Special Events

Incredible Installations

Some years ago, when Eddie Redman was the manager of the Los Angeles office of Seattle-based Abbey Party Rents, the company got a call for a rather bizarre installation. The client, a defense contractor, wanted to organize a small event around the viewing of a cruise missile test flight.

The client hired Abbey to provide tables, chairs, linens, china and silverware for 30 guests — a typical job, except for one thing: The event took place on a remote island in the Caribbean. “The setup had to be shipped via container to a port city, then had to be transferred by a barge to the island because no boats traveled there,” Redman says. “It took almost two weeks to get the equipment from here to there.”

Redman's installation story prompted Special Events Magazine to ask other event producers to share their most bizarre installation stories.

DESERT FORMS

Early this year, Air Dimensional Design was commissioned to create a large-scale Airtube inflatable installation in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai to announce plans for the building of a massive complex that would include a shopping mall and an amphitheater.

The nine-day installation was erected on nine 60-foot scaffolding towers that marked the area where the complex would be built.

Van Nuys, Calif.-based AirDD shipped 2 1/2 tons of equipment by air freight to the Persian Gulf, says president and founder Doron Gazit. Five company employees worked with 24 local laborers to install 12 120-foot Airtubes on each tower. The idea was to create sculptures that represented flower bouquets springing to life in the desert.

“It was physically very demanding,” he says. For safety, the crew wore harnesses as they climbed the towers. Besides the threat of a sandstorm, Gazit adds, “There was a lot of concrete on the ground below the scaffolding.”

PAPAL POWER

When Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in January 1999, organizers faced the challenge of finding a venue to accommodate the 110,000 guests expected to attend his mass.

St. Louis-based SFX Special Events provided technical support and staging at the selected sites — the TWA Dome, home of the city's NFL team, and the adjacent America's Center convention center.

“We had a 26-hour window to erect a stage and put up 50,000 chairs,” says Craig Leitner, vice president and creative director of SFX Special Events.

A 48-foot arch was installed with a crane on the 80-foot by 60-foot, multi-level stage. “In addition to the Pope, there were 13 cardinals, and 300 priests, monsignors, archbishops and bishops,” Leitner says.

Seating was another challenge for SFX. The football stadium had permanent seating and the convention center owned 25,000 chairs, but SFX had to rent another 50,000 chairs from a vendor in Louisiana. And because the mass offered reserved seating, each chair had to be labeled. “You can imagine how long it takes to mark and position that many chairs,” Leitner says.

Since the Pope couldn't be in both buildings at the same time, SFX rigged 12 jumbotrons in the convention center to televise the Catholic mass.

FISHING FOR SOLUTIONS

Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Extraordinary Events dove into an underwater-themed event a few years ago that provided many logistical puzzles. The company was hired to produce an incentive event at a hotel in Kauai. The catch was that they had to recreate the same event the very next day at a hotel in Maui since the client had divided its incentive winners into two groups.

Executive producer Larry Swartz says the first challenge was shipping the decor elements from California to Hawaii. Props included 30 four-foot fiberglass tropical fish to be rigged from the ceiling, a faux rock archway entrance, a faux rock grotto that would provide a shell for a 12-piece band, and lighting equipment.

Swartz and his crew had five hours to set up the ballroom of the Hyatt at Poipu Beach in Kauai. “We had to deal with the physics of how the fish were rigged from the ceiling so it was realistic looking and so the air conditioning didn't cause them to spin,” he says.

Swartz says the first install was the easy part. It wasn't until his staff had to move the equipment to the Grand Wailea in Maui for the next day's event that things got hairy. The materials had to be air freighted, which meant taking apart the 20 pieces of rock that formed the grotto in order to fit them into the required containers. “The containers were shaped like igloos cut in half with a door,” he says. At 3 a.m., I was measuring every piece of rock grotto to see if it would fit inside the door of the containers.

He stayed up for nearly 48 hours during both installations, but he kept his sense of humor. At the start of the events, he says, “I wore a scuba outfit and doused myself with water and met people at the archway, saying, ‘The water's great. Come on in.’”

RESOURCES:Air Dimensional Design, 818/988-9901; Extraordinary Events, 818/783-6112; SFX Contemporary Group, 314/962-4000

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