Tired of wheeling out the same staging each year?
Richard Sheehan shares how different production effects can keep an annual event fresh and engaging: Mitchells & Butlers Annual Pride Awards, Birmingham Hilton
In October each year, hospitality group Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) holds its annual staff awards at Birmingham’s Hilton hotel. Guests represent some 17 of the group’s hospitality brands including Harvester, Toby Carvery, All Bar One and Nicholson’s. The event runs for four days and nights and includes daytime meetings, award shows and an evening party. When asked to produce the same event for the second year with many of the same guests, we took our design back to the drawing board and created a new experience using lighting and new staging materials.
Main stage transformation
The main stage is one of the most memorable areas of the event. It had previously featured an LED wall as the central presentation panel with a further six panels (three either side) to display ever-changing graphic sequences. The LED wall gives incredible definition so it allows you to achieve top quality graphic displays. The overall design included a dramatic and glamorous, black and gold palette with graphics suggesting highly stylised stage curtain effects and other imagery reminiscent of today’s more stylised television studio stages.
The 2017 set needed to be radically different. We started with a colourful lighting palette on a white background and designed a curved instead of straight set. In total contrast to the previous year’s design, this allowed us to play with a wider lighting colour spectrum and a range of new materials.
Light boxes either side of the set, shaped at angles, allowed us to position baton lights within to create a dynamic, lighting effect. Over-sized projection screens framed the staging on either side and were used to relay live action filmed and mixed in the room as the award ceremony progressed.
A range of materials creates contrast
In addition to the colour palette and the shape and form of the stage design, we introduced a range of contrasting materials to create different effects. The gauze which covered the custom light boxes either side reacted differently when front lighting was applied, appearing as a solid form, while the internal lighting alone created a more ethereal and translucent effect.
We flew a string curtain behind the set for the entire width which drew together the different elements of LED wall, light boxes and projection screens. It also helped us define the curved effect. The curtain could be back-lit to create a further sense of depth and allow us to create contrasting colours with lights.
A sense of drama
To add more drama as winners came forward to receive their awards, the stage extended out into the audience to elevate the winner as they moved forward rather than having them make their way through the crowd. Moving cameras controlled remotely were flown above the stage to pick up the winners as they walked forward, heightening the atmosphere. Combined with a camera manually operated in the room, the film was mixed live and fed to the giant projection screens either side of the stage.
In an adjoining suite, we created a pre- and after-show area for drinks and entertainment. This featured a dancefloor, moving lights and a DJ desk supported by large-scale projection for bespoke graphics created by our own VJ. Mitchells & Butlers had invited various drinks brands to create pop-up, themed bars around the perimeter of the room. Alternatively, guests could choose from a range of themed seating areas in which to relax.