the IBEW centennial was in St. Louis, and we had to fly there a lot because everything had to be done and viewed and approved on site — seeing the set, auditioning the dancers, casting the talent.” Becker-Henkin recalls. “It was great for frequent flyer miles but bad for time management.”

Since then, many innovations have become indispensable. Among them:

E-mail and digital imaging, which send set renderings worldwide almost instantly.

Burning music on handy compact discs; music can be sent digitally as well.

Pre-programmable and WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) lighting, enabling crews to preview and program all lighting cues in a studio by viewing a computer-generated rendering of the stage set.

For the 2001 event, the closing evening concert with country superstars Brooks & Dunn did not load in until that day. “So we had their lighting designer send a disc of his lighting program, and we were actually able to pre-program his show, which was imperative to us to be ready on time,” Becker-Henkin notes.

Wireless phones were around ten years ago, “but mine looked like an overnight bag, and it didn't work,” Becker-Henkin says. Today, her tri-band phone — capable of supporting three different networks — “means I can't hide from anybody.”

To put the impact of these tools into perspective, “I must have gone to St Louis 15 times in 1991,” Becker-Henkin says. “I went to San Francisco [site of the 2001 event] three times, and all the rest was done via e-mail, digital mail and cell phones.”

SHOWIER SHOW

Besides convenience, tech breakthroughs mean the show itself is better.

Ten years ago, the stage production featured a slide show. But since then, “we brought the IBEW into the video world,” notes director David Carlin King of Washington-based The Carlin Co. Further, the 2001 video program featured multiple camera shots on multiple screens thanks to the Folsom switcher.

The theme of technology shaping the world had a special resonance for the union. “This was a blue-collar job that is now technical; these guys are sitting behind computer terminals,” King notes.

Technology has upped the ante, King says. “Clients are much smarter and their pencils are much sharper,” he says. “Their eye is better because TV and sound are so much better. We owe the audience a lot more than we used to.”

TAKING THE TIME

IBEW executive secretary Nancy Cleary was pleased with the 2001 event: “It was absolutely superb,” she says. But she does not believe that technology has significantly shortened the event production process. “Even though we have the latest technology, there are too many things you have to do and plan in advance,” she notes.

Carlin stresses that technology can never replace artistry. “Even with the new tricks, there still has to be a body that understands art,” he says. “Dancers still have to know how to dance. There still has to be an artistry that flows through that.”

In the end, technology doesn't make the event, but serves its ends. “As a producer, I not only look out for the bottom line for ourselves and our profit, but also the bottom line for our clients,” Becker-Henkin says. “That's how you keep business — by working smart — and technology has given us the tools.”

RESOURCES: Comet Productions, 212/245-8228; The Carlin Co., 410/623-2300

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